Drawing on film to highlight hyperreality

by

Special To The Japan Times

“Following the other, one replaces him, exchanges lives, passions, wills, transforms oneself in the other’s stead. It is perhaps the only way man can finally fulfill himself. An ironic way, but all the more certain.”

This quotation from Jean Baudrillard’s 1983 essay “Please Follow Me” is currently being displayed in the main corridor of the Hara Museum of Contem- porary Art. It’s an indication that Baudrillard’s writings, in particular his meditations on hyperreality and imagery, informs the work of Masaharu Sato, whose solo exhibition — “Tokyo Trace” — runs at the museum until early May this year.

The exhibition consists of two main bodies of work — the projected “Calling” animations in Gallery I and the “Tokyo Trace” videos in Gallery II — both of which use video footage that has been re-drawn and digitally animated. Each image retains a photographic base while certain areas are transformed into detailed cartoons.

For “Calling (German Version)” and “Calling (Japanese Version),” Sato uses this technique to explore technological alienation. Both the pieces comprise short film clips taken in different urban and domestic locations. Within each clip, a different phone rings and goes unanswered. Human presence is only alluded to via objects in all the depicted spaces, which appear as haunting tableaux of technology and animation. The main effect on the viewer is a latent anxiety concerning the unanswered calls, where the phones, acting as a proxy for human presence, can be seen to represent a longing for communion or human warmth. A particularly politicized scene shows an empty karaoke room playing the Japanese anthem — its only audience being a table carrying chips and beer.

The ghostly atmosphere continues in Gallery II where, alongside the “Tokyo Trace” videos, a mechanical piano plays Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Sato gives us a room and a song, and again human presence is replaced by technological illusion.

The “Tokyo Trace” videos are a satirical portrait of Tokyo as a city of adopted and accreted elements. In each short clip Sato selects one object to animate, a visual effect that alienates the viewer from the familiar photographic reality. One clip, for example, shows the Tokyo skyline where Tokyo Tower alone appears as a cartoon. We are reminded that this mock Eiffel Tower is no longer an incongruous import. In fact, it has become a symbol of the city.

In other scenes, people consume animated European and American food, redrawn diggers work on construction sites and cartoon cars rumble through the streets. Fun is poked at a city famous for appropriating pre-existing models; a city layered with illusions.

In “Tokyo Trace” Sato plays humorously with complex image ideas and generates various uncanny effects. As he takes us through Baudrillard’s absurd world of hyperreality, however, underlying his humor is critique and pessimism.

“Hara Documents 10: Masaharu Sato — Tokyo Trace” at the Hara Museum runs until May 8; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥1,100. Closed Mon. www.haramuseum.or.jp