What on earth possessed me to buy a copy of Orizuru?
Honestly, I have no idea. I bought it during a sort of Moriyama binge back in 2020 or so, and I suspect it appeared in the Akio Nagasawa shop as “rare” and or “final copies” or something like that and that I jumped on it as a result. smh. I also wonder if I maybe longed for a hardbound book from Daido Moriyama after all the canvas covered ones (see my recent reviews of Kura Chan and Farewell Photography) and zines (see also the recent Records review).
I don’t recall if I read the publisher’s description. If I had, it might have clued me in to the wholly NSFW nature of the book. “One day Moriyama suddenly told me “I’d love to take some nudes…You know, I am not that kind of photographer and probably if it’s me shooting, they won’t come out like the perfect iconic nudes though….”
To that end, Nagasawa (or an unnamed employee) hired a model credited as Bambi Watanabe. I wondered about the name… A google search suggests this is actually her real—or commonly used—name, and according to IMDb, she appeared in a few episodes of a couple of television shows, and hunting around a bit more, it seems Watanabe also works as a model for other photographers working in a similar—albeit more straight-ahead—vein, and if you’re interested in more, a google image search is a few clicks away.
True to his word, more or less, Moriyama’s images of Watanabe aren’t so much “perfect iconic nudes.” If you know Moriyama’s work, you know how it looks, and the grainy, fairly contrasty black & white doesn’t quite hit the same as, say, the arty black & white photographs of pretty models that regularly appeared in various how-to photography magazines and books, or ones by famous photographers of Moriyama’s generation, or older copies of, for example, Playboy magazine. There’s a looseness of handling and gesture, the poses come partly from generic porn and partly seem captured more off-the-cuff, though given Watanabe’s acting and modeling background, and familiarity with the camera, I suspect she had a pretty good idea what Moriyama was capturing.
It’s not all nudes, of course. Watanabe appears more or less clothed, and in more conventional head-and-shoulders portraits. There are also images of flowers, mostly just at or just past their prime, and at least one picture of a drain hose of some sort, something like an above-ground French drain pipe. As far as suggesting a narrative go, these maybe don’t work quite as well as do the shopping pictures in Kura Chan. Or, rather, if they work, they work on a level that isn’t quite as in-your-face and heavy-handed as those in Kura Chan. Given that Orizuru came out in 2021, and the images for Kura Chan were made in the mid 1960s, I’d hope that Moriyama got a bit better at sequencing and suggesting narrative, and maybe he did? This reviewer hasn’t gotten much better in reading photobooks in the, what, 5 or 8 years that I’ve been at it, that’s for sure, so who knows.
Looking closely—no, not in that way—it appears that Moriyama shot most of the images in one or two sessions at the Akio Nagasawa gallery and maybe in the alley out back or the roof or some place where Watanabe could pose on a large grate or drain of some sort. I might be wrong. Many pictures were made in the galleries, with Moriyama photographs hanging on the wall and the photographer appearing in reflections in the glass. And Watanabe wears a total of maybe 3 “outfits,” all of which could be changed in under a minute. I don’t know why this is important. Moriyama knows what he’s doing with the camera—he’s done more or less the exact same thing for 60-odd years, after all—and so can toss off a book of nudes in a sitting with ease. And, he also shot the flower and pipe pictures at some point, and they can’t easily be rearranged to form a clear sequence as can the gallery and alley pictures.
Anyway. It’s a good thing Orizuru is sold out. I can’t and won’t recommend you hunt down a copy. If you want a good Moriyama book, find the Pocket 55s one, they’re cheap and plentiful and will give you a good idea of Moriyama’s work. If you want a fully realized project-type book, Kura Chan and Farewell Photography are both really good. Orizuru just isn’t so much, imho.
Unrated. Not Recommended.
I was curious about the title and turned to Google translate. Interestingly, I first searched the title from memory and got something like “descent,” as in “descending the mountain” and also a sort of moral descent, a descent into madness or something. I had the name wrong through: “orizuru” means “paper crane.” Had it meant “descent,” I had a place to start, but with “paper crane,” well… I think maybe Moriyama’s sequencing and narrative skills didn’t really improve much. And why would they? The images for Kura Chan were made in the 1960s, but only sequenced for the book, and probably by the same person or group—if not by Moriyama himself—in 2020 or so, and if the meanings and readings read as obvious and first-order to me, well, there might be more there for less casual viewers.
Still. Unrated. Not Recommended.