Michio Okabe's Tenchi Sozosetsu & Camp

In Partnership with Collaborative Cataloging Japan

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Our partnership with Collaborative Cataloging Japan continues with the second program of films by Michio Okabe (1937-2020). Curated by Akihiro Suzuki, this program features two short works including Okabe’s first film, Creation Tale.

Tenchi Sozosetsu (The Doctrine of Creation)

Influenced by Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), Okabe made his first film The Doctrine of Creation (Tenchi sozosetsu, 1967). Borrowing the title from John Huston’s The Bible: in the Beginning (1966) (Tenchi Sozo in Japanese), Okabe aimed to paint the zeitgeist of the period by collecting and exposing the world around him and himself. The film cites Okabe’s own works, A Coffin Covered by Stars and Stripes (seijoki wo kabutta hitsugi) and State of Michio Okabe (Okabe Michio zo), as well as a scene that reminds one of Ushio Shinohara’s Boxing Painting. It also incorporates self-acted charming and improvised verbiage from television and movie heroes such as Tarzan, Django, and Tange Sazen. Okabe’s iconic style such as the inclusion of gay characters and free use of pop music was already established in this work. Okabe, who not only produced, wrote, and directed the film but also acted most of the characters, asserted that “underground film is independent movie.” One’s own movie should be made for one’s self. The decisiveness of the last scene which embodies this thinking, is truly enjoyable. The film won an award at the Sogetsu Experimental Film Festival of 1967. (Michio Okabe, Japan, 1967, 16mm film transferred to video, 26 min., b&w) In Japanese with English subtitles

Camp (貴夜夢富)

The title is a phonetical arrangement in kanji Chinese characters of camp, a concept synonymous with Michio Okabe. Okabe radically explores his distinct, Japanese camp aesthetic in the enclosed space of the film world. As written in the kanji, “precious night, wealth of dreams” (貴い夜、夢の富), inhabitants of the night world such as butoh dancer, gay character, night watch, violinist, masseuse, yakitori shop, vampire, dog, and cat, appear one after another and unfold a disastrous but beautiful soirée. In the unbound freeing of the epicurean desires, one may observe the influence of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), by which Okabe was moved. However, the use of fixed camera to create a picture frame in order to erase the depth within the screen, and the transformation of scandalous acts into a fantastic freak show is Okabe’s original. Incorporating slides and nursery rhyme that sets off the images of adolescent’s daydream and Japanese nostalgia is also Okabe’s distinctive take. Packing in Okabe’s camp aesthetic, this film is full of highlights, but the “Swan’s Lake” scene with Mitsutaka Ishii, the ankoku butoh (dance of darkness) dancer and naked men, could be called this film’s centerpiece. (Michio Okabe, Japan, 1970, 16mm transferred to video, 44 min.) In Japanese with English subtitles

Michio Okabe (1937-2020) began his activities as an artist in the mid-1960s, participating in the contemporary artist group Off Museum. He interacted with groups such as Neo-Dada and Hi Red Center, as well as artists like Ushio Shinohara, and presented at Yomiuri Independent exhibition (1964), Big Fight exhibition (1965), a solo exhibition at Naiqua Gallery (1965), as well as street performances. Influenced by Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), Okabe made his first film work Tenchi Sozosetsu (creation tale, 1965), which received a prize at the Sogetsu experimental film festival. Thereafter he made Crazy Love (1968), Camp (1970), Shiroyo Dokoe Iku (Shiro, where are you going, 1970), Shonen Shiko (1973, won a grand prize at Knokke-le-Zoute International Film Festival), Saijiki (1973), and Kaisoroku (1977). The works that sublimate Susan Sontag’s thinking on camp into Okabe’s original camp aesthetic, have been highly received and have screened in Japan and abroad. Besides film production, Okabe published fantastical short stories through reading programs on radio, magazines, fantasy literature anthologies, as well as his own book. Okabe passed away in September, 2020.