In the same way that producers engineer pop songs to perfection, films are also subject to crowd-winning formulas; a set of rules that dictates whether audiences will stay in their seats at a box office opening, or walk out disgruntled. However, outside of the conventions of Hollywood, there are filmmakers who stray from formulaic cinema – or vehemently oppose it – in favour of exploring abstract thought and expression.
Takashi Makino is one such explorer, and is regarded by adventurous audiences as one of Japan’s most important artistic voices. An avant-garde creator whose films are characterised by particles and scratches that frenetically dance to cerebral compositions of noise, Makino’s militant stance against commercial cinema has led the filmmaker deeper into abstract experimentation, while championing non-commercial endeavours with the formation of PLUS, a non-profit organisation that promotes abstract art through screenings and collaborative projects with the independent filmmaking community.
Performing in Singapore for Closer To The Edge, the latest instalment of The Observatory’s experimental music festival Playfreely in collaboration with Japan’s Asian Meeting Festival, Makino brings the immersive live cinematic experience, Space Noise 3D, to The Projector for an audio-visual journey that is sure to polarise, but not eschew deep thought. We speak with Makino ahead of his appearance to find out what fuels his cosmic pursuits.
Your works seem to straddle a line between calm contemplation and unnerving chaos. What is the mindset you adopt when creating your films?
My ideas start from chaotic inspiration. When I exhibited my installation still in cosmos at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in 2009, I explained my work like this: When watching a film, the viewers all sit in the same darkness and receive the same light and sound, but each sees a different dream. I believe that this symbolises a reversion to their initial state, that when they look at total chaos through newborn eyes, they give birth to a new cosmos. Through this process, they are able to reconfirm their existence, which is an act of true creativity.
What attracts you to shooting with analog cameras to construct your films?
After 2012, I don't use film as a shooting format. I use all kinds of video to shoot with, and use film materials as texture. The beautiful thing about shooting with film is that the borders of images are very soft and gentle, and very suitable for multiple exposure. The edge of film images is quite different from digital images.
Recently I finished making a new film, On Generation and Corruption. This is the first work of pure digital cinema I've made. Shot digitally, edited digitally. But, I used very old lenses for shooting, and I found a new approach for analog and digital. I realized film and CCDs [charge-coupled devices] are just sensors. The most important thing is not the format, but life and light. Old lenses can catch very beautiful light. I really want to care about light and life, more than the format of cinema.
Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind Space Noise, and the ideas that brought this work to fruition?
During the year of 2012, I had been thinking about physicality of cinematic expression. I started two performances: one was the film 2012, and the other was the performance Space Noise. The concept of 2012 was to use analog images and digital images in the same cinematic work. But Space Noise was started as a film, video and music performance. Showing film and video images at the same time, I can create a physically deep contrast. For the music of Space Noise, I concentrate on creating noise music. I collaborated with Floris Vanhoof, Jim O'Rourke, Manual Knapp, Hiroshi Hasegawa, Seiichi Yamamoto, and Takuma Watanabe, and it was a search for new possibilities in the relationship of images and sound.
"When watching silent images, I feel the atmosphere and imagine sound. I 'read' the images, and my body and brain respond... I think that just following images or sounds is a very boring and violent way of working."
Space Noise evolves visually and sonically with every presentation. Why did you decide against creating a work that is uniform for each showing?
It’s a very simple reason: I am filmmaker; I create films as my main activity. I think of Space Noise as not a filmic work, but a performance. Performing the same thing every time is not interesting. I want try different things and different approaches for this work. I think there are many possibilities in Space Noise.
Your work seems to be fuelled by an attempt to reach the limit of abstraction. Do you feel you’ve ever come close to this limit, or gone beyond it?
After the making still in cosmos in 2009, I thought my work was already beyond normal abstract expression. The theme of the exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography was "Beyond the Image", so I tried to create the next level of the abstraction. My interest was in more “concrete” abstract expression. So, I created cinéma concret in 2015. In cinéma concret, we can see something and someone very clearly, but we can't understand where or whom. The image keeps abstraction if we can see a concrete image.
Do you use the images as a reference for what sounds to create, or vice versa? Or, are the music and images completely exclusive of each other?
I create the images first, and music after. When watching silent images, I feel the atmosphere and imagine sound. I 'read' the images, and my body and brain respond. I don't like ‘Micky Mouse-ing’ music. I think that just following images or sounds is a very boring and violent way of working; I never do it like that. I feel and read the image, and then react. There is no rule.
What are your thoughts on the state of experimental music and film in Japan today? Do you think Japan is still at the forefront of experimentation in these mediums?
Well, I really don't think so. I don't want say anything about music, but there is absolutely no culture for experimental film. After 1990, the culture disappeared. That's why I started the project PLUS.
You’ve mentioned previously that the Quay Brothers advised you to use your experimental mind for more commercial films. Have you thought about any potential collaborations or concepts that might allow you to do this?
I have no interest in commercial, normal cinema. It’s horrible; it’s the same as propaganda images. I want to be more of a pure artist. I will be doing many exhibitions and installations in 2017, and I will brush up on my expression so that it is stronger.
Takashi Makino performs on December 8 for CLOSER TO THE EDGE, held at The Projector between December 8 and 9. Tickets are $25 per day. For more info on and tickets, visit theprojector.sg.