The Absence of Two by Akihito Yoshida, reviewed by Robin Titchener

“I wonder where he’s gone? He went out on his motorbike and hasn’t been back since”


This moving new book from Japan, The Absence of Two, tells the tender and sad tale of a boy, his grandmother, and their life together. It is part family album and part documentary study by photographer and family member, Akihito Yoshida.
The genesis of the story is a familiar one in this part of the world. From his early years as a child, and in an effort to remove the strain from his parents, Yoshida’s cousin Daiki was taken in and raised by his grandmother.


Although in the early years the young Daiki may have questioned why his parent was so much older than those of his friends (his group school photograph being a particularly memorable example of this), it became apparent as time passed that the bond between the two of them was to become unbreakable. Daiki was obviously where he belonged, and his grandmother doted on her young charge. The two proved inseparable.


However as he grew older – as is the order of things – the balance of the relationship started to shift, and the young Daiki went from dependent, to carer. Making the promise- most certainly out of love…… although as time passes love can turn to obligation – “I’ll take care of you until you die, Gran’ma“.


As Daiki grew into maturity any attempt at independence seemed predestined to failure. For  a time he moved out and enrolled in a university to study nursing. However bouts of depression, an inability to focus on his studies, and constant concern for his now solitary grandmother. saw him drop out mid way through the course, and return to the familiar and secure environment of his home.


Unfortunately, the ending of the story was not to prove as predictable as would have been imagined, and the final chapter was to feature a tragic twist. With the passing of time, Daiki’s depression worsened, and as his grandmothers health started to fail, the pressures obviously started to mount.


“I wonder where he’s gone? He went out on his motorbike and hasn’t been back since”


Gran’ma stood vigil. She watched, waited and hoped….always keeping the faith. A year passed, until finally the devastating news was heard that Daiki’s body had been found in woodland. He had taken his own life. He was twenty three….. the following year gran’ma also passed away.


In the words of Yoshida “The last thing that remained were countless photographs of the two and their life together….”


The combination of Yoshida’s own work chronicling the couple’s time together, combined with the pictures from the family albums, and annotated quotes, make for a tale to melt…and ultimately break the hardest of hearts. The book charts the arc of the gentle relationship from it’s happy beginning to it’s quiet tragic end. The two bodies of work blend, and move seamlessly together. Archival images of the infant Daiki, through his formative happy childhood years – that school photograph ingeniously presented as a gatefold. Two circular holes cut in one of the leaves, so that when closed Daiki and grandmother are easily identified – through Yoshida’s own wonderfully observed pictures of the later years. Moments that we all recognise, images of the day to day routine. Shopping, meal times, household chores, and the like. Then as the time line rolls on, the role reversal. The adult becoming the child, and the child the parent. Feeding, bathing, dressing, the bedtime routine….dues being paid.


The last few images obviously being presented with the knowledge of hindsight. One of the rare pictures of Daiki alone, on a bench in front of the house, glancing towards the camera. Then a short prophetic sequence on his motorbike. Leaving and driving away from the camera. The final image of the bike, washed out to the point of just being a memory.


Although the book starts and ends with ominous blurred footage of trees and bushes, perhaps a nod to the terrible denouement of the story. It is the single repeated image that bookends the pictorial narrative that truly makes your skin prickle and brings a tear to your eye. At the beginning, the colour snapshot of the young Daiki standing next to his grandmother….. happy, a long life stretching out ahead of him. At the end of the book, the same image, which this time sits atop a gatefold which opens in it’s centre to reveal the page beneath.  An updated black and white version of the same image. The adult Daiki, his half of the picture intentionally overexposed and washed out, gran’ma, sharper and more clearly defined, a tiny shadow of her former self, still at his side.  The preceding blank page bearing the simple statement  “Thank you for everything Gran’ma…..take care”


The Absence of Two is yet another triumph to emerge from Japan’s Reminders Project. Under the guidance of the inspirational figure of Yumi Goto, who founded the collective, Akihito Yoshida has produced a powerful work of both beauty and substance.


For anyone not familiar with the Reminders Project, it may surprise some to find out that many of the most important books to come out of Japan in the last few years have seen their conception here. Amongst them Yoshikatsu Fuji’s Red String, Kazuma Obara’s Silent Histories, Hiroshi Okamoto’s Recruit, Mayumi Suzuki’s The Restoration Will and numerous others.


As well as the imagination and talent that continuously seems to emerge, the other important fact to bear in mind is that every title that is released is entirely handmade by each artist, making them not only wonderful books, but pieces of art in their own right.


The Absence of Two is produced in an edition of 111 copies (the combined number of years that both Daiki and his grandmother were alive). The printing, text, hand stitched binding and the beautiful illustrated screened box that houses the book were all personally produced and assembled by Yoshida.


A moving and heartfelt memorial to the absence of two.


The Absence of Two by Akihito Yoshida is available to purchase here.


Robin Titchener is a keen, bordering on fanatical photobook collector of thirty years.