[Image is a still from Tereyama’s film, Pastoral: To Die in the Country, in which he is having a discussion with his younger self. This post will hopefully be extended, developed and re-written in the future]
Shuji Terayama and Kazuo Ishiguro are two figures, towering over the artistic arena, of Japanese descent. They both deal extensively, and experimentally, with reflections of the past, and more critically, the role and act of memory. The importance of their relationship to Japanese history and society is obviously unimportant to artistic indulgence and commentary on memory, the past etc. But they are two figures who I have frequently enjoyed and been somewhat obsessed with over the last year or so, and their specific commentaries on post-war Japan (across Terayama’s whole oeuvre, and specifically in Ishiguro’s Artist of the Floating world) provide interesting insight into cultural responses to post-war Japan. Of course, their mediums are different; one utilising visual media and the other literature, however I would argue they both approach the subject of memory and social history in a similar, or at least related, manor.
Ishiguro’s most acclaimed novel, Remains of the Day, provides a rich account of memory; from the reflections of an aging house servant through a period of modernisation, in which the roles and practices he has so ardently committed himself slowly begin to disintegrate and be replaced with different social structures, and new cultural formations begin to arise. His intensely personal, yet obscured and full of redactions, memories are thus distributed across a period of development and change; although full of critical events (add example), the landscape of his memory is one of running hills. In contrast, sheer cliffs and edges punctuate the memory of Masuji Ono, the aging, controversial artist of Ishiguro’s Artist of the Floating world (and by far my favourite from his works): a renowned, now retired and existentially flailing, artist who established himself during the furor of Japanese Nationalism looks back on episodes of his life with varying degrees of intensity. Thus like Remains of the Day, a drifting, somber tone guides the novel: yet unlike the slow process of change in Remains, the story of Ono is punctuated, devastated and pivots upon the event of the Second World War, and how he comes to terms on a personal, social and familial level with the tragedies of the war. Ishiguro’s account of the past, memorably and as an appraised feature of his writing, is one that is constituted by vague gestures, subtle linguistic contouring, and a consistently unreliable and intervening narrator; lack of determination in events and impacts on his character, and a fearful pensiveness in his willingness to remember, makes his writing on memory and penetrations of the past sharply in contrast with the almost psychoanalytical practice of other works that explore the past; no Event or site of transformation hemorrhages the pysche of the individual, rather it is through cumulative and evolutionary movement through the past, with consistent anchoring and continued develpment in the present, can an causal account of the present be given; his work is thus firmly one of the present, although it is established in reference to the past.
Terayama’s film, Pastoral: To Die in the County, perhaps explores the past (in this case, his past) in a similar way. Although the film is punctuated with absurd, ethereal and bizarre
-particular site they both reflect on is the changing role and presence of Women in post-war japan
-also the nature of artwork in relation to war and violence
-the vague gesturings and linguistic contourings of events, people and significance leave not only an unclear story, but re-instate firmly the subjectivity of such accounts and bring forward the act of memory itself (in Ishiguro); perhaps a similar effect occurs in Terayama’s exploration of the past, but in an even more direct, and thus mystifying way. His encounters with his past self (not just revelatory, but engaged and violating) lead to not just a greater historical self-exegesis, but a re-affirming of the presence of the contemporary Terayama’s characeter and situation.