Collaborations in Japanese Photobooks: Shuji Terayama, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno

Photobooks by their very nature are collaborative endeavors. On their most basic level they involve a photographer and a printer. More often than not, they also engage a collaborative dialogue with a designer. During the 1960s in Japan, as traditional artistic boundaries blurred to form truly interdisciplinary creative think tanks, photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Issei Suda and Eikoh Hosoe formed collaborative relationships with performing artists in dance, film and theater. These creative exchanges, which merged the visual with the performative as photographers sought to uncover a new language beyond words, were the seeds for many of the most inventive photobook collaborations. By working as set photographers for the highly experimental intermedia filmmaker, theater impresario, and tanka poet Shuji Terayama, photographers Moriyama and Suda engaged in a dialogue that created hybrid forms of artistic expression from a mash-up of traditional Japanese folk arts, highly eroticized gender explorations, and Dada inspired happenings.  Similarly, in collaborative experiments that began in the early 1960s and continued throughout his career, Eikoh Hosoe worked with dancers Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno of the influential Butoh dance-theater. The photobooks that resulted from these unions of performing arts with photography formed the basis for explorations that emphasized the spontaneous and unmediated in a blurring of art forms.

As one of the most inventive and experimental interdisciplinary artists of the 1960s and 70s Tokyo art scene, Shuji Terayama is relatively unknown in western art circles. His Tenjo Sanjiki Theater (loosely translated as “Peanut Gallery” Theater) staged wildly provocative events that challenged traditional Japanese customs as they simultaneously embraced them. Not limited to a single art form, Terayama was the ultimate artist-impresario. His creative vision flourished in theater, film, photography and poetry, with results that often confronted socially acceptable norms (both then and now). Included in this prolific and provocative creative outpouring were numerous collaborative photobooks.

A little known and beautiful example is Terayama’s Saa Saa Otachiai (1968). Often found in the film or theater section of libraries, this book includes photographs of Tenjo Sanjiki performances by Moriyama and Suda, interwoven with text by Terayama and fantastic illustrations by Shiro Tatsumi. Designed by Kiyoshi Awazu with contributions from Tadanori Yokoo and Yutaka Higashi, this book begins with Terayama’s well-known play Oyama Debuko no Hanzai as it elegantly integrates typography, illustration and photography into distinct visual sections identified by green, purple, black, pink and red monochrome pages. Interestingly, this might be Moriyama’s first photobook contribution and may even predate his often cited “first photobook” Japan, A Photo Theater (1968), whose images include actors from the Tenjo Sajiki with text by Terayama.

Another photobook that showcases the collaborative efforts of photographers and performers is Terayama’s A Collection of Stage Fantasy Photos: Tenjo Sajiki People / Genso butai shashin cho: Tenjo Sajiki no hitobito (1977). With contributions from Ikko Narahara, Hajime Sawatari, Issei Suda and Kishin Shinoyama, this book is a collection of wildly extravagant and absurd images that document the gender-bending and groundbreaking stage performances / street happenings of Terayama’s Tenjo Sajiki troupe.

Issei Suda’s Fushi kaden (1978, reprinted 2005, 2012) is an individual photographer’s book, whose images can also be connected to a collaborative dialogue with Shuji Terayama. As the set and publicity photographer for the Tenjo Sanjiki Theatre in the late 1960s, Suda was strongly influenced by Terayama’s integration within his creative oeuvre of northern folk traditions and their associated mystical rituals. The original Asahi Sonorama version of Fushi kaden, which was recently reprinted in a luxurious over-sized edition by the Japanese publisher Akio Nagasawa, reveals a strong debt to this interest in the mysterious at the edge of ordinary. Taken during several road trips throughout Japan in the early 1970s, Fushi kaden presents images of fading rituals and traditional life with a hint of mysterious spirituality. Suda’s images are the folk and traditional interests of Terayama without the theatrics.

In contrast, an embrace of theatrics is exactly what the photographer Eikoh Hosoe addresses in his photobook collaborations with the dancers Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. As prominent figures in the 1960s Tokyo cultural scene, Hijikata along with Ohno were the founders of Butoh, an experimental dance form that explores the duality of human strength and fragility through a choreographic focus on twisted and contorted bodies. Hosoe’s life-long collaborations with Hijikata and Ohno began in 1959, after he attended the scandalous one-night performance of Hijikata’s Forbidden Colors / Kinjiki, a homoerotic tale of youth based on Yukio Mishima’s eponymous novel (Badger/Parr, The Photobook 279). Inspired by the highly theatrical, often extreme imagery found in their dances, many of Hosoe’s best-known photobooks involve Hijikata, Ohno or members of their Butoh group. Beginning with Man and Woman / Otoko to Onna (1959), Hosoe used Butoh dancers as photographic models to explore a highly staged formalism of fragmented body parts that initially seems abstracted and detached, but is actually a stark poetic commentary on sexuality and the human condition.

As a creative zenith in the union of dance and photography, Hosoe’s next photobook, Kamaitachi (1969, reprints: 2005 and 2009) presents Hijikata running through the fields of his native northern Tohoku with rural villagers acting as casting extras. Kamaitachi’s dramatic images are based on the mythical Japanese folktale of a demon-like ‘sickle-weasel’, who haunts the rice paddies of the region, materializing at random intervals to slash villagers and run off with small children. Having spent several of the war years during his childhood in a northern village where the weasel legend was a cautionary tale known by all, Hosoe revisits this mythological narrative to further emphasize his vision of the expressive and symbolic quality unique to the photographic image.  As a multi-tiered collaboration, Kamaitachi also includes a preface by Shuzo Takiguchi, poetry by Toyoichiro Miyoshi and graphic design by Ikko Tanaka.

Butoh dance was a regular thematic thread throughout Hosoe’s work and is once again the focus in The Butterfly Dream, a beautiful and extravagant volume published in 2009 to commemorate the 100th birthday of Kazuo Ohno. Presented in a clamshell case designed by Tadanoori Yokoo, another fixture of the collaborative and interdisciplinary 1960s Tokyo scene, the book collects 46 years of photographs of both a young and old Ohno taken by Hosoe – many of them first appearing in Kazuo Ohno, an earlier 1997 volume, which documented Ohno and the Butoh dance form. Unlike Hijikata, Ohno’s dance style was less anguished; rather it championed a lighter and more fluid formal quality as an expressive exploration of symbolic release in tandem with its opposite: pain. As both a document and an art object, The Butterfly Dream, is a wonderful example of a photobook collaboration that thoughtfully constructs a balanced stage for the creative talents of all its participants.

A few years prior to The Butterfly Dream, the Howard Greenberg Gallery published a large format, limited edition photobook that features an additional layer of technological collaboration to Hosoe’s ongoing multi-decade exploration of Butoh dance. In Eikoh Hosoe’s Photographic Theater: Ukiyo-e Projections (2004), Hosoe merges the traditional with the modern by photographing projections of traditional ukiyo-e prints on the bodies of Butoh dancers, and then printing the resulting images on Japanese washi paper. This reworking of Hosoe’s dance/photography theme masterfully employs old and new technologies to pay tribute to the collaborative nature of his theatrical imagery as he continues to expand a dialogue at the intersection of art, dance, photography, theater and traditional ink painting. It once again confirms Hosoe as the ultimate collaborator, who is not afraid to embrace the new as he champions the old in a symbolic photographic language that exposes a rough sexuality interwoven with questions of human fragility.

The Hollywood version of art history often portrays the solitary artist working alone in a studio.  Theater, dance, art and photography keep to their respective arenas. Everything is tidy. However, the reality is quite different – especially in the free-flowing artistic circles of the 1960s and 70s. The blurring of boundaries was the mantra of the day, and Japanese artists were at the forefront of this dialogue. Dancers inspired photographers; photographers inspired dramatists; and dramatists brought it all to the streets in happenings that engaged the public in a larger collaborative and intermedia exchange that is now cited as the foundation for much of the current juncture of performance, art and photography… And photographers made photobooks that preserved it all for future generations.

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Books mentioned:

Shuji Terayama, Daido Moriyama, Issei Suda, Shiro Tatsumi. Saa Saa Otachiai. Tenjo Sajiki Shijo Koen /Performance on paper by Tenjosajiki. Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, Showa 43, 1968.

Shuji Terayama, et al. Genso Butai Shashin Cho/ Tejo Sajiki No Hitobito (A Collection of Stage Fantasy Photos / Tenjo Sajiki People). Tokyo: Doyobitjutsu-Sha, 1977.

Issei Suda. Fushi kaden. Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1978. TR680 .S83 1978

Hosoe, Eikoh, Man and Woman / Otoko no onna [facsimile]. Tokyo: Camera Art Inc., 2006. TR676 .H68 2006

Eikoh Hosoe. Kamaitachi [reprint]. New York: Aperture, 2005. TR654 .H67 2005

Eikoh Hosoe. Kazuo Ohno. Tokyo: Soshi Seijusha, 1997.

Eikoh Hosoe. The Butterfly Dream (Kazuo Ohno). Seigensha Art Publishing, Tokyo, 2006.

Eikoh Hosoe. Eikoh Hosoe’s Photographic Theater: Ukiyo-e Projections. New York: Howard Greenberg Gallery, 2004. TR654 .H67 2004

3 thoughts on “Collaborations in Japanese Photobooks: Shuji Terayama, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno”

  1. I’ve never seen Terayama’s Saa Saa Otachiai book with photographs of Tenjo Sanjiki performances by Moriyama and Suda. I’ll have to keep on eye out in the film and theater sections of my libraries for it. It looks amazing!

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