By chance, the last edition of Filmadrid coincided with the presentation of the work of Japanese filmmaker Takashi Makino and the travel of our collaborator Nicole Remy, who also received an honorable mention for her first experimental short Detenerte en el Pulso. We took advantage of this cosmic coincidence and sent Nicole to meet Takashi to talk about the early influences on his cinema, his methods, the change from analog to digital and his different collaborations in image and sound.
By Nicole Remy and José Sarmiento-Hinojosa
Desistfilm: First of all thank you for meeting us and having the time to come here. I think the first question would be who and what were the main influences behind your views of cinema and your own creations?
Takashi Makino: Before watching films I had a crucial experience regarding the moving image and sound. When I was five years old I had a very bad car accident. I was walking on the road and this car came out of nowhere, and I ended up under it. My skull and legs were completely broken. I was kind of half dead, I lost my consciousness… but I remember having a very long dream… like flying in the darkness, where there was a green horizon landscape and a very strong sun… In the dream, at the end of flying, I found three big suns. It was very strange, a very strong light. And then, when I opened my eyes, I realized they were the hospital lights. Also, already with my eyes open, I watched my heartbeat signal, which was green. So these things had influenced my dream.
My dream of that day and my reality were strongly linked. And I realized my hearing was open when I was unconscious, because I remember the sound from the hospital, in the ambulance, with my parents talking. So, yeah, that experience influenced me a lot in having an interest in films. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I became really interested in watching them. You know how in the 80’s many strange horror films were using SFX effects in a strange way, using animation and superimposed, strange landscapes? I really developed an interest in watching those, and sci-fi movies.
After a while, I started watching “regular” films. I started organizing screenings when I was 8 years old because we had a Blockbuster Video store near my house (we lived in a small apartment) , so I went there many times, rented videos and invited my friends to show them the movies. My first screening was Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, everybody left during the screening.
When I turned 15 my interest shifted more into music and art so my perspective in watching films changed completely. I went to the cinema and saw many art films, for example early Derek Jarman films like In the Shadow of the Sun. His early Super 8 films were so beautiful and I didn’t know about those kind of films at all, so I had that as a first strong influence. And also I saw many Russian films: Tarkovsky, Sokurov and many other European films. Then Tony Conrad, who died around 3 years ago, showed his 16mm film, The Flickr … all of his 16mm films there. That was a very strong experience for me.
I also had a strong interest for art, especially surrealism. So before I started in filmmaking I did a lot of collage work using paper and scissors and making new images. I had a strong influence from Max Ernst. His book “A theory of Collage” it’s very important for me. His idea was using several objects or materials and not destroying them, but have then meet on one space and create a new image that way. So I made a lot of collages like that. My interest was influenced by art and art films.
Desistfilm: This next question relates a lot to what you just said. Your images are composed by superimposition and multiple exposures, which create this moving abstraction of the way the universe and cosmos work. How did you find your way to this particular method, besides the collage… especially in your works from the early 2000’s?
Takashi Makino: The first idea came from collage theory and I tried this the first time at… Actually I’m hiding many Super 8 experimental films from when I was 17 until I was 21 years old; in four years I really did a lot of experiments using only Super 8. Then I tried to make multiple exposure films, shooting and rewinding, and shooting again… and that came from the same idea, through collage. I can still, beyond my imagination sometimes, be surprised with what happens in the same shoot, because I cannot comeback to those images: If I shoot, rewind and shoot, and do a mistake, I kill the footage. So that was really good training to develop my technique.
After I graduated school I had a clearer idea about how to make film using the technique of layering. Then I made a first film, Eve, a very short one-shot film I edited in camera by shooting and rewinding, with double exposure. The first exposure was of a very hard wire, of metal, the second one was water. Two materials which were so different, one an artificial thing, and the other very flexible. So I tried to melt each one into the film, and create a new image with this friction of materials. After that I made many films, but every film was done using the layering technique. In every film I have a different concept.
Like in Memento Stella, where I shot everything with water. So my ideas came from collage theory, mixed layers. I don’t have so much interest to shoot something clearly and showing it on the screen. I’m thinking about the imagination in our brain: we say we have memory and we have images, but I don’t believe the images we have in our imagination and in our brain are so clear, it’s something very, very complicated… like dust, that sometimes looks like an image but it’s actually not one. I have a very big interest for the image of dreams and imagination itself. I think we have a very complicated set of beautiful images in our brain. So I’m trying to approach that kind of image. I make a lot of layers, but each layer still survives as a memory… and when we watch the image we can select how to watch it accordingly to our own imagination, our own relationship between the film and our brain. That’s why I use the technique of the layer and the abstract image.
Desistfilm: I wanted to ask something regarding this relationship between image and memory in the viewer. What’s the part sound and image play on that phenomenon? Because I felt in your films that sound can somehow shape or form the perception of the image. For example in 2012 there is the sound of children playing and the trees with the wind, so I started to see those images on the abstract images you were showing. Is that something you are interested in exploring in your work? How does the sound affect or shape the image?
Takashi Makino: I always care when I make a sound by myself. I try to make a very imaginative soundtrack, not explaining what happens. Sometimes it is something coming from the same idea of the collage work. If I show a very strong abstract image and a very different sound from what’s expected, like the voice of children or trees, then we can imagine something different, try to find what happens when we access our very own memories.
I don’t think my soundtrack as background music. It doesn’t explain the situation, it just expands the imagination. That is a very difficult thing for some musicians who really follow the image; when the image gets too strong then the sound gets strong too. I really don’t like that kind of thing. Sometimes I feel I can make the sound for a film, like I did with 2012, but when I feel I cannot make a very nice soundtrack for a film, I ask a musician to do it. But I always give them freedom. I don’t explain to them how to play; I give them the freedom, then wait and accept. I really care about the collaboration of image and sound. The most important thing is how to keep the abstraction of the imagination alive.
Desistfilm: There’s a whole set of films in collaboration with Jim O’Rourke. How essential is sound as part of your cinematic work and what do you think was the main contribution of O’Rourke behind these collective creations?
Takashi Makino: I met him in 2004 in Tokyo. I worked archiving Koji Wakamatsu’s films, and then Koji made United Red Army whose soundtrack was made by Jim O’Rourke. By that time I had three or four silent films without a soundtrack (I couldn’t either make it myself or find someone who could). I was looking for someone and suddenly Jim came along.
I knew Jim knew American Underground Cinema very well; he was one of Tony Conrad’s assistants. That means Jim knew about experimental films, and music of course. I asked him if he could make the soundtrack for my films and he said yes. The first collaboration was in 2006. Every time we collaborated I made the image first with the title and credits, explained the film to Jim, he watched it many times and reacted to it. But I always gave him total freedom, then waited and accepted the final product.
I think his soundtracks are critical to my work. He knows about the contrast between image and sound. For example, in On Generation and Corruption, I explained to him why I made the film and how I made it, and also wrote a sort of graphic score and explained what was happening in this abstraction and what kind of things I had shot. That’s it. I always get surprised, even though we have already collaborated in… seven films maybe? (Eight if we include the installation/performance). He uses a different approach every time, different instruments… In our first collaboration, No is E, he used a guitar and many electronic devices, and in our second collaboration he only used analog synthesizers, making a lot of noise. In the third he played the piano and cello and some percussion instruments that he created himself. In the fourth collaboration he played a very strong free jazz composition with Chris Corsano and Darin Gray. Then on the fifth time he used synthesizers again.
Our latest collaboration was with Endless Cinema, an installation work, where he brought something like a black box and created something out of it. I couldn’t understand what he was doing! He said that machine was a million times more powerful than the Max/MSP; he could do anything with it. Many of the soundtrack workers in Hollywood movies, they use this kind of “black box machine” I really don’t know what’s its name.
Desistfilm: In experimental cinema there’s always the search what is behind the strata of the image itself. In your case in particular this search comes from the evocation of what the accumulation of the images can create. Since you went from analog to digital in the past years, what is the main difference you encountered behind that search in these two formats?
Takashi Makino: Actually I used film, as a shooting format until 2015. The reason why I used so much film was because of the layering technique. With video the result was so much different, the images don’t melt with each other (as layers), each shape has a very clear edge so I could not make a film the same way I did with film. Afterwards though, I thought about not having to depend only on film because in Japan, and everywhere I think, using film is getting more difficult and expensive. It took me a lot of time to reach video, but in On Generation and Corruption I only used digital footage.
Memento Stella is also 100% digital. I realized the difference and the importance the lenses of the camera had when shooting on digital. When I tried to make a first film with video, I really didn’t like the result because we could see all the details; the image was not that beautiful. So I selected different lenses, from the Bolex to the video camera, and with that I could make very deep and beautiful images within the digital images. In Memento Stella the center of the image is very sharp and crispy, but what surrounds the center of the image is out of focus, melting with other images. Recently I’m trying to approach to the analogue technique using their lenses.
Also, the film is sensitive to the light, and the digital camera has a sensor, but these sensors/the sensitivity are not so different… they’re just sensors, so I don’t care… I stopped caring about the format and started paying more attention to the lenses. I believe we can create more rich and beautiful cinematic images even if we use digital.
Desistfilm: So is this capacity of the digital camera that can render this kind of plastic materials which are very rich in information, meanwhile the analog or film the way it picks up noble materials like skin, the sea, or earth, has a more subtle texture… you’re trying to evoke this kind of textures with the digital by using analog camera’s lenses, so as not to depend only on film?
Takashi Makino: Yes. It’s easy. And the result is very different. The focal digital image has so much information and is very different from what we see in reality.
Desistfilm: Can you explain to us, what’s the Pulfrich 3D effect, as used in 2012? And what does working with 3D add to your intentions of what you are trying to do with the image?
Takashi Makino: I had a big interest for the Pulfrich effect because it happens not only in front of our eye but also in our brain. That is something very different from the traditional 3D effect. When Johan Lurf (the Austrian filmmaker) came to Japan, he did a lecture on the 3D effect and we tried to watch what happened if we watched my films using the Pulfrich effect. The images in my films are always moving and changing super-fast, at 30 frames per second. So we found that if we covered one eye with an ND filter (neutral density filter) our brain accepts the image in a small different speed, creating the 3D effect (moving images towards one direction).
The interesting thing is that when we covered the opposite eye with the ND filter, the image changed to the other direction. That is a very surprising thing because my film is abstract and I really expected people could see different things in the films, but if we use the Pulfrich effect, people can approach the film and decide how to watch it, everyone can see different things from one film. That is very important for me because that’s the main reason I’m making abstract images, to try to keep the imagination flowing.
Desistfilm: Yeah, because it happens within. The brain completes the gaps right? I think like a frame per second away (the time it takes to process the image covered with the filter), thus creating this pulsating centrifuge effect. Also, and I saw this in Memento Stella too (without the need to use the ND filter), at the beginning and at the end there is this movement like a centrifugal force… it was really exciting.
I wanted to ask you about this image, this centrifuge energy force and movement, is it a concept you work with? Is it more that just a visual effect?
Takashi Makino: I have a big interest in what each viewer creates from the movement of the images. I know it happens when we watch the TV noise. When I was five or six years old, I’d turn the TV on and if I tried to dive in to the image I could picture what I imagined, it was like deciding to which direction the image was moving even though it was pure visual noise.
I think this kind of things happen in my films, and I really try to make that kind of effect, that is a really interesting collaboration of the screen and image because we can approach it and sometimes the images reply. I really love that kind of conversation between my films and the viewers. I really don’t want to make propaganda images, one image/one answer/one direction. I want to do the opposite thing, each people imagining different things and stories. That is a very beautiful situation.
Desistfilm: Can you talk about your collaboration with Manuel Knapp in At the horizon? How do you decide on the strategies to create this communion of techniques and methods?
Takashi Makino: I collaborated with him in Japan many times in performances. I used my films and videos and he came as a guest musician. We collaborated twice in Tokyo and twice in Austria. We had an experience on working together and we both work with sounds and images. Then we started to talk about making a film together, about what we could create… When I saw Manuel films for the first time I realized that his sounds/images were sometimes quite similar to what I dreamt in the car accident as a kid. Very dark spaces, and horizons made with computer-animated lines. I really had an interest in his works with those dark spaces and strong sounds.
I explained to him my dream experience from the car accident so we decided to make a similar film. We started from the green horizon image and kept it changing like my dream… First I shot some images of water and organic materials, and Manuel used very different and artificial objects on computer. Our images were so different, that was the real collaboration. We used the same screen but separate computers, different parts of the images. We tried to create the transformation of the landscapes.
Manuel made an animation, and I made a film and we edited and recorded the music together. The idea was to recreate my dream from when I was five, and then it was more like… not an improvisation but trying very different things together. And now we’re talking about starting a new project, using one projector each and combine them in one screen and play music together. We will start this project this or next year. More like a performance.
Desistfilm: Can you tell us about what you’re working on right now? You mentioned this possible performance with Manuel Knapp, is there anything else?
Takashi Makino: We’re still thinking on the name for the project with Manuel. I like doing collaborations with a person who can create image and sound because since I do both we can understand each other. Our images are so different but never fight on the screen, and that is one important point. Last year I found out I can control the live video by computer, but only using materials from nature. Before I only used 16mm film and prepared video for the performances. But last year I got new software that lets me control the video on live mode, so I have new possibilities in collaborating with other musicians. I want to do that now, try to make more performance art and expanded cinema.
Desistfilm: You were saying that you are interested in both having a conversation and a “de-conversation” with your collaborations. Because I’m not a musician, I find myself constantly trying to understand or see if the live performers are following each other’s steps of just playing completely apart…
Takashi Makino: That is very important for me. I cannot collaborate with a completely different type of artist than myself, or someone I meet for the first time, with no respect for each other; I don’t like that type of collaboration. That’s not collaboration; it is more of a “battle”. It’s sad… I like making sounds and images and help each other, collaborate with each other…
Desistfilm: Enhance each other’s experiences mutually.
Takashi Makino: Yeah, I like that situation. Rei, Luis Macías, a filmmaker and artist from Barcelona, and I, we are doing a collaboration together at San Sebastian on Tuesday. It will be completely improvised. But we’ll exchange images, and exchange plans via email before that. We’ll communicate with each other in preparation.*
*Thanks to Rei Hayama, who later joined, helped in the translation and chipped in the conversation.