Daido Moriyama: Ango is the third (and last?) collaboration between Daido Moriyama and designer Satoshi Machiguchi, that combines Moriyama’s photographs of cherry blossoms (mostly) with “In the Cherry Forest, Beneath Flowers in Full Bloom,” by Ango Sakaguchi.
I picked this up at a steep discount from an online retailer (I’ve forgotten where) because it was listed as “damaged” due to a very slight, near invisible crease on one edge of the cardboard slipcover… Score!
Sakaguchi’s story (you can read a translation here) is strange and probably means much more to readers of the Japanese original. A bandit takes a woman hostage and forces her into marriage—she might be a demon, she might be a projection of some inner madness. She is incredibly beautiful, but cruel. She taunts and belittles the bandit, demands that he move them to the city, where he can steal jewels and silks for her. She quickly tires of the finery, and orders him to bring her the heads of various citizens, dozens of them, monks and geishas, old and young, rich and poor. She puts on little plays with the heads. After some time, her demands drive the bandit insane and they depart for the mountains again. As they pass through the cherry forest, they argue. He ends up killing her, and they both disappear into the falling petals..
It’s really much more involved and allegorical and moving than I make it sound, and I’m absolutely sure that it works much differently in Japanese, for native Japanese speakers and those deeply steeped in Japanese culture.
Moriyama’s photographs, all black & white, alternate, come in clumps, weave throughout the book. His pictures of cherry blossoms are beautiful, lush, completely devoid of people, and occasionally somewhat creepy, and the few photographs of a (the) woman that pop up help to reinforce both the bandit’s attraction to her, and the impassable gulf between them. The photographs alternate between lush beauty and forlorn emptiness, but there’s much more of the former than the latter, unlike the story, which almost never evokes feelings of delight and appreciation that I get from many of Moriyama’s photographs.
The book itself is very well made and beautifully produced. The metallic cover is silver and black from head on, and wild rainbows at oblique angles. The text is in slight off-white, on thick black paper, “so black that you leave a stain when you touch them”*; the photographs are also white on black, on a slightly thicker, glossier stock, and a single page at the beginning, and front/back page at the end are solarized and printed so faintly that they’re difficult to see, matching the text that they divide, “and then nothing remained… only the cherry petals and cold, endless emptiness.”** It’s really a lovely, clearly lovingly designed, jewel of a photobook.
The story may leave me a little bit flat, but that’s my own western, middle-aged, depression talking (I think), and the book easily scores a very high 4.5 stars.
Torsten Nyström has a good review of the whole Moriyama/Machiguchi collaboration at photobookstore, but other reviews of Daido Moriyama: Ango are virtually nonexistent. You can find it at shashasha and other online retailers, and it’s worth picking up, I think. It’s a great marriage of photography and text, with both working together to produce something greater than either one alone (for me, anyway), and will make a great addition to your photobook collection.
That said, don’t make this your only Moriyama book… For that, get the little Phaidon 55 book. Daido Moriyama: Ango is more an object in an of itself than a Moriyama photobook or a Ango Sakaguchi novel, something I had to keep reminding myself of as I pecked out this brief review.
*Nyström, Torstram. “Daido Moriyama’s Ango and the MM Collaboration.” Retrieved from https://www.photobookstore.co.uk/blog/photobook-reviews/daido-moriyamas-ango-and-the-mmm-collaboration-reviewed-by-torsten-nystrom/ 28 September 2018.
**final pages of Daido Moriyama: Ango, Robert Zetzche trans., Satoshi Machiguchi, 2017.