In late 2020 or early 2021, Akio Nagasawa announced a new, 4 volume series of silk-screened canvas-bound photobooks from Daido Moriyama. I immediately preordered the first, and kept an eye out for the other three. Ends up, there were 5 total and there’s a surprise sort of ending, sort of. Taken individually, I don’t have much to say about any individual volume; collectively, though, I think they may be the best thing Moriyama has released.
Head’s up: three of the 5 volumes contain a few NSFW photographs. Apologies: you’ll need to click through to watch the unboxings….
Each book contains a brief postscript from Moriyama in Japanese and English, all of which follos the same (or a very similar) format: “There was a woman called [Name] in [Location]. She was a person who loved [Thing(s)]. It’s already [unit of time] since [I saw her, she disappeared from, etc.]. Even now, I still think of her sometimes. This is a profile of her as she appears in my memory.” At first, this may not seem to mean much, but, trust me, the text is pivotal to the work.
Shinobu hung around in Shinjuku’s red light quarter and loved flowers. At time of publication, Moriyama hadn’t seen her in a decade. Guess what? The images show mostly (what I guess is) Shinjuku and flowers, with various close-ups of hands and feet, ear, shoulder, etc. of a woman (or women: it’s hard to tell), and mid- and full–length faceless portraits of the woman in various states of undress. As with all volumes in the series, I didn’t get it the first time, or the third, but it grew on me.
Hiroko loved ENKA (whatever that is) in Osaka’s Minami district. Moriyama hasn’t seen her in five years. Now. The Safari web browser auto-completes to https://enka.network, which has something to do with “Genshin Impact player cards,” whatever those are, and probably isn’t the ENKA that Hiroko loved…. Wikipedia gives ENKA as a recent style of Japanese music that has some traditional elements, and maybe the mix of images—flowers, again, but fewer this time; city scenes of mostly what appear to be bars and clubs, and of people on their way to bars and clubs; and more explicit, if still faceless portraits of a woman (or women)—backs up this reading.
Naomi loved cars. Moriyama often took her out for drives in and around the Nishiki area in Nagoya a few years ago. Now. One might expect images of cars and driving, but one would be wrong. There are, by my count, 5 pictures of cars. Perhaps another five were made from a car. Overall, though, there are many more images of flowers, including a garishly-colored gatefold that makes my stomach churn. There might be more images of advertising than in other volumes, but I didn’t count.
I expected Yukari to be the last book in the series. After all, original press claimed four volumes, and the text seems to back this up. “The woman who called herself Shinobu in Shinjuku, Hiroko in Minami, and Naomi in Nishiki, went by the name of Yukari in the Nakasu district of Fukuoka.” Aha. It’s all been a ruse!
““Someday, I’m gonna live in New York” – that’s what she always said.” So Moriyama missed her for a couple of years, then went into his archive and found a few rolls of half frame shots—I’m guessing—made in the City. Many pages show two sequential-seeming pictures in a nearly 4×3 aspect ratio that looks for all the world like half frame. Two obviously-sequential shots show Moriyama in a hotel room, taking miror selfies with an unidentifiable (by me) older camera that might be the Olympus Pen W he reportedly used in the early 1970s. Some of the pictures may have been made that long ago, based on the theater marquees in various images; others are far more recent, based on the Victoria’s Secret and other signage in Times Square and elsewhere, and I’m sure Moriyama—and or his editor(s)—mixed images from Moriyama’s long career for Yukari and other volumes. In fact, I believe a few images appear in multiple volumes. I noticed a couple during the flip-through portions of the unboxing videos, and think I saw more during my multiple trips through the different books.
Momoe was sort of a shock when it appeared. I expected four volumes, and found myself a bit peeved that I was going to have to buy another one….
She called herself Shinobu in Shinjuku, Hiroko in Minami, Naomi in Nishiki, Yukari in Nakasu.Moriyama, Daido. Momoe. Akio Nagasawa, Tokyo, 2021. https://www.akionagasawa.com/en/shop/books/akionagasawa/momoe/ 3 April, 2023.
Rumor has it that she is now living quietly in Ishikari where she was born, under the name she was given by her parents.
Momoe. I still think of her every once in a while.
Surprise, surprise, the pictures in Momoe depict smaller towns and some countryside. There’s even a picture of a horse. The woman appears fewer times, and in far less explicit poses than in some earlier volumes, and there are no color images at all. I suspect a few of the pictures came from the Tales of Tono period, but don’t really know, and I don’t see a huge amount to date things. If I was able to read the Japanese text, I’d probably know more, and if I cared more, I’d point Google Translate at a few pictures… Alas.
Taken individually, the different volumes are sorta typical Moriyama affairs, what with their mix of flowers, street scenes, advertising, cats and dogs, shoes, etc., prominent throughout. Taken together, though, I think the series something special. Maybe it’s just that I spent $500 to acquire it all new and want to justify it? Well, I spent that money over the course of 2021 and it’s now 2023, so that money is long gone and had I not wasted it on Moriyama books, I would’ve wasted it some other way, and may Allah forgive me and guide me to better. Really, I think this series marks a high point in Moriyama’s career; that it serves as a sort of magnum opus.
The narrative, such as it is, is less heavy-handed than some of his other works. The imagery is more varied—looking at the 5 books together—than a normal Moriyama book might be, though, and as I’ve said before, if you’ve seen a handful of Moriyama images, you’ve pretty much seen them all: there’s not much new in these pages, but the way the work comes together is quite special, I think.
Recommended, but the whole set is wildly expensive and honestly probably not worth it.
If you want just one, I’d go for Yukari or Momoe due to the variety and pace of the images. Yukari is zippy and heater-skelter, much like the City itself; Momoe is sorta more pastoral and slower, but with a sort of static energy, like a city-dweller coming home, or that sense of impatiently marking time that I sometimes feel in smaller towns. The others sorta blend together for me, and I think they’re meant to.
If I have one complaint, it’s the numerous gatefolds in each volume. The paper is thin and the binding is floppy, and together, I find viewing the gatefolds a difficult and nerve-wracking affair. Beyond that, I’m not the biggest fan of the whole silkscreened canvas cover business. I think it works for the content, I just don’t like the feel of it in the hands.
Given that each volume is limited to 350 copies, I’m sorta shocked that all five remain available (at time of writing). I have #185 of Shinobu, #105 of Hiroko, #130 of Naomi, #164 of Yukari, and #102 of Momoe. Given I bought the last of these some 17 months ago, that doesn’t mean much; the fact that any remain should light a fire under you, if you have the funds and the interest. The “Woman of the Night” series may be a bit hopelessly patriarchal and most definitely stuck in the Twentieth Century, but it’s the most comprehensive expression of Moriyama’s work that I know of, and it may indeed actually be worth your time.