One of the first images in Yusuke Takagi’s Kagerou is the shadow of a hand hovering over the swollen belly of a pregnant woman. A gesture of protection as ephemeral as the moment itself.
It is pretty clear from this instant on, that we are dealing with a book that is as much about the nature of helplessness and faith, as it is about fatherhood and the effects of a situation out your control, in this case the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan.
Takagi and his wife were resident in Tokyo when the disaster at the power plant occurred. Although beyond the exclusion zone, they were more than conscious of the potential danger in the very air around them. and consequences of every breath taken as the disasters’ legacy lingered in the atmosphere long after the panic and initial fears had started to abate, and life no doubt, started to return to “normal”.
Takagi chose to document the aftermath of the tragedy. To look at the devastated landscape as it slowly started to repair itself, and the people who remained in the area as they came to terms with the repercussions of the disaster. During the course of the project Takagi’s wife fell pregnant, but without doubt, the elation of bringing their first child into the world would have been tempered by the dark cloud that was the uncertainty of Fukushima’s toxic bequest. The new born, however was to prove integral to the book, it’s sequencing and editing, as images of the child, a symbol of new life and hope, are juxtaposed against the apocalyptic scenario throughout.
His frustration and fear would have been palpable. To be a man….a husband… a father. Traditionally all symbols of strength, dependability, masculinity and protection, but to be rendered impotent…ineffectual… unable to protect the people most dependant on you. Surely the very definition of the helplessness mentioned earlier, but however infuriating, this threat is no assailant to be fought off with machismo and sheer physical presence. No bluff bluster and chest beating to save the day here. So to possess the trust and certainty that a greater power will keep safe that which you are unable to….this surely this is the faith….the shadow of the hand.
The aftermath of the Fukushima disaster has been the subject of numerous studies. For myself two which have resonated the most have been Daichi Koda’s self published Bokyaku. A collection of land and city scapes made more eerie by their very normality, and which are annotated throughout with dates poignant personal comments. Secondly, the more abstract Mushrooms of the Forest by Takashi Homma. What at first glance seems to be a botanical study assumes a more sinister connotation when we are made aware of the fact that the Japanese government outlawed the consumption of mushrooms grown in the exclusion zone due to inordinately high level of radiation that the fungi could absorb. All of the images for both projects were taken in the exclusion zone.
Takagi has sensitively augmented this duo by introducing the very personal fears and concerns that come from being directly involved in the episode. This is – I am sure – a diary born from a situation that nobody would have wished to experience.
With regard to Kagerou, the book itself, it is very rare that a publisher is just as likely to grab the attention as the artist that they are publishing. However, the cottage industry that is Akina Books is one of the few that does just that. In the short time that the duo of Valentina Abenavoli and Alex Bocchetto have been producing books, some true jewels have appeared.
Being a fan of Japanese work, the trilogy of books produced for Daisuke Yokota (the now highly collectible Linger, Teikai and Immerse) stand out particularly, and this title for Yusuke Takagi ranks easily with those. Quarter bound in linen, and with an image tipped in, the cover alone is a work of art. Printed on beautiful Munken Pure paper and with glued inserts peppered through the book, the hand stitched pages further prove that Akina are constantly approaching their work with fresh eyes, and a keen sense of detail.
The books are not pristine factory carbon copies of each other, there is no attempt to hide the occasional flaw or imperfection, and they are all the more beautiful for it. These are individual handmade items, and therefore as unique as a fingerprint. A true labour of love, or in this instance two hundred and fifty labours of love.
A beautifully judged combination of both artist and their publisher coming together in perfect understanding of one another. A highly recommended gem of a book.
Kagerou by Yusuke Takagi can be purchased here.
Robin Titchener is a keen, bordering on fanatical photobook collector of thirty years.