Layers of Memory: An Interview With Takashi Makino
Baran Bozdağ • 19.07.2022
At The Horion (2017)
Baran Bozdağ: Firstly, I would like to thank you for your time and willingness to do this interview. The first question is a bit generic, and one that you probably hear a lot; how did your interest in cinema - specifically the interest in your way of working- start?
Takashi Makino: I had an interest in imagination itself more than filmmaking. My first research when I was 10 years old was making a diary of dreams and analysing them. I found our imagination has a rich relationship with the real world and also how our imagination has complex and deep images. The images in our head are not so clear like normal films.
When I was 17 years old, I seriously thought I'm going to study philosophy at the university, but I decided to continue my own research by making films. I imagined the film which I will make in the future will not be a normal shaped film.
BB: From what I have read, I understand that you have a great interest in Max Ernst's idea of collage film. Does it feel like the layering and multiple exposure techniques used by you are also a style of collage film?
TM: When I found the text that Max Ernst wrote about the theory of collage, I saw that I can use this theory in multiple exposure on film. There are many different materials that live together and create new landscapes.
I also did an experiment of multiple exposure using a 35mm film camera and Single-8 (Single-8 is a Japanese 8mm film format) when I was 17 years old. I noticed that the structure of the dream is also similar to collage. My general purpose of filmmaking is making imaginative images. I want to share films from the deepest part of my heart and memory. Ernst's theory of collages was very helpful for making images beyond my own imagination.
BB: Collage and surrealism are very intertwined concepts. Your films, however, can often be associated with abstractions. Within your work, what is the importance of the abstract, and what do you think is the relationship between abstractions and reality?
TM: The construction of my films is similar to the construction of our memories and the construction of our dreams. Please imagine; we have a ton of images in our brain, floating, hiding, appearing and disappearing and when we try to recall some memories, we grab some of them and make orders. I think everyone's brain is in a situation of chaos, but we make cosmos from chaos with our knowledge and experience. My films look abstract, but they are actually made by completely concrete images from the real world. As I said, my purpose is to make imaginative images and share them with the audience. My films say nothing, they just exist and move on the screen. I expect viewers to start collaborating with the visuals and their own imagination/memory. The reason why I use only images from the real world is that I want to create a similar situation with the viewer's memory.
BB: I would like to continue on the subject of collage. You use images from the real world together quite a lot. Can such images protect their autonomy when being subjected to the layering technique? And does your work even require that?
TM: The important thing in my works is that while watching many images at once, viewers can select what they will see. I never use words, human acts or human faces in my films because that kind of image is too strong and people stop thinking about what is happening in the film. I gather common images from many places in this world and try to access the memory of viewers.
BB: The first one of your works I’ve seen is EVE. It has caught my attention that your works since then have increased in their noise and their complexity, chaos. In classical cinema, directors will usually progress towards more simplicity as time passes, so that contrast is beautiful. What is the reason behind the intensifying chaos?
TM: When I made EVE in 2002, I only had the knowledge and technique of analogue film. I didn't have any tools for editing so I shot two layers on the same film and edited in the camera (by rewinding and shooting again). I did everything I could then. After making EVE, there was a strong frustration because I wanted to do more and more. Then, I started working as a film to digital colorist at the oldest film processing company in Japan where I could get rich knowledge and technique for filmmaking.
All of my works are made as an "answer" to my previous film. So sometimes my films have intensity, but some of them do not. For example, while we are here has no layered images and is a very slow film. So if you watch all of my films in chronological order, you will find a real wave of their strength.
BB: What is your perspective on beauty? Within the chaotic structure of your works, we often see images from nature such as visuals of trees or shimmering water surfaces. Does it have anything to do with the idea that you find them beautiful?
TM: The reason why I use the images of water reflection and trees in the wind is because they are similar to us. Water itself doesn't move, but wind and gravity move them. Trees don't move themselves, but wind makes them move. I think our life is the same, we are already born and living when we find our own
consciousness. The image of water reflection and trees are a metaphor of life itself. And all people know these images very well, so they have a good way to access the viewer's imagination and memory.
BB: It has been a while now, but you have transitioned to the digital format. Did this change happen because of a vision, or was it a practical choice?
TM: I tried so many experiments using analogue film during 1997-2004, but when I worked as a film to digital colorist, I found my role is using film and digital and creating new types of experimental film. Simply, I could concentrate on filmmaking more and more when I used film and digital both. But in the end, it tooks more than 15 years for a 100% shift to digital. During 2004-2015, I used 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm film as a shooting format. The final screening format was digital because I didn't like the images shot on video. In 2016, I finally could make a 100% digital film On Generation and Corruption. Film format is beautiful, but at the same time I didn't want to depend too much on the film format. During the term of my activity (between 1997-2022), it was a big time for format change in cinema. In that difficult time, I tried to create my own film by my own method.
BB: As someone who makes abstract films you have not stopped using images from the real world, even after switching to the digital medium. Is this what creates the connection of your abstract style to realism?
TM: The important thing is not the format, but the philosophy of making film. It would be ridiculous if I make a different film from before if I switched from analogue to digital. I use both techniques to express my thoughts.
BB: Watching your movies, I feel like I am staring into a very bright light with my eyes closed. Especially during Cinema Concret and On Generation And Corruption. There seems to be a crystallized grainy veil on many of the layers. Is this something you aimed to create purposefully?
BB: You used the Pulfrich effect, a very old invention, in the film 2012. This effect first caught my attention in a Nintendo game. Can you explain a little bit how that decision-making and implementation process progressed?
TM: The reason why I used the Pulfrich effect is clear. Viewers can watch physically different movements from one screen. If we hide the right eye, the image starts revolving to the right, and if we hide the left eye, the image starts revolving to the left. This relationship between viewers and the screen is completely opposite with propaganda films. By using the Pulfrich effect, I wanted to give freedom of choice to each viewer.
BB: Do you think there is a political aspect to presenting various visuals - and the different ways in which those visuals can be screened- to an audience on a screen? Do you have any thoughts on the politics of screenings/viewings?
TM: One of my purposes of filmmaking is, creating films that can go beyond the border of nationalism, religion, sex, generation, race, etc. That's why I never use words, I never use human faces and acts.
My dream is making films that we can feel at the bottom of the heart, without cruel things which tear us apart. I really don't want to control people. So, we can say I'm fighting with propaganda films and commercial propaganda filmmakers. I think especially the Japanese have to really care about it because we have a very bad film history from the 20th century.
BB: At The Horizon may be your work of which I am most curious about its background. Within this work, Manuel Knapp presents animated images while you work with images from the real world. How did you decide on this partnership? How did these two thoughts get combined?
TM: We made two films together until now: At the Horizon and Axis of Aion. Manuel's and my work processes are very different, but we have some similarities. He makes imaginative abstract animation without shooting. Our common interest for noise music connected us and we also both play live music and live video as expanded cinema performances. We collaborated for expanded cinema performances in Japan and in Europe many times. After the live performance collaboration, we decided we would make a film together. In Manuel's works, the images have no color and there are some rich blanks behind his animation. I filled the blanks and created atmosphere, weather and narrative in a space. We made all the images and music together, and also developed every image and sound. It was so much fun for both of us.
BB: I would like to move on to another important topic, music. My first introduction to your work was because of a piece you created for Colleen. Next to the music you compose yourself, how do you decide on when to collaborate? At what stage of the movie do you start thinking about the music?
TM: Each film has a different background story, but generally I finish making images first. During editing, I keep listening to my mind and keep thinking about what kind of music will be the best for this work. If I have a clear idea for sound, I make the sound myself, but if I find a reason to ask a musician, I'll ask them directly and explain to the musician why I asked them.
BB: Some experimental filmmakers feel that the use of sound (especially artificial sound) reduces the impact of the image because it creates a hierarchical relationship between the image and the sound. What is your opinion on this? For example: In Memento Stella, we hear the music start off in a calm manner, gradually get louder, and then calm down again. Do you think that this impacts the perception of the images as well? (Apologies for the long question)
TM: For example in Memento Stella, there are five peaks in the image, however the music does not have five peaks. In my works, music never just follows the images but keeps running together to the same goal. Jim O'Rourke, one of my main collaborators really knows about this and in On Generation and Corruption, he made an incredible soundtrack. Maybe they will not say the same thing after watching that film.
BB: Together with another esteemed experimental film director, Rei Hayama, you co-founded the film collective ''+'' in Japan. How was the process of establishing ''+'' and what was its mission/purpose?
TM: In Japanese experimental film history, there is a huge hole between 1980-2000. When I was young, I really hated the experimental film world in Japan because they were not good.
After I visited IFFR in 2008, I found there are some incredible talented filmmakers in foreign countries and I found out they are all of the same generation as me. I thought, if I had known them earlier, my life would have been better. So I introduced their film to young Japanese audiences. Every year so many people come to our screenings. Around the same time, some new film festival organized by the government started in Japan and they came to our screenings and stole ideas and they organized their screenings at a huge commercialist place. I thought independent artists like me shouldn't keep doing this anymore. In the end, huge commercialist organizers get money and capitalist success from art.
BB: Finally, I want to ask a slightly off-topic question. In one of your interviews, you commented on the reaction of babies to your films. Are you still interested in the way babies and children perceive your films?
TM: Actually babies never cry when they watch my films. Because the inside of the body was so noisy and filled with water, they may recall the memory of before the birth.