Still from Takashi Makino’s 2012 (final version). Courtesy of the artist.
Takashi Makino’s thirty-minute film 2012—screened as part of the New York Film Festival’s Projections series in October—drenches the audience with sounds of prolonged resonant scraped string textures and images of shimmering blue clouds of drifting particles. Panes of swirling atoms, scratched lines, and densely patterned fields rotate and pan in different directions, inducing an expansive sensory meditation on the nature of perception.
Drawn into whirling eddies of what could be microscopic realms of film grain, plasma cells, or subatomic particles, I’m then transported into cosmic immensities of galaxies, nebulae. I seem endowed with new sensory abilities—am I seeing sound? Is this how an insect sees?
2012’s shifting planes evoke tectonic plates, archeological strata, in a cinematic and sonic reverie of not-quite-remembered dream images, of personal and collective memory spanning multiple temporalities. This disorientation grants moments of recognition: glimpses of what might be leaves, sun-dappled water, sounds of birds, children, wind—but defamiliarized, as if seen upon returning to Earth after a long sojourn.
Latticed shards of light and infinite focal points conjure a sense of oblivion, obliteration. In my viewing notes, I wrote “near-death experience?”—and in emailing with Makino later, he tells of his near-fatal car accident at age five: while “wandering between life and death” he saw “lights more brilliant than any image I had ever seen.” No movie’s ever affected him as strongly as that childhood hallucination, which guides the “ideal film” he strives to create.
As a Telecine operator and film lab colorist for a decade, working with film’s tactility and sensitivity to light, Makino saw the year 2012 as a “turning point for cinema” as labs shut down and film’s disappearance seemed imminent. His response was to make 2012—its first half shot on Super 8, 16mm, and 35mm film (scratched by hand and with sand); its second half shot digitally. Departing from his process of creating multiple exposures by shooting and rewinding analog film in-camera repeatedly, for 2012 he used multiple exposures of film and also scanned, superimposed, and edited digitally.
Unlike film, which constantly degrades and changes, digital projection allows the screening of the exact same material repeatedly. To disrupt this, during the year 2012 Makino only performed 2012 as a piece in flux, while playing live music, and changing the visual and audio material, so each event was singular, unrepeatable. Then, at the end of the year, he made a fixed version of 2012 that “didn’t need” his presence.
However, an indeterminacy remains even with this fixed version—viewers can choose whether to watch the piece with a filter over one eye (creating a sensation of subtle depth via the Pulfrich effect), so that every viewing experience is unique. Watching 2012 with and without the filter kept drawing my awareness to the act of observing, to my perceptual and sense-making habits.
The year 2012 was also significant for Japan: “it was very scary and terrible … strange … everybody hiding what they were thinking … about radioactivity and Fukushima.” Makino feared for his wife and child, and about the Japanese government’s increasing turn to the right. 2012’s dense, richly layered sonic terrain was composed by superimposing audio material he captured from the Fukushima nuclear plant’s online cameras and Geiger counters over guitar, percussion, synthesizer, field recordings, and his heartbeats.
Superimposing as many as sixty to one hundred layers of material until relationships between images and their referents almost disappear allows for an ‘’infinite possibility of watching.” Makino proclaims, “I always want to make Imaginary Cinema,” to resist the use of cinema as propaganda—a real danger in contemporary Japan—by generating an ever-transforming “third image” between his projected images and those created within each viewer’s imagination. He describes this as a “creative collaboration with filmmaker and audience,” in which each act of watching “giv[es] birth to a new cosmos … an act of true creativity.” Makino’s ideal film would “give rise to the same number of new cosmoses as there are viewers.”
It is an embodied, perceptual engagement with the continually transforming materiality of the work that generates 2012’s sensations of sublime transcendence—an inspiring model for experiencing everyday realities, as well as cinematic ones.