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Photographer/filmmaker Kiyotaka Tsurisaki

by Judit Kawaguchi

Kiyotaka Tsurisaki, 42, is a photographer and mondo filmmaker who specializes in shots of corpses. Since 1994, he has taken photos of over 1,000 dead bodies, often chasing police cars to scenes of crimes, accidents and suicides in such countries as Thailand, Russia and Colombia, as well as parts of Palestine. Such gruesome and gory sights are not for the faint-hearted but Tsurisaki always gutted it out and kept the cameras rolling. He captured the grisly details of death, from brains splattered onto sidewalks to the shock registered on a grandmother’s bullet-riddled face. He has published six books of photographs and a collection of short “shockumentaries” under the title “Junk Films.” Tsurisaki’s 92-minute feature, “Orozco The Embalmer,” is about a Colombian who prepared 50,000 bodies for public viewing at funerals. Although documenting death has a long and respected history in many cultures, recent global censorship has been squeezing the life out of this genre of art. Tsurisaki, whose life’s work immortalizes the dead, is one of a dying breed of photographers. He is not, however, about to let censors kill his enthusiasm for art and he defiantly continues to take images that breathe life into moments of death.

A naked body is always beautiful, whether it’s dead or alive, skinny or fat, young or old. All forms of human life and death are exquisite and extremely beautiful to me. I’ve never seen a corpse I didn’t like.

Death is always just around the corner. Or straight ahead. I was walking down a street in Bogota, Colombia, when, out of the blue, a guy coming toward me pulled out a submachine gun and began firing at the man walking beside me. I was lucky I didn’t get shot. When you’re in crossfire, keep walking. Fast.

Globalization equals limitation. Local colors and the freedom of expression disappear the minute the global moral code arrives. Such rules turned my art into an antiglobalist and antisocial form of expression. I’m an outlaw. I don’t mind. Taboos exist for a reason: to be broken.

Every body deserves attention. And that certainly includes the deceased.

There are all kind of jobs, and no matter how gross or dangerous they are, someone has to do them. We all die, yet few of us want to see what happens once we take our last breath. Face death, that’s the point I am making.

Dead people are easier to deal with than the living. They are attractive and harmless, and a lot less scary than those still alive.

Nudity is not a crime, but covering it up is a sin. Not only is the naked body beautiful, but also art can’t be appreciated if censored in any way. Yet censorship around the world has raped and mutilated many works of art, and continues to do so. Meanwhile, we are told to be tolerant of all cultures. A tragic example is the movie “In the Realm of the Senses,” Nagisa Oshima’s masterpiece. The Japanese version is completely unwatchable due to all the pixelation (covering exposed genitals), but thanks to the untouched French version and its availability through online shopping, we can see the original’s brilliance.

If you want safety, you must accept rules and endure utter boredom. Yes, Japan is safe, but life here is dull! We are constantly parented like toddlers. On the subway, there are more announcements than train stops: Don’t forget your umbrella, don’t slip, don’t wear your backpack but place it on the rack, don’t listen to music loud, don’t use your mobile phone, don’t stand close to the door, don’t, don’t, don’t! Every movement of ours is regulated. But if you step out of this safety net, you will find that the world is hot and exciting. Once you know how exciting, you’ll want to leave Japan. You’ll want more heat but you won’t find it here.

Being a foreigner is the best position to be in, no matter where you are. There’s no need to commit to the place, just to the activity or the people.

Globalization means that all people must live and die by U.S. standards — no matter where they are laid to rest. Since 9/11, a lot has changed in the world — all for the worse. Basically, measures to prevent terrorism are often anti-human. They take away every innocent person’s basic human rights. For example, according to American standards, photos of dead bodies should not be published in newspapers. So now, in Central and South America, local customs, such as photographing the dead to create mementos and help ease the grieving process, are becoming less common.

The death penalty is to ease the pain of the living: we take an eye for an eye. If my lover is killed, I’ll kill whoever is responsible for her death. Everyone feels that way naturally, yet society forbids us to live and die as we wish. I hate rules.

A man must have guts. Honor in a man is more important than having money.

Nothing is more unnatural than the brutality of reality. So many of my photos look incredibly staged, but they are not: I never touch anything. An actual crime scene is the most unnatural thing on earth.

For a control freak, like me, not being able to assert control is exhilarating. I can’t control the dead. That’s as extreme as it gets and that’s probably what I enjoy the most. Artists are all martyrs and masochists.

I wanna be used up completely. I have an organ donor card and I checked all the boxes. When my time is up, I’m ready for my closeup and to give myself to as many people as possible.

Don’t drink and drive! That’s a sure killer. Among all the dead bodies, by far the most gruesome are accident victims. When a machine is involved, death is incredibly violent.

Death is not very special. I saw one person die. He just stopped moving. That’s all.

People don’t count, only dead bodies do. In any movie, the higher the body count, the bigger the audience.

Love has no reason. I love dead bodies, movies and heavy metal. I am a punk and will be forever.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/