*1 University of Tsukuba School of Art and Design
Founded in 1975, the University of Tsukuba School of Art and Design was established with an awareness of the possibilities of new forms of expression connecting to art and the environment, media and science/technology and thus representing field not previously available in art colleges at the time. Professors including pioneers of media arts like Shunsuke Mitamura and Katsuhiro Yamaguchi and others like Tatsuo Kawaguchi and Morio Shinoda who opened up new realms in contemporary art, became famous for the unique classes they held. The school is known for producing many talented graduates whose activities span the arts and beyond in a wide range of fields.
Catcher in Twilight (360 video)
Fermentation (360 video)
After Cherenkov trailer
*2 Tanjo (Birth)
This is a film that was shown in what was at the time the world’s largest dome (30-meter diameter), the Midori Kan (Green Pavilion) at the 1970 Japan World Exposition in Osaka. The 70mm film images were projected onto the dome via five projectors and the sound generated by 515 speakers in what was called an “Astrorama” film system. Today, the system, etc., has been lost, but a study by the Tatsumi Hijikata Archive of the Keio University Arts Center is underway.
Director/Music: Toshiro Mayuzumi; film script: Shuntaro Tanikawa; production: Gakshu Kenkyu-sha
Sep. 10, 2019
Masashige Iida is a creator of dance video works projected on a large dome-shaped screen like that of a planetarium. The absence of any frame gives the depictions of body motion an incredible immersive quality in his works. Iida’s works meet with high acclaim in overseas fulldome film festivals as well as in Japan. In works like his most recent one titled HIRUKO, done in collaboration with the Butoh artist Kazuko Mogami, Iida seeks to express the unique world of the Japanese-born art of Butoh. In this interview we asked Iida about fulldome film and why he uses it for expressing human motion.
Interviewer: Takao Norikoshi [dance critic]
Would you tell us how it was that you came be a fulldome film artist?
The fact is that until high school I was intent on being a baseball player, but I got injured, that was when I changed my direction and decided to study art. So, I ended up going to the University Tsukuba’s School of Art and Design (*1). In the contemporary art field there was both 2-D and 3-D media and it was sort of a free-for-all environment. I wanted to work with film or video, but in the group exhibition environment, I saw the weakness of film. If I had gone to a film school, I’m sure I would have been looking for the possibilities of the film medium, but in the exhibition space where people were free to walk around and look at what caught their eye, I saw very clearly that in order to make people stop and look at your work, you needed first of all to have powerful images, prior to the usual storyline of traditional language of film. And conversely, that became the motivation for me to begin searching for new possibilities in film.
What kinds of works did you do there as a student?
I did film installations using about three projectors each. I took cuts from images I filmed around the campus with a video camera, printed them out on copy paper and then dripped water on them to blur the images. Then I would scan them again and connect them into abstract compositions. My theme was “memories,” and at first I was trying to find ways the extract memories out of the images I “recorded” on film. After graduation I stayed on at Tsukuba as a non-regular staff member in charge of taking care of the equipment, and it was then that I met a student who was trying hard to move images of Saturn around on a video monitor. When I asked, “Why Saturn,” the student said that he was taking a course to train scientific image creators as part of a project launched by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in 2008 to increase the number of fulldome film creators. At that time I had never heard of fulldome film, and when I learned that it was projecting film across the 360-degree inside of a dome space, I felt intuitively that it was close to the kind of images I wanted to create.
The mission of the course to train scientific image creators was to create new scientific culture based on the outer space images, and the aim was to increase the number of creators who could make image-processing software for use in planetariums. So, it wasn’t intended for the type of art images you wanted to create, was it?
I think that is true. But I felt that it was the only way I could learn to use the necessary image-processing equipment. And it was written in the course application materials that “originally, science and art were one,” so I did this and that to get them to accept me (laughs). I believe I was one of ten people that were accepted for the course. Everything I was learning was new to me, like the fact that rather than learning to film with a fisheye lens or direct filming, it was actually more effective to use computer graphics to create expressive images for dome spaces. Anyway, I really enjoyed the year I spent studying there.
Your graduation work was titled Yuyake no Obakega Tsukamaeta 2012, literally “A sunset ghost is caught), wasn’t it?
It was an abstractly composed animation bringing together overlapped images of a sunset and actual images taken of my body. I believe it was from around that time the body had become my image. At the presentation of the graduation pieces where everyone was concentrated on works that were moving the stars in the sky, people were surely saying, “What is this guy trying to do?” (Laughs) But, there was one person who had been abroad and seen a lot of fulldome works and he/she said, “we see a lot of these kinds of works recently, but few are as thoroughly composed as yours. If you show this kind of work overseas you are sure to get a good response.” It was then that I learned for the first time that overseas there were already festivals for fulldome film works and that Japan was considered to have the world’s second largest number of planetariums.
Didn’t you have any uncertainties about the possibilities of creating dome films with an artistic aim?
Using moving images (film) to create spaces, and not by linking together images from a square [flat] monitor but in a way that surrounded the viewers in a dome space was something I very much wanted to do because it fit my desired form of expression perfectly. And I was certain that it would be possible to create a new realm of motion picture culture that was different from movies.
But, don’t you need special equipment to create fulldome images?
No. The only thing special that you really need is a full-frame fisheye lens. When a certain amount of height is necessary we can use a crane at times, and fisheye lenses can be acquired at quite affordable prices now and are used with the same work-flow as regular film cameras. If the picture is in a round format, a film image can be projected, even if there may be some distortion in the image. In the editing process, you are working with a flat image, except for the fact that it is in a round format, it can be worked on as you would with a regular film using a regular editing software. It is not easy to use a planetarium for a preview, but you can create a virtual planetarium space on your computer and paste images into it to create a simulation. So, there is a much lower hurdle than one would expect in terms of the equipment necessary.
Iida’s first fulldome dance film, Fermentation
It was for your fulldome film work Fermentation (2015) that you worked in collaboration with dancers.
I was fortunate to be able to work with the contemporary dancer Natsuki Kuroda. I was then able to show the resulting work in a special showing for related people at the planetarium of the Science Museum in Kudanshita, Tokyo. Since the planetarium is used in the science realm, it is difficult to get permission to use it for showing art films as part of the regular program. Since planetariums are meant for showing the stars, there is hesitation among their management concerning how to evaluate art films, so it is difficult to get permission to show works like mine, even though there are many planetariums in Japan. However, if permission is given, there are no technical difficulties whatsoever.
How did you meet Kuroda-san?
We went to the same university. At the University of Tsukuba, the dance department is part of the school of physical education, so there is no direct relationship with the School of Arts and Design I attended, but I was brought in to film the dance performances. It looked very abstract and I didn’t know how to evaluate it, but my reaction at the time was a sense that there must be something to it. For my work I wanted to film professional dancers, so I asked them to collaborate with me.
What was it like doing your first creation with dancers?
At first it was difficult to find common language between us. It was to be a 15-minute work, and I decided to work on a filming timeline that was close to what the stage time would be. Rather than piecing cuts together like when making a movie, I kept the camera filming the whole time and didn’t do any film-like editing. And I believe that by rooting it in the time flow as we live it enabled us to find a common language with the dancers.
Working with dancers, I found that the viewpoint with regard to the filmed images is completely different for the filming people and the dancers. We on the filming side have a free range of choices, we can film down from above or scan up from near floor level. This freedom to film while changing my viewpoint as freely as breathing is what I have lived for. However, with a stage performance you will always have the “front” view and “gravity.” On stage the dancers dance for the audience, and the audience viewpoint is essentially horizontal, from the side (as opposed to from above or below). So, I was surprised by the fact that the viewpoint that the dancers dance for basically does not change. That made it difficult to show things as I wanted [from different angles].
In your work Fermentation it looks as if you had painted their bodies with paint that shines.
It isn’t paint, it was tights with patterns on them that I had them wear. In dome film contrast of light and dark is very important. When the film images are projected around the full dome, the light reflects around the dome and reduces the contrast overall, so the images lose sharpness. Due to the technical factor that images stand out most clearly against a dark background, I filmed this work with the dancers performing in a white studio and then in the end I reversed the colors so it turned out to be a film of them dancing in the dark.
So the final image for the film is something that exists only in your own mind, isn’t it?
Yes it is. With regard to that, I think Kuroda-san and the other dancers were very gracious in their acceptance of my plan. But looking back, I feel that in my attempt to film dance, I was focusing only on the movement of the dancers. I thought about how to make the movement interesting when the viewers are looking up to see the stage on the roof of the dome, in a reversal of the real world. I was very interested in the symbolic aspect of this. Although it doesn’t sound very good to phrase it this way, I have to admit that in a sense I was using the dancers to design the motion in the film.
In other words you were not working together with the dancers to create a specific world of expression but using then to create the images you wanted.
That’s right. And for that reason, I feel that a lot of the raw vitality of the dancers and the strength that they can project beyond prescribed forms was being lost. At the time, I was aware of that, however. That’s why I was able to do something like switching the color (white for black) and think of the interest of that visual effect as a strength.
This film of your won prizes at Germany’s Fulldome Festival 2015 and at the Immersive Film Festival in Portugal. What kind of responses did you get?
It was clear that people there said it as something unique. By far, most of the works out there made along the lines of cinema or television films or the dazzling psychedelic type works that make full use of the dome. There were no precedents for the kind of works I did that showed dance in it original timeframe.
We are told that the award you got in Germany was one for technology called the Award for Use of Innovative Production Technologies, wasn’t it?
That’s right. Since computer graphics are usually used to create dome films, it appears that they were completely surprised to see a work created by my own method of filming with a fisheye lens and then projecting the film with a dark background. They were surprised to see a work like mine that filmed dance, because they had never seen one before.
The title you chose for it, “fermentation” is the natural process of something fermenting, isn’t it?
I began working on this piece in 2011, the year eastern Japan was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. I was living in Ibaraki Prefecture at the time and there we felt a very strong quake as well [even though it was hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter] and it caused an electricity blackout and stopped our gas service, and for days we had to go to get water as well because the water utility was also stopped. There was also a lack of information due to interruption of the communication systems, so we were especially worried about the status of radiation spread from the nuclear power plant disaster in nearby Fukushima Prefecture. It was something we couldn’t see, but we had to worry about it anyway, and the sense of insecurity about something we couldn’t see was, in a way, like a process of fermentation that goes on even though you can’t see it. I felt that the disaster gave a new dimension to the cat of “seeing” for me. At that time I had a new awareness of the problem that the world is not only what we see, and how do we go about making the invisible realms visible to us.
Iida’s second dance dome film, After Cherenkov (2016)
In your next work, After Cherenkov, the subjects of natural disaster and the nuclear power plant accident appear in much more direct form. This work also has dance by Kuroda-san, but as a completely different element, there is the appearance of people wearing the kind of radioactivity-protective wear that workers at nuclear power plants wear, and the disturbing effect of their appearance was very powerful, wasn’t it?
In fact, after the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting nuclear accident, I had an opportunity to visit one of the radioactivity contaminates areas Fukushima that was declared “difficult for re-habitation” after the initial evacuation after the disaster. I was involved in a project by the artist ChimŠPom to do an exhibition there title Don’t follow the wind, and the exhibit included pictures of ordinary landscapes there in the off-limits area that no one could go and see with there own eyes due to the restrictions. This was something that involved the earlier statement I made about the world containing more than what can be seen, and it presented the issue we faced of a situation having to provide some way to experience the invisibly physically.
In response to this, I began by thinking about how human beings have faced something as powerful as the forces of the elements in a natural disaster. In the beginning of this film we used body painting on the dancers, which was actually a representation of tribal tattoos. The act of tattooing the body as a human tradition actually began as an attempt to gain “control” of the innate wildness in human beings and nature, and I took this idea as my point of departure. The human race has also developed the sciences as a way to control nature, and one extension history and accumulation of these efforts has connected to the nuclear power plant disaster. And as a new dorm of defense against the forces of nature that is different from tattoos, we have come to use the protective suits worn today in the presence of radioactivity. That line of thinking made we want to use film to ask the question of where human creativity will take us from here in the future.
In this second work with dancers, did you explore new forms of collaboration with them?
There were many discoveries that I made in the creative process. Compared with working with actors on their performance, I found unexpected moments of power emerging in the work with dancers. It was a time when I was rapidly getting absorbed in the appeal of dance as an art.
Kuroda-san also works with the contemporary dance artist Hiroaki Umeda, who is active internationally. Umeda creates a stage background that is covered by “noise video” and dances in it.
Umeda-san dances in an environment where he uses video to make the stage setting abstract, and the premise behind this is that there be a real body dancing there. In my case, I include everything in the film with the aim of finding how to give expression to the [dancing] body within the world of a film, so I believe that the perspectives we are working from are somewhat different for the two of us.
The film HIRUKO (2019), and filming the Butoh world of Kazuko Mogami
Your latest work HIRUKO was done in collaboration with the Butoh artist Kazuko Mogami. At the start of the film we see a close-up of a flapping and gasping fish that has just been brought out of the water, and then there is what appears to be a lighting of a ceremonial fire overhear [from the viewpoint of the audience], after which follows a long solo dance by Mogami. This makes it a work surely intended to express the Butoh world through the body of Mogami. What caused you to become interested in Butoh?
It wasn’t as if I had been interested in watching Butoh for a long time, but in the course of creating these works using dancers, my interest in dance naturally grew deeper. In fact, in the past I had worked as a video cameraman on a project to make a DVD recording of a Sankai Juku Butoh dance performance, and that got me interested in Butoh beyond what is seen in stage performances.
As I read things written about Butoh, I found that a lot of it talked about the inner philosophical aspects to Butoh. Reading things like the words spoken by Kazuo Ono when teaching dancers in the rehearsal studio, which were very abstract but also very essential words without which that deeper realm could not be reached, and that I got me absorbed by that deeper philosophical aspect. It was at that time that I found a book titled Shintai no Real (literally: reality of the body). This book consists of a collection of discussions on the subject of the body and physicality between the Butoh artist Kazuko Mogami and her actual younger brother, the film, TV and anime director Mamoru Oshii. In many of the animated films that Oshii has directed, the body is an important theme, and what also surprised me very much was the fact that Oshii had an older sister who happened to be a Butoh dancer.
At the showing of HIRUKO, there was a talk held afterwards by brother and sister Oshii and Mogami. In it, director Oshii said that he sometimes filmed his sister’s performances for the record, but as films they weren’t very interesting. And he said that he had expected the result would be the same with your film, but when he saw it he was amazed at how real it looked [in the fulldome film format].
Mogami is someone who didn’t begin dancing until she was past 40. Until then she had led a life completely unrelated to dance, working as an office worker and a caregiver, but at some point she had the revelation that “the body is everything,” and that began her encounter with dance. As someone whose body had not been trained [for dance], Mogami takes a very theoretical approach to the body, which gives her book a great amount of depth as she discusses it from a consistently objective perspective. She chooses words are very different from those of Kazuo Ono. I don’t think I have ever read a book by a dancer that speaks so clearly about dance as hers.
This prompted me to go see one of her performances, and it was seeing that which made me realize that there were other forms of Butoh than the ones in my previous image of dancers with white-washed faces and shaved heads. The movement was kept very minimal, but in the format of her performance she showed what can appear out of that movement. In a space created in a restored old factory in Kamata, she lay down on the ground and moved around, and it had a site-specific aspect the lingering smell of oil from when it was a factory, but most of all it was a space that put you close to the dancers. With Butoh, apart from the artistic “expression” aspect, I was amazed to discover the existence of another realm, which might be called the “realization” or “actualization” that occurs for the dancers themselves. Of course, by nature a performance, but Mogami-san’s performance made me feel that the real essence of her dance must be found in the rehearsal studio. I felt intuitively that the essence of what she is trying to do must lie in the way she prepares herself and confronts her body in the studio. I had the opportunity to speak to Mogami-san after the performance and I asked her if she would let me come to her studio regularly, and she agreed.
So, did you actually train in Mogami-san’s Butoh lessons?
That’s right. And I still am taking the lessons now. There are a variety of other people like actors and martial arts competitors taking her lessons too, so it was easy for me to join in. Mogami-san uses all kinds of channels to show how open and deep the inner realms of the body are.
She does workshops that mainly attempt to increase the level of definition of our perceptions of our bodies by having us experience completely different time frames from normal life though exercises like taking 30 minutes to stand up from a prone position on the floor, or taking 15 minutes to drink a glass of water in one continuous draft. And when you do these exercises you rapidly begin to feel changes in your physical perceptions. It is nothing like being in a trance, and because you can take plenty of time to search through your body’s inner realms through trial and error, it is amazing how much information you will find there. And that makes your body far more sensitive. When you have gone through the experience of taking 30 minutes to stand up and then you feel the sunlight that has just shone in touch your body, it feels like such a dramatic moment. Even though it is the same sunlight that you didn’t even notice 30 minutes earlier. The fact that even an amateur like me could experience such a change become one of the big motivating factors that led me to create the film HIRUKO.
I see. But, isn’t manipulating the time frame on of the things that film is so good for?
Yes. Things like slow motion are so easy to do in abundance. In that sense film is almighty, but that can also lead to unanticipated problems. And that also involves “the problem of frame” in fulldome film. Film still has a history of only about 100 years, but during this time the [creative] vocabulary has been revised numerous times. In particular the montage method of piecing together cuts has been an amazing invention that enables us to jump between time lines freely. We now also have the development of computer graphics, which seems to make the possibilities of film almost limitless, but this is a vocabulary that can only successful in the context of movies. But, since my student days I have often experienced what a fragile thing it becomes when you begin to see it as part of the real world or it becomes equated with the reality of the daily lives we lead. Of course, I am not completely separated from the vocabulary of film, but I believe there can be a way of doing film that focuses on the power of the images themselves that we film.
When you speak about the power of the images themselves that you film, perhaps that means that you had to go and train with Mogami-san in order to understand the power of the Butoh itself?
That’s right. There is a tendency for people doing film to come to believe that in the end they can do anything with film. But in filming HIRUKO, the body of the filmmaker became very important. When filming Mogami-san’s solo dance at the end, which is the main part of the film, she had spent about two hours preparing herself physically for the performance, so I spent that same two hours preparing my own body alongside her there on the stage where I would be filming her.
In order to synchronize your breathing as the filmmaker with that of hers, the performer.
Yes. In order to film the inner aspects of the dance, it would not be good if I remained coolly detached in a negative sense; I felt that in order to film her dance I had to try to get more involved in it, mentally and physically. In a film, it is easy to use a progression of cuts that make the viewer see the dance from the audience’s line of sight and perspective, but the moment that happens, the “body of the filmmaker” is no longer present. In short, the aspect of how the filmmaker moved his camera at any one moment is no longer present. The reason that I had decided to film HIRUKO in long sequences of constant filming (as opposed to in short cuts) is because I believed that the way I moved the camera as I followed Mogami-san’s motion would strongly reflect the perceptual information that my body was receiving at each moment. I believed that I had to augment my body’s degree of sensitivity in order to follow Mogami-san’s movement in the format of a frameless fisheye lens, which is like an extension of the human eyeball. And in fact, after I finished that two hours of physical preparation alongside Mogami-san, and I instinctively reached for a plastic bottle of water thinking that now the filming would actually start, I was amazed to find how soft that plastic bottle felt. That was proof of how much that preparation had changed my body’s perceptions. I believe that is how I was able to film her performance with the sense that I was dancing along with her, and when I saw the resulting film images I saw in them elements that could only have been filmed after going through that active physical preparation. I believe that the point was that, instead of just fixing my eyes on Mogami’s image, I was able to use all of my five senses and move the camera in a way that I was “seeing” the entire space where the dance was taking place.
There is a big difference between this approach and that of your previous film After Cherenkov, where you seemed to look at the dancers’ bodies as compositional elements in the film, isn’t it?
With After Cherenkov, my image was one of composing a sage performance, and as I worked on the stage development I would think, what meaning shall I give to the next body. But then it occurred to me, what is the meaning of making a film of this. So, I was asking myself new questions. With HIRUKO it was different, before thinking about the body’s artistic expression, I thought that it could be possible to have it appear first as a “realization” in itself and then use it for expression in the format of the essentially 2-dimensional medium of film. I though that this would be a means to give the images depth, and this could justify the process of turning it into a film work with meaning.
That is why you can consider the first half of the film to all be a sort of ritual to prepare the audience’s bodies there to really “see” the Mogami-san’s performance in the second half of the film. In other words, to prepare the audience to watch Butoh as dance that starts from a state of nothing that may be life of death or a writhing state in between the two, I wanted to first take the audience to that kind of state of nothingness. So, the film starts from the very specific reality of a fish’s death, and connect to the eventually reality of our own death, cremation and burial. In short, I deliberately created a situation where the audience would have to view what follows from and active, rather than a passive mindset to watch the final solo performance by Mogami.
In that solo, your camera is looking down from a bird’s eye view at Mogami-san lying on the floor, and that positional relationship was an important element, wasn’t it? In the talk show that followed the showing of HIRUKO, Mogami-san said that in a dance performance, even when the dancers is lying on the floor, they of necessity always be seen [by the audience] from the side, so this film was her first experience of seeing herself from above.
It was a very big transition for myself as well. Since the floor was completely black, you cannot see the floor is by simply looking at the film image, so you can’t tell whether the dancer is lying on the floor or floating in the air. However, in Butoh there is a general context of standing on the ground and facing life and death. And, after some thought and difficult decision-making, I decided to use ambient sound from the site in the film, which I had never done before. In other words, I used the sound of Mogami-san moving against the floor and the rustling of her garments. It brought in the presence of the ground. From the viewer’s point of view you don’t know which way is up and which is down, and I believe that succeeded in creating the impression of the real body writhing between heaven and earth.
In musical movies from before WWII there were bird’s eye shots call the Berkeley shot, but there beauty was something like looking through a Kaleidoscope at a pattern made by a large number of dancers. But in HIRUKO, it is a bird’s eye view of only one dancer. So, it is a technique that will not work unless the impact, the presence of that one dancer is very strong.
That’s right. It is true that not just any dancer could be shot like that. The way it was shot was actually quite brutal; in some sense it had to be filmed as a “deterioration of life.” The most important point was how to make the image raw but convincing at the same time. For example, in HIRUKO you have the image of a very solitary figure in the dark with nothing to contrast it to, so you don’t know if the body is large because it is close or if it is a large body in the distance. That fluctuation in the sense of distance brings out a unique and distinct presence in the body.
It is the strength of the Butoh body that gives it that powerful sense of presence, isn’t it?
I believe so. And it is also important that Mogami-san is one of the few dancers that places particular importance on the “realization” of the body’s physical presence. By the way, I only learned just recently that there is dome film work of the founder of Butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata.
A dome film work of Tatsumi Hijikata performing?
Yes. I am told that a film of Tatsumi Hijikata titled Tanjo (Birth) (*2) was shown as a dome film in the 30-meter diameter dome called the Midori Kan (Green Pavilion) at the 1970 Osaka World Exposition. There appear to have been scenes in the film where Hijikata appeared alone, so it seems that the first Butoh dome film was actually shown at the 1970 Osaka World Exposition!
If it was shown at the Osaka World Expo, that means it was ten years before Butoh made its impressive debut in France in 1980. I am surprised to hear that dome film has connected again to Butoh after half a century.
I believe it was done not with a fisheye lens but by piecing together multiple films taken by different cameras. Considering the degree of precision that was available at the time, I imagine that the edges where the films were connected were probably rather sorry-looking, so I would definitely like to see the film revived.
Dome Film and Virtual Reality
Today, many people are making convenient use of the word immersive. It is used with a broad range of meanings like a generic word for all kinds of things like experiential theater and virtual reality that are not just watched sitting down. What is the image of dome film?
As I said earlier, an important aspect of it is that there is no frame. When an image is in a frame it is in a different there is a different orientation to time, it is farther removed from the viewers, so they can look at it with calm detachment. In contrast, dome film has no frame so it has a physical element that can get closer to the viewers, I believe.
Overseas, there are some dome film works that show moving scenery, as if you were driving ahead in a car with the scenery passing by. That kind of perceptive method has big limitations as a way of looking at things, and it is only a method that was developed in Western art. Rather than that, I believe it is important to find a way to create a sense of depth without using that kind of perspective method and make it possible for the viewer to imagine what lies beyond the image. That is why I deliberately avoid showing any background. The darkness of the inside of the dome is a place where that kind of depth can be reinvented.
How about compared to virtual reality?
The big difference with VR is that numerous viewers gather inside the dome to see a dome film. I had an interesting experience when I visited the Sistine Chapel in Italy. When someone starts to talk in the chapel, everyone immediately scolds them by whispering, “Hush.” In that way, there is pressure for everyone to keep quiet chapel as they look up at the paintings, and because of that I felt that the silence gives the paintings an added power beyond the power of the actual images. I think that perhaps dome film has that sort of illusionary physical perception. Because we know that a planetarium is a place for looking at the stars, there is an illusion at work there too, because we see every dot of light automatically as a star. So, I believe that due to the pressure of having to look up in silence, I believe dome film has a unique type of immersive quality.
For a while there was big excitement about 3D television adaption, but all the excitement quickly disappeared. Human beings quickly get used to new things, so it quickly became a case of, “It looks like things could come right out of the screen. So what?” So, soon you arrive at the dead end of simply competing to make your 3D images sharper or more stimulating than others’. Couldn’t the same thing be said about dome film? If it becomes a competition to make your film more immersive than others, it rapidly becomes simply a race of trying to make your images more impressive than others’, and then isn’t there a danger that will decrease the breadth of artistic expression?
Yes, there is a very strong danger of that happening. In fact, the trend in dome film today is to take the approach of using it for things like music events or video jockeying and mostly the aim is to get the audience high by emphasizing the immersive quality. So, I have rarely seen dome film works that honestly try to explore the dome space. It is the same with the trend in projection mapping as well, and that kind of search for immersive pleasure in the films tends to draw them in the direction of entertainment. And conversely, that means there is still great potential to bring art into dome films.
In the field of 3D film, one exception to this is Wim Wenders’ film about choreographer Pina Bausch titled Pina, which a bit different. Wenders had been planning to do a film about her for a long time but had always hesitated to undertake the task because of the limitations of the film technology of the day. It wasn’t until he encountered 3D technology that he decided it would give him the means to do the film he envisioned and he then started filming. I believe his hesitation had been a result of the weakness he felt in the movie format and the potential he felt for it to leave a gap of estrangement with the [dancing] body. At the time Avatar was the prime example and it sought the entertainment quality of images that seemed to leap out of the screen, but Wenders was looking at 3D as a means for creating a completely different purpose. He used it to create visual depth that would make the dancer’s bodies stand out. That was something that influenced me a lot.
However, Pina passed away during the filming, and work on the film stopped for a while at that point. But with the cooperation of the dancers of her Tanztheater Wuppertal the filming started again. That led to an unexpected development. It led to the birth of a compositional structure as if the film was chasing after the ghost of Pina Bausch. Thanks to the effect of the 3D film, all of the dancers who talked about the late Pina looked as if they were ghosts themselves. Pina’s body wasn’t there physically, but it gave birth to state where there was clearly something like a spirit present, and that was a real shock for me to discover. It is partly a characteristic of the documentary genre itself, but I think this was a very rare case where an otherworldly quality resulted from adapting skillfully to film technology like 3D.
What message do you want to communicate through dome film?
I have been working in the media of film for a long time, and continuously I have come up against its lack of body and the weakness of the physicality it provides. And with the spread of networks and the convenience of communication through the Internet and the like, the body increasingly becomes a hindrance and I have felt how physicality has grown even less of a presence in our daily lives. And I think that is exactly why, in the face of these irreversible movements I felt impelled to approach Butoh, as a dance form that seeks to bring physicality to the forefront. As one who has long been working in film, I think about whether there is something I can do to bring the body back into it. I think about what I might be able to do about my desire to bring physicality in this visual medium of film that has no real bodies in it to begin with, what I can do to create film that creates some realization of physicality in the viewer.
In the beginning, when film first emerged as a medium, I believe that first era ended merely with the pursuit of technology, but now I think we have a greater capability in terms of our film literacy. With the increased level of film literacy that we have now, I believe that we are at a stage that if we try to express physicality that doesn’t exist inherently in the medium itself we can still express something meaningful. I believe that Butoh contains many hints as to how this can be done. It is not an art that belongs exclusively to the Japanese, it is a pursuit of universal loss of physicality that is shared by all of humanity today. To me filming is also seeing, and for that reason, I want to work with dancers to try to build a new perspective on the body in this unique creative space that is the dome.