In discussions of the history of Expanded Cinema or Intermedia in Japan, the narrative tends to be that they were introduced from the West in the early 1960s, starting with the underground cinema and Fluxus movements, and under their influence new homegrown works and movements emerged. This is not wrong if we are talking about expanded cinema and intermedia as two distinct and separate terms. However, many similar interdisciplinary experiments were being carried out in Japan even prior to 1966 and 1967, when these terms gained currency, and from that point on things developed, or in some cases degenerated, in various directions. Thus it is necessary to reexamine these newly generated movements in their totality, not simply in terms of unilaterial influence or relationship, what preceded what and so forth, but in terms of their shared concern with contemporary issues and mutual resonance among artists working concurrently at the time.
There are differences in direction between Expanded Cinema, which meant the expansion of film into the real world or into other form of expressions, and Intermedia, which treated film as one of the many expressive forms available among the interdisciplinary collaborations between multiple media. Yet if we look at the prehistory of both movements in Japan, which begins around 1960, we see that two major forces were at work. One was the avant-garde art movement that emerged from and revolved around the Sōgetsu Art Center, and the other encompassed a number of groups including the Nihon University Film Study Club, a.k.a. Nichidai Eiken (Nihon Daigaku Eiga Kenkyūkai), VAN Film Science Research Center (VAN Eiga Kagaku Kenkyūjo), Neo-Dada Organizers (Neo Dadaizumu Oruganaizāzu), and Group Ongaku. While the former had the filmmaker Teshigahara Hiroshi as a central figure and was a hub for well-known avant-garde cultural figures in diverse genres including film, visual art, music, theater, literature, poetry, and architecture, the latter had more of a homemade, grassroots quality, and expressed skepticism about accepted definitions of art, rejecting boundaries between art and life, and advocating direct action. However, while these divergent movements had an antagonistic relationship, they not only continued working in parallel, but sometimes intersected.
Sōgetsu Art Center, established when the Sōgetsu Kaikan building was completed in 1958, comprised the Sōgetsu Music Inn, which presented experimental jazz concerts; the Sōgetsu Contemporary Series, focused on new music; and Sōgetsu Cinematheque, which screened films and animation. Many interdisciplinary events and festivals were held in the context of these three projects. The first such Sōgetsu Cinematheque event, held in July 1961, was called The Documentary Perspective (Dokyumentarī no shiten), while later series actively introduced works by Western filmmakers, such as the 1966 “Retrospective of the World in Avant-Garde Cinema and Underground Cinema: Japan and USA.” The Sōgetsu Experimental Film Festival (launched in 1967 and renamed to the Film Art Festival in 1968) played a major role in the emergence of Japanese underground and experimental film. Prior to 1961, Sōgetsu Art Center had already presented many film screenings, as the launch of the Sōgetsu Cinematheque was preceded by the independent film screening and production activities of the Cinema 1956 group (formed in 1956 and consisting of filmmakers and critics such as Teshigahara and Hani Susumu). A notable example of these screenings was Three-Person Animation (Sannin no animēshon), held in November 1960 as the fifth installment of the Sōgetsu Contemporary Series. The Three-Person Animation Circle (Animation Sannin no Kai) was a group formed by painters, manga artists, and designers centered on Kuri Yōji, Manabe Hiroshi, and Yanagihara Ryohei, and dedicated to transforming the role of animation from a merely commercial genre to an art form. The three presented their own work, and Manabe attached the subtitle “Butai no tame no animēshon” [Animation for the stage] to a screening of his Marine Snow (1960) that also featured a live-action scientific film with the same title, a light show, Noh and poetry recitations, and more. Manabe, who participated in a circle dedicated to the fusion of film and jazz and screened Cine-Caricature (1960) at Music Inn 5: Multiple Aspects of Modern Jazz (Modern jazz no takakuteki ōyō) in May of that year, was an early adopter of an interdisciplinary approach to the presentation of his own works. “Time for Calculations” (Keisan no jikan), published in the Sōgetsu Art Center’s in-house journal SAC Journal, was a special feature on the Three-Person Animation Circle. The article featured unique illustrations that critiqued sōgō geijutsu (Gesamtkunstwerk or integrated art) as having become merely a formal and superficial gathering place for artists of various genres, and advocated not only for animation as an art form, but also for new concepts and methodologies of collaborative endeavors. After three screenings, the Three-Person Animation Circle evolved into an animation festival in 1964, from which many animators and works emerged.
Nichidai Eiken, established in 1957, produced Conversation Between Nail and Sock (Kugi to kutsushita no taiwa, 1958) and subsequently went far beyond the framework of independent student film to become a central presence in the Japanese New Wave film movement that began in the 1950s, as well as in Ōshima Nagisa, Yoshida Yoshishige, and others’ Shōchiku New Wave; the avant-garde documentary film group that included Matsumoto Toshio and Noda Shinkichi; Teshigahara’s avant-garde art group, which produced independent films during the same period; and Iimura Takahiko and others’ 8mm film group. During the fierce conflict over the 1960 US-Japan Security Treaty, the Nihon University Film Study Club was reorganized into the New Film Study Club, and key members including Jōnouchi Motoharu, Kanbara Hiroshi, and Adachi Masao established the VAN Film Science Research Center as a space to both live in and produce films together. VAN was a place where not only filmmakers but also artists, critics, and editors engaged with various media, including fine art, music, theater, photography, and poetry, could assemble. Out of their interaction grew a large number of interdisciplinary projects. Among the best-known works or events are Document 6.15 (Dokyumento 6.15, 1961) and Sain Ceremony (Sain no gi, 1963).
Jōnouchi and others fully participated in the 1960 anti-Security Treaty protest movement and documented it from the inside, and the following year were asked to screen a film at an event marking one year since the death of Kanba Michiko, a female university student killed during a demonstration in front of the National Diet Building. The film was significantly reedited by VAN members and other associates, with news footage and reenactments of violence by police and right-wing thugs inserted into footage of the struggle shot by Jōnouchi and his group. The soundtrack included politically conflicting voices played simultaneously, and the work as a whole deviated radically from the documentary film genre. At the screening, in addition to moving images, alternating still photographs of Kanba’s face and paintings of Satan were inserted while the original “Song of the Devil” played on the soundtrack, and elements of a happening occurred, with objects being suspended and balloons being inflated in front of the screen. VAN, which was fundamentally critical of ritualistic political gatherings, sought to transcend the film medium and even art itself, with the concept of a one-time-only cinematic event framed as an artistic intervention in a political space. However, the audience had come to see a documentary film of the protests and responded with out- rage, while the organizers vehemently lambasted VAN and halted the screening midway. A controversy over this fracas unfolded in the letters section of the Nippon Dokyusho Shimbun [Japan read- ers newspaper]. In response to political attacks on the staging of the film screening, Matsuda Masao—then an editor and later a film critic allied with Adachi and associates—writing under the pen name Hirosawa Mina, fired back with a counterargument that questioned the nature of relationships among film and politics, art and activism. This was followed by a final article on the topic by Tamura Kazuo (actual name unknown), thought to be a VAN associate. Only fragments of the original work survive, and most of those involved left no written commentary, so this back-and-forth serves as a highly valuable discussion and document giving us a picture of the film screening event.
Following this, after the Nihon University New Film Study Club completed Closed Vagina (Sain, 1963), they endeavored to stage its screening as a ritual called Sain Ceremony (Sain no gi) in Kyoto in 1964. A series of events over two days was organized primarily by club members including Adachi and Okishima Isao, with cooperation from Kyoto avant-garde arts and theater groups. In addition to Adachi and Jōnouchi, participants included musicians Tone Yasunao and Kosugi Takehisa and visual artists Akasegawa Genpei and Kazakura Shō. A pre-event festival included performances in which Kazakura destroyed the venue’s piano and Akasegawa set fire to paper. On the day of the screening, an unexpected incident occurred: the second half of the film to be projected was stolen by the radical student group Hanzaisha Dōmei (Criminal League). However, Adachi interpreted even this theft as part of the ritual, and screened the film that remained. When the post-screening performance began as scheduled, the audience crowding the stage was told that it had only seen half the film, and the venue descended into chaos and was surrounded by riot police. Critical of, and alienated from, the existing system of film production, Closed Vagina pursued the same ideas about methods of presentation as Document 6.15 and pushed them even further in the direction of Expanded Cinema and Intermedia experimentation. “Documentation of the Sain Ceremony” (Sain no gi roku) was published when Closed Vagina (Sain,1963) was shown at Art Theatre Shinjuku Bunka, the main venue of the Art Theatre Guild, in 1965. The report on the film production and the Sain Ceremony events, as well as the Sain script were published by editor-in-chief Satō Jūshin in Eiga Hyōron [Cinema criticism], which was actively engaged in introducing underground films.
Iimura Takahiko, who gained attention with his self- produced 8mm films and experimental films, rethought not only visual and aesthetic experimentation in the films themselves, but also their conventionally accepted screening formats and venues. At the first Naiqua Cinematheque in August 1963 at Naiqua Gallery, which strongly promoted experimental artists, he presented Dada 62 (1962) as a “film concert,” playing the projector like an instrument according to instructions by Tone Yasunao. The film documented works from the Yomiuri Indépendant exhibition, also a crucial exhibition venue for the avant-garde. In December of the same year, at Sweet 16: Performing Festival organized by the Sōgetsu Art Center, his Iro (Color, 1962) was projected onto the back of Takamatsu Jiro, a member of the artist group Hi Red Center, and Akasegawa (also a member) cut his shirt into the shape of a screen in a performance called Screen Play. Iimura’s text “A Two-Way Peep Window” (Mō hitotsu no nozokimado) was published in a pamphlet produced at the time of this event, and contains a discussion of film in terms of media theory. In 1964, he called for the establishment of the group Film Indépendant for self-made films and experimental filmmakers, and organized modes of production and screening that differed from those of existing commercial films. This lay the groundwork for Japan’s first underground film distribution organization, the Japan Filmmakers’ Cooperative, established in 1968, and later the Japan Underground Center. Iimura’s text “Film Experiment or Experimental Film? Thoughts on ONAN” (Eiga no jikken ka jikken no eiga ka: Onan no ba’ai), which discussed the nature of cinema and how it should move forward with his own work Onan (1964) as a case study, was published in Eizō Geijutsu [Image arts], the in-house magazine of Image Arts Society (Eizō Geijutsu no Kai), which was primarily made up of documentary filmmakers. After this, Iimura made concerted efforts to introduce Japanese experimental film in other countries, launching film screening tours that presented his own experimental works and those of his compatriots in the United States and Europe. Iimura worked alongside critic and filmmaker Kanesaka Kenji and critic Ishizaki Kōichirō to introduce under- ground film, expanded cinema, and intermedia artists, works, and ideas in Japan, and was a pioneer in the field in terms of both theory and practice.