There is no doubt of Mako Idemitsu's position as a pioneering woman artist in the field of experimental film and video. She is also an important precursor of feminist art in Japan, and in recent years she has become internationally famous for her series of narrative videos examining the psychological friction caused by the Japanese structure. It is necessary, however, to see her earlier films (about twenty-five 16mm films) in order to understand her video work properly. Beginning in the early seventies, she has worked in both film and video. She used a soft, delicate, lyrical style in many of her films, and did the narration herself in the films where words are included. An abstract film, At Yukigaya 2 (1974), frequently shows the images of tree shadows or the sky in natural light with sharp contrasts.
There personal films, formally well-constructed with light
and shadow and containing the subjective gaze and narration of "self as
speaker," are very fine films, but they show important differences in form
and content from the video works incorporating fictional dramas which the
artist began making in the eighties. Both films and videos share a basic
concern with encouraging greater awareness of women's everyday reality,
and clearly, this concern separates Idemitsu's work from that of many other
artists (women as well as men). However, whereas most of the films quietly
and stoically portray the mental images of an individual "I", the videos
depict the emotion of fictional characters. They are aggressive, expressing
extreme irritation, and the performances are exaggerated and have an obsessive
quality. It is necessary to understand that these two, seemingly opposing,
sides of the Idemitsu, are complementary, like substance and shadow or real
and mirror images.
The most unique and original method
in Idemitsu's videos, her signature technique, is the prominent use of a
television set within the video picture. She began to use this device consciously
in Another Day of a Housewife (1977-1978).
The artist commented at the time that her purpose in video was to "record
the everyday and non-everyday experience of women and use it to explore
the conscious and unconscious life of women." She wrote, "As a housewife
performs the set actions of her everyday routine, her own eye observes her
from a portable monitor. Whether an interpretation is given to this or not
is up to the viewer. I was interested in observing."<2>
This observing eye stands in for the act of the artist observing shadows,
"the inner condition," with a movie camera.
While making personal films which depicted the artist's own world, she eventually began to confront more general social issues in the fictional dramas of her video works. Beginning with Shadow Part 2 (1982), the inclusion of a television monitor in the picture provided an extra dramatic narrative element. It became a device for showing the leading character's state of mind (or unconscious mind) from a separate "observing eye." It is helpful in understanding this development to know that Idemitsu became interested in Jungian psychology at an early point in her career, and that titles of her works like Shadow, Animus, and Great Mother are key concepts in Jungian psychology. This psychology holds that images, rather than words or logic, govern the unconscious depths of the mind. The television set within the picture is a means for making these images visible, bringing them into consciousness in a dramatic way. Jung understood the subconscious images appearing in dreams as manifestations of various "archetypes," and it is possible to see Idemitsu's employment of narrative and the emergence of the video screen within the picture as ways of presenting the kind of mental images explained by Jung. <4>
Her methods, which include the intervention of a large foreign object - a television set - in the picture, show a Brechtian approach. She presents conditions which make the audience aware that they are watching a play rather than identifying emotionally with the drama. Some takes are quite long because two connected events are shown in parallel rather than in a linear narrative. A 20 minute work is often composed of 15 to 20 shots, a much smaller number than would be used in an ordinary movie. Another important feature of these works is the overtly critical stance taken by the artist. They are directly engaged in criticizing and fighting prejudice and conventional opinions as feel as recording and describing everyday events. They make viewers feel uncomfortable and angry, rather than encouraging them to sympathize, with the condition of women and the family structure in a male-dominated society. Idemitsu's work is reminiscent of the video work of Goddard in its critical view of everyday life. Her aggressively critical video works show the reality behind the pathos of the business man, as performed by Issei Ogata taking feminist art in a new direction.<6>
In Kiyoko's Situation (1989), arguably the best and most original of this series, the monitor occupies a large space in the picture like an intense obsession in the mind. It represents the great power that crushes the possibilities of the heroine as an artist, continually laying blame on her for not being a "good wife and wise mother."
Idemitsu has been driven to continue making these critical dramas by a lengthy "battle with shadows" which includes many factors, the environment of her own home, the women's liberation movement which she encountered while living in the United States during the sixties, her marriage, and identity conflicts as a housewife and artist and a Japanese living in the United States. To see her narratives in terms of simple realism would be to misunderstand her methods as explained here. Her themes, always set out against a background of reality, are mental images and myths of the heart (as seen by women). What is important about the story is not the development of the narrative, the suspense engendered by moving from cause to effect, but the larger relationships underlying the story, what is referred to as a "constellation" in Jungian psychology. At times, Idemitsu seems to be repeating similar stories with stereotypical characters because she wants to get back to the archetypal roles of women and of mothers and children in in Japanese society. This involves a difficult process of finding universal, archetypal stories (myths, folk tales, or children's stories), and in this respect it is necessary to think of her approach in terms of Jungian psychology.