Fukushima Samurai, by Noriko TakasugiPosted: October 19, 2013
I am a unconditional fan of Kenji Misumi, Hideo Gosha, Eiichi Kudo or Kihachi Okamoto. After this first sentence, you may think that I am going to talk about japanese cinema, and more precisely about those four film makers who have been worldwide famous with samurai films.
In fact, what I want to talk about, is one of the most beautiful book I have seen for the last few years. This book is called Fukushima Samurai, the story of identity, and the photographer is Noriko Takasugi. The book is a huge square book, 27 x 27 cm, 114 pages with 88 color photographs. The book also includes a booklet of 29 pages with texts in English. It is a tradional Japanese book binding, printed digitally on Indigo printer and it is a more than ultra limited print run… So far only 9 copies are circulating worldwide. Each copy is handmade with an incredible care. With this book, we are probably beyond the photobook object and closer to an artwork. Photos can hardly give justice to such a gorgeous object !
Well, this was for the facts, but what is this book about ? The book is about samurai, but moreover, it is about the loss of identity after the earthquake that happened in Fukushima in March 2011. The book is divided in 8 chapters and the first one shows us the area of Fukushima, with people, animals and landscapes. We suppose that it was before the disaster, everything seems to be quiet and peaceful.
The second part is called « The disaster and radiation » and we discover what remains after the earthquake : destroyed houses, flowers in memory of disapeared persons, or abandonned living room with a table dressed for a lunch, witnessing the precipitation of the evacuation.
These two chapters were introducing the context and, with the third part made of samurai portraits, we enter the heart of the story. Ten protraits are printed on foldout pages (like an inner leporello of 5 pictures each). These portraited men have been relocated after the disaster and Noriko was allowed to accompany them for a short trip in the contaminated area to portray them, wearing tradionnal clothes of their samurai clan, in a place they chose. They are all originated from this area, and Noriko is using them as a metaphor. According to the code of honnor, a samurai has to protect and defend his clan, which can be transposed in modern society to family and friends. We see the samurai standing in front of the camera, in a place which symbolises their loss (a former relative’s house, a place they have built…). There is a contrast between their beautiful traditionnal clothes and the chaos around them and, what we see in their eyes, is the distress of a failure : what can a samurai do against a nuclear hazard ? From my point of view, this part is the most poignant with the minimalism of the frontal composition.
These men are Nomaoi-men and in the following chapters we will know more about their lifes. The fourth chapter is about horses (hundreds of them were lost after the disaster) and the fifth, about the traditionnal life. We discover them training, preparing for a ceremony, wearing their armors, all mixed with photos of details of objects.
The sixth chapter is dedicated to the traditionnal event of Soma Nomaoi, in 2012. The event was held since 973 and usually brings together 500 samurai. After many talks and debates, the organisers decided to maintain the organisation in order to support and show solidarity for people from Odaka county but only 82 samurai managed to join this year. Many samurai have left their armor when leaving their home and many of which were still irradiated but they wanted to wear them without a doubt. The three days festival is the occasion for the samurai to show their skills during parades and traditionnal games or fights. We discover, in the photographs, that, despite the remaining level of contamination, the whole population was celebrating together the values of the Japanese society and, above all, the affirmation that they are alive, united against the threat and full of hope!
After the three days of full joy, we are back to reality in the last two chapters. The seventh one is a collection of small pictures of Geiger counters and food which symbolise the stress of the photographer who always had to bring with her a measurement counter, not really knowing if the radiation would contaminate her, during his one month stay. The photos of food show her own doubts about the origin of what she ate, always trying to buy products that were not produced in Fukushima district. The last chapter works like a loop with the beginning of the book. We see people living in Minamisoma city, working for the decontamination, or back to their common duties. The nuclear threat is invisible and we will have to wait for a few decades to really know what was the level of Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The last photo in the book shows a man on a horse, looking at the sea in the twilight. We understand the symbolism of the image knowing how much radioactivity has been thrown away in the sea… This is a young man, he symbolises all the hope of a population, but also of a nation!
More info here : http://www.norikotakasugi.com/
An interesting read here too : http://www.disphotic.lewisbush.com/2013/05/01/review-fukushima-samurai-by-noriko-takasugi/
Another Japanese book about horses and Fukushima which is worth a look : http://www.the-new-frame.com/#yutaka-fujii-i-am-a-horse
See also on the subject my previous post : https://whoneedsanotherphotoblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/fukushima-two-japanese-photographers-witness-the-area/
All images copyright Noriko Takasugi (can be removed on request)