Looking for a change of scenery

Chris Marker is a name that only resonates today among a few viewers, including perhaps some readers of the Journal du Japon. Known mainly for his film work, Christian Bouche-Villeneuve, by his birth name, was also a photographer, writer, philosopher, translator, poet, publisher and many other things. This honest man even went to Japan several times, where he exercised his many talents. From his walks on Japanese soil, he drew a book with a wonderfully intriguing title, The countrythat Tempura magazine mentioned in the “culture” columns of one of its latest issues.

Invent Japan

The cover of the paper edition (Chris Marker Estate / Chris Marker Fund)

The quotes captured captured your imagination so much and brought to the surface his own Japanese experiences that he decided to go for it to acquire. In fact The country it is also a photo book, an additional incentive to get into the hands of a paper edition of the work, the only one of which is that of Herscher (1982). Tempura’s article had mentioned that the object was almost impossible to find, and after touring the places that sell rare books, it had to be remembered. Unless you agree to pay the net amount of € 671 (Barneby’s): The country is a collector’s book. At least the object, because the text is easily accessible online: a striking contrast that only further awakens the appetite. Read, this booklet (about fifteen pages written and so many photos) is truly magnificent and can only be read by this simple fact, but for fans of all things Japanese, it has this added merit to pave the way off the beaten track. .

From the second page, in fact, The country He offers valuable advice that does not appear in any guide: “Inventing Japan is like any other way of knowing it. Once the received ideas are passed, once the received idea is ignored to have the opposite view of the received ideas, mathematically the possibilities are the same for everyone, and time is saved. Trusting appearances, consciously confusing the decor with the room, never worrying about understanding, being there […] and everything will be given to you as well. Well, a little. What better way to get off the beaten path than to clean up your own Japan? Especially considering that having a contrary view of the ideas received is the worst, and unfortunately the most widespread, of the ideas received. How many articles, guides, or books succumb to this temptation and claim today to dissect Japan by fighting against the received ideas, leading to the same carefully unquestionable conclusions that will be the received ideas of tomorrow?

Passion and detail

The characteristic green of the Yamanote line (Wikimedia Commons)

Chris Marker does not claim any “discredit”, he is not looking for any hidden truth about the Japanese or Japan: he is content to live there, “be present” and try to understand, “just a little. However, his Japan lived is full of details, references and analytical proposals that draw a richer and more compelling picture of the archipelago and its inhabitants than more erudite constructions – even the most trivial details, such as the color of Tokyo’s subway lines. : Marunouchi “lacquered red” or the intermediate blue of the Tozai line that describes the mixture of (our) greens better than the long speeches and the blue that makes the color aoi This color that destabilizes so many French tourists, learning that it is by this word, traditionally translated as “blue,” which means the lights we tend to call green. tan v some of the “green Yamanote” as well as his visit to a Buddhist temple with a blurred name.

Even his passion for cats does not guide the author in his dreamy Japan. Not speaking the language, Chris Marker explains how a famous musician told him, in English, that the Japanese had a “special relationship” with cats and how he should use the universally recognized sign of the sentence to be put in the road to a temple. housing a large number of statues of these felines. Without saying a word of Japanese, simply by observing how cats are represented, Marker manages to put his finger on a psychological trend – for lack of a better word – that has long been rooted in the Archipelago. “[…] throughout Asia, the cat has a bad reputation. Isn’t it the only animal that has arrived late for Buddha’s death? Exactly, we answered. We need to be even more compassionate with him because he is to blame. And this way of supporting the weakest, stand by the bottom […] »it is so ingrained in customs that it has its own expression in four kanji (yojijukugo): hôgan biiki.

Rather the cat than the reptile

The characteristic green of the Yamanote line (Wikimedia Commons)

The Japanese sympathy for the weakest brilliantly captured Marker in expression “next to the subgate” and to which the British historian Ivan Morris has dedicated, for example, a very beautiful work entitled The nobility of failure. The story of the cats is followed by a series of photographs, most of which show the cats in question, without finding, however, any illustration of the substance of the subject. “Text does not comment on images more than images comment on text. They are two series of sequences […] to whom, obviously, a signal is made between them but with whom he would be unnecessarily tired of trying to face ”. A reader of Barthes, Marker thus adopts the Japanese approach as an empire of signs that refer to each other for no apparent reason, where “meaning flees and leaves meaning to reign without counterparts.”

The shield and mirror of Yata no kagami, one of the 3 national treasures of Japan (Wikimedia Commons)

Is there no God, truth or morality in Japan? That doesn’t stop Marker from drawing on page 15 a very clear conclusion about the Japanese man: a “warrior who made himself a shield with a mirror.” Phrase that at first glance might seem contradictory to his desire not to worry about understanding. On closer inspection, however, Marker does not intend to define the Japanese positively but, on the contrary, in the negative mode of a defensive reaction. In short, for Marker, the Japanese are characterized by their refusal to be characterized. They defend themselves from this typically Western desire for reductive understanding, from the “reptile of certainty,” not by fighting for it — denial is just the other side of the coin of certainty — but by agreeing to send the image we have of them. , take refuge behind. To understand this, Chris Marker shows us, it was precisely necessary not to try to understand it.

What is clear from reading Dépays is that the dream is much more fruitful than the vain and encyclopedic desire to understand that it takes over: his passion for the cat and Shôhei Imamura’s cinema brought Chris Marker to the heart of ‘a country whose language he was unable to speak, at least in the heart of his Japan, and that is enough. Dreaming of Japan is like any other way of getting to know it, better than any other way of living it, and it would be a shame to deprive it of it.

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