Araki Nobuyoshi plus a lizard.
I recently got Arakimentary on DVD from Netflix. I was both intrigued and turned-off by my image of Araki Nobuyoshi as a hentai photographer, but I was glad I gave him a chance and watched the DVD. I remembered that I’d encountered his work before: I’d seen a book of his called センチメンタルな旅、冬の旅 (Sentimental Journey) probably his most famous, in which he chronicles his wife’s untimely death.
センチメンタルな旅、冬の旅 (Sentimental Journey), Araki’s most famous book.
It’s a powerfully moving work, and a real testament to love, but I forgot Araki’s name so that when I was reintroduced to this work years later in Arakimentary, I was surprised to learn that the emotionally sensitive photographer I had known from that book, was also the same one who had gained fame for his audacious, pornographic photos.
The fact that both of these streams of work can emanate from the same person is a testament to the complexity of Araki but also his tremendous commercial success. Without financial stability it’s difficult to venture outside the market niche that you’ve created, otherwise collectors and the art world won’t know how to receive the work. With success, you can afford to take artistic risks, like take flower photos and portraits of all Japanese people, both projects of his. Araki is both complex and very commercially successful. He’s the most published photographer in the world with supposedly 350 books to his name, and he’s still a kind of enigma.
Throughout the film, various people are interviewed to get their views on Araki and his work. Many say that Araki is a “monster”, perhaps because he is so un-Japanese in his joie de vivre and the straightforward way he treats the human body. Beat Takeshi tries to explain this by connecting Araki’s sitamachi (old town Tokyo) upbringing with his life’s work. It’s interesting to connect geography and style, as I have mentioned critic Maeda Ai has done with literature.
But getting back to that haunting book– for Araki I think the more central issue was the death of his wife. The filmmaker and even Araki himself try to make a connection between her passing away and his art, saying that Araki has always been interested in the connection between eros and death, that irony of life that a flower in bloom is also about to die. Araki uses his photography to stretch out time, to make a moment eternal and capture life in its fragile fecundity.
But I have another interpretation: I’d say he may be simply psychologically damaged, and his pornographic pictures are both an excellent way to make money (nothing sells like the nudie pics) and also a sign of his inability to form lasting bonds with another woman following the death of his wife.
Tying women up, capturing their naked, listless bodies and faces on camera is a kind of reenactment of his Sentimental Journey, an effort to hold the woman there, confined and always viewable. For Araki, I suspect, the women blend together until they are one, and he is still there with his wife, capturing her image like a fly in amber.
Filed under: Art, Japan | 2 Comments