In his series ‘Disaster and Silence’ (Ihen to Chinmoku), the photographer Tasuku Amada has found an intriguing and equally compelling method to address the psychological effects of Japan’s triple disaster from March 2011 (herein referred to as 3.11). In this body of work, Amada combined banal and everyday depictions of a street with images of rabbits. Digitally superimposed onto the street scenes, the rabbits create a visual paradox by being proportionally much larger than the environment they are situated in. This contrast is further emphasized by darkening the street and apparently brightening the fur of the rabbit. In literary terms, Amada fuses elements of non-fiction with surrealism perhaps invoking the style of contemporary Japanese writers such as Haruki Murakami whose latest book is also concerned with the trauma of 3.11.
By incorporating surreal and quasi dadaistic imagery into his work, Amada essentially uses fictive elements to address the aftermath of 3.11. As a result, not only does the rabbit stand in contrast to the real environment it is in, Amada’s choice of fictive elements also stands in contrast to the reality of 3.11. According to Amada, this body of work was provoked by his feeling that barely two years after 3.11, the country seems to forget not only the initial dreadful impact of the disaster, but also, the country seem to ignore that this disaster is still continuing through the displacement of people and the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. In this context, the rabbit essentially symbolizes two things: on one hand it represents the perceived metaphorical silence in the aftermath of 3.11, yet on the other hand, the surrealness of the rabbit is a provocation not to forget the (ongoing) disaster.
Amada’s visual provocation, recently exhibited at B Gallery located in the Beams department store in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, also draws comparisons to the iconic film Godzilla (1954). Similar to Amada reacting to 3.11, Godzilla was produced in the aftermath of WWII, in particular the atomic bomb tests by the US government. Godzilla was released in 1954 only eight months after a failed atomic bomb test on the Bikini Atoll fatally exposed a group of Japanese fishermen to radiation. Yet unlike Godzilla, which depicts nuclear anxieties as uncontrollable beast, Amada’s rabbits are no monsters. Rather, the rabbits become silent monuments to a disaster which shall not be ignored.
Amada’s work is yet another indication how varied and complex the response to 3.11 has been in the artistic communities in Japan. Amada’s work also creates an important juxtaposition to the various media that purport to depict the ‘reality’ of the disaster and those who have survived it. Documentary filmmakers, both from Japan and abroad, seem particularly obsessed with gaining close access to survivors, capturing their horrible memories as vividly as possible through the medium of video. In this context, the quality of a documentary is often equated with how ‘close’ the filmmaker was able to get to his subjects. Amada’s rabbits completely inverses the documentary paradigm of proximity to the subject by not making images of the aftermath, but rather, by making images that are about the aftermath. In his own way, despite the rabbits’ silence, Amada’s photographs become the metaphorical antithesis to forgetting.
This post belongs to a series of articles I am writing on the photographic representation of post-tsunami landscapes. As I am preparing a journal article on this topic, please feel free to contact me if you know of any other photographers or important references on this topic. I am currently in Japan on a Japan Foundation Fellowship in order to conduct this research project.