Pictures in Motion: Ito Takashi’s Experimental Films

IMG_4286-0.JPGMotion pictures are pictures in motion. So far, so good. The short films by experimental filmmaker Ito Takashi (伊藤高志 이토 다카시) I just saw made me realize this simple truth once again—but to what effect!

Always good for a surprise, the Cinematheque KOFA (한국영상자료원) hosts the Experimental Film and Video Festival in Seoul (EXiS 2014, 서울국제실험영화제) this week (until Thursday, Sept. 4th). The program also includes an excellent retrospective of Ito’s early works, spanning one decade from his student works of the early 1980s to the early 1990s.

Have a look at Spacy (1980–81, 16mm), his graduation film at the Kyushu Institute of Design. I promise that these are ten minutes not easily forgotten:

Ito Takashi, Spacy (1980–81)

Probably Ito’s most famous work, Spacy includes hundreds of photos shot again and again. The movie was heavily inspired by his professor Matsumoto Toshio (松本 俊夫), in particular the motion-study Ātman (アートマン, 1975, 11 Min., see on Youtube) that shows a masked nō actor from all possible directions.

Ito Takashi, presenting his work at EXiS 2014 (Cinematheque KOFA, cinema 2)

Ito Takashi, presenting his work at EXiS 2014 (Cinematheque KOFA, cinema 2)

However, while Spacy and other early stylistic experiments (Box, Thunder, Screw, all from 1982) were awe-inspiring, I even more liked that as time goes on Ito’s projects turn more personal in subject matter. My personal highlight was Grim (1985), an exploration of time and space within the confines of a small apartment. In Venus (1990), a whole apartment block is mashed up into a cubistic set of frames, houses, perspectives.

Ito Takashi, <em>Grim</em> (1985), via EXiS

Ito Takashi, Grim (1985), via EXiS

I’ve always been interested in movies made of still images (see this experimental clip I made In 2005 in order to introduce the least appealing part of my apartment in Paris to my friends back home). But here, all those things that I find fascinating about cinema converge: the inherent tension between standing still and moving; the exploration of a singular space, point-by-point; the memories that are burned into looping images between repetition and variation; the sense for details and the zoom-out to show the big picture; the organic contrast between compressed time and time seemingly standing still. (More material on Ito can be found in Japanese and English at Imageforum and on his own Facebook-page.)

Ito Takashi, <em>Venus</em> (1990), via EXis

Ito Takashi, Venus (1990), via EXis

The technique of using still images (simply said: photographies) reminded me of a travelling performer and movie maker I had seen in Berlin years ago (at Theater o.N. in Prenzlauer Berg, if I remember correctly, or was it at the Eigenreich?). Maybe because Ito had brought along a flip book-version of Spacy…?

Volker Gerling is, presumably, the only “flip book-wanderer” in the world. While travelling from here to there, he shoots people he meets on his way with a reflex camera in burst mode, filling an analogue 36-picture film in mere seconds. The prints are bound into a small book, called a “Daumenkino” in German—quite literally a “thumb cinema”.

Many of these short clips, which last only a few seconds, depending on the pressure applied, are very moving, offering short glimpses into otherwise opaque lives of others. Back then in Berlin, he presented his latest works and I remember them quite vividly, the old man smiling briefly, the young girl seeing herself for the first time after getting a haircut, three teenagers seemingly doing nothing but… If Warhol’s Screen Tests of celebrities are “3-minute eternities”, these are mini-portraits that last as long as you want them to last.


Volker Gerling’s motto is “Bilder lernen laufen, indem man sie herumträgt.” (Pictures learn to walk as we carry them around.) He mentions his quite thought-provoking thesis in an interview with the Metrolit publishing company (in German): If cinematic vision mirrors a train passenger looking at a “travelling shot” from his cabin, the perspective that flip books correspond to is that of a wanderer. Another interesting interview by the photo journal kwerfeldein (also in German) features numerous pictures and a video that shows some of the flip books in action and also Gerling performing them live.


Here, once again, I was fascinated by the possibilities of doing the seemingly impossible: keeping a moment from the past without turning it into a dead flower. In contrast to Ito’s high speed stills, Gerling’s portraits can be as slow as the thumb that’s turning them.

Movies are more than moving images. They tell stories about people, of those in front of the lens and those behind it, whether in 36 images, 700 images, ten skies, or twenty cigarettes (did I mention that I adore James Benning?).

– 30 Aug. 2014 (土)



About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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