The sun which shone like a pearl (2001)

by Claudia Siefen-Leitich

The love, or simply the affinity, for analogue cinema is still easy to describe: working with analogue film never ends, it even continues during every projection. You hear the sounds coming out of the projection room, watching the reel change marks on screen when it comes to a 35mm print, or you experience a projection of 8mm or Super 8, the projectors installed right in the middle of the audience! Not to speak of galeries where these mechanical things during screenings are often embedded in certain filmworks. And then take a look at the developed material, and look at the perforations, because for regular 8mm they are wider than they are tall. They are located on a line between the frames. For Super 8, the perforations are taller than they are wide, the frames are larger which improves their image quality. 8mm cameras are smaller and therefore lighter. When filming they are closer to the body, easier to handle and along with a certain expertise this naturally transfers to the images. And in the end it takes special intuition to project that tiny format.

Yamada Isao was born in 1952 in Hokkaido (northern Japan). He often uses the stage name Yamavica across disciplines (film, visual arts, manga). Yamada began his artistic life as a member of Terayama Shuji’s theatre troupe and from 1974 onwards was involved in various capacities in the visual design of Terayama’s following feature films: Den’en ni shisu (1974), Boxer (1977), Kusa meikyu (1978), and Saraba hakobune (1981). As part of a cinema club he co-founded in 1977, Yamada made his directorial debut: Subaru no yoru. In 1981 he had his first solo show of his films at the Image Forum (Tokyo), and in 1983 he was a guest for the first time at the Image Forum’s annual experimental film show, where his works were shown regularly from then on. In 2001, his film correspondence with Yamazaki Mikio is presented in Tokyo for the first time.

And I tend to say, that even within a dramaturgically relevant omission of the massive cinematic correspondence between Yamada and the painter Yamazaki Mikio, known as OFUKU (Film Letter) I-V (1986-2006), Yamada redefines his syntax for his travel films from the first half of the 1990s. His films become increasingly interwoven: the continuity of a body of work can actually be experienced here, even if it no longer seems desirable in modern times. As a manga-auteur and visual artist, Yamada published his first manga, Koto yakyyoku in 1975. His collages and box art objects were presented to the public for the first time in 1987; subsequently his oil paintings and pastel pencil drawings.

I’ve Heard the Ammonite Murmur (1992)

So A Lion and Violet (1986) presumes to be an early cat film, but we also accompany Yamada and his shadow while he films himself (and his shadow) in different places, so he must be in motion, pointing at things that mostly are not in motion: emotionally touching, because of its colour and graininess, but also maintaining a certain physical distance: the constantly pointing finger does the rest.

In Puzzle (2001), a young woman (Kudo Mizuho) conquers an architectural space in a personal and massive way. Initially referring to the aesthetic, the film shows that aesthetics and beauty are omnipresent. Disconcerting yet firm steps. Glances lead into the depths. All in contrasting black and white, and grey. And the lady wears shorts, just like little schoolboys tend to wear.

We travel through the city of Besançon in The sun which shone like a pearl (2001), we get caught by the rain, glancing at cinema screens, umbrellas and cityscapes. A poetic blending of cinema and life, because sometimes the cinema screen also cheekily returns the gaze it must be so used to over the decades.

Architecture, structure, shadows, in Swamp (1999) we’ve got the music and the image merge, similar to gestures and image composition. This time, the young woman taking the lead is drawn softer, initially in colour, and the sleeve of her soft red jumper poetically divides the image. She walks on, looks over her shoulder right  into the camera, only to turn her gaze firmly forward again. Love and shadows, because I am a shadow.

Swamp (1999)

And in Long Good-Bye (1997), a very personal way of analysing interpersonal erotic relationships: the man remembers, almost endlessly. While the woman (here portrayed in triplicate by Yoshimoto Yumiko, Yoshida Fuki, and Yamada Yoneko) yearns. No matter what may be happening around her. The traffic island, flooded with pigeons, as a pretty quotation to Terayama.

In a 70-minute production, Yamada took the opportunity to bring together his themes of poetry, gesture, his sense of small insecurities and irritations. And because of the significance and also because of its popularity, it would seem incongruous, to say the least, not to mention it briefly here: I’ve Heard the Ammonite Murmur (1992). A young geologist traveling by train to visit his sister in the countryside, remembering his childhood, and his fixation with rocks, love, insecurity and irritation…