by Chris Marker
This morning I was on the dock of Pidjiguiti, where everything began in 1959: when the first victims of the struggle were killed. It may be as difficult to recognize Africans in this leaden fog as it is to recognize struggle in rather dull activity of tropical longshoremen. Rumor has it that every third world leader coined the same phrase the morning after independence: Now the real problems start. Cabral never got a chance to say it, he was assassinated first. But the problems started, and went on, and are still going on. Rather unexciting problems for revolutionary romanticism: to work, to produce, to distribute, to overcome postwar exhaustion, temptations of power and privilege... History only tastes bitter to those who expected it to be sugarcoated.
My personal problem was more specific: how to film the ladies of Bissau? Apparently the magical function of the eye was working against me there. It was in the market places of Bissau and Cape Verde that I could stare at them again with equality... I see her - she saw me - she knows that I see her - she drops me her glance, but just at an angle where it is still possible to act as though it was not addressed to me -and at the end of the real glance, straightforward, that lasted a twenty-fourth of a second, the length of a film frame.
All women have a built-in grain of indestructibility, and men's task has always been to make them realize it as late as possible. African men are just as good at this task as others, but after a close look at African women, I wouldn't necessarily bet on the men.
He told me the story of the dog Hachiko: A dog waited every day for his master at the station. The
master died, and the dog didn't know it, and he continued to wait, all his life. People were moved
and bought him food. After his death, a statue was erected in his honor, in front of which sushis
and rice cakes are still placed so that the faithful soul of
Hachiko will never go hungry.
Tokyo is full of these tiny legends, and of mediating animals. The Mitsukoshi lion stands guard on the frontiers of what was once the empire of Mr. Okada, a great collector of French paintings, the man who hired the chateau of Versailles to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of his department stores. In the computer section, I've see young Japanese exercising their brain muscles like the young Athenians at the palestra. They have a war to win (the history books of the future will perhaps place the battle of integrated circuits at the same level as Salamis or Agincourt) but are willing to honor the unfortunate adversary by leaving other fields to him: men's fashions this season are placed under the sign of John Kennedy.
Like an old votive turtle stationed in the corner of a field, every day Mr. Akao, the president of the Japanese Patriotic Party, trumpeting from the heights of his rolling balcony against the international communist plot. He wrote me: the automobiles of the extreme right with their flags and megaphones are part of Tokyo's landscape, Mr. Akao is their focal point. I think he'll have his statue like the dog Hachiko, at this crossroads from which he departs only to go on the battlefields. He was at Narita in the sixties: peasants fighting against the building of an airport on their land, and Mr. Akao denouncing the hand of Moscow behind everything that moved... Yurakucho is the political space of Tokyo. Once upon a time I saw a bonze pray for peace in Viet Nam there. Today, young right wing activists protest against the annexation of the Northern Islands by the Russians. Sometimes they're answered that the commercial relations of Japan with the abominable occupier of the north are a thousand times better than with the American ally who's always whining about economic aggression.
On the other sidewalk, the left has the floor. The Korean Catholic Opposition leader, Kim Dae Jung, kidnapped in Tokyo in 73 by the South Korean Gestapo, is threatened with the death sentence. A group has began a hunger strike, some very young militants are trying to gather signatures in his support.
I went back to Narita for the birthday of one of the victims of the struggle. The demo was unreal. I had the impression of acting in Brigadoon, of waking up ten years later in the midst of the same players, with the same blue lobsters of Police, the same helmeted adolescents, the same banners, the same slogans: DOWN WITH THE AIRPORT! Only one thing has been added: the airport, precisely. But with its single runway and the barbed wire that chokes it, it looks more besieged than victorious.
My pal Hayao Yamaneko has found a solution: if the images of the present don't change, then change the images of the past. He showed me the clashes of the Sixties treated by his synthesizer. Pictures that are less deceptive, he says, with the conviction of a fanatic, than those you see on television. At least they proclaim themselves to be what they are: images - not the portable and compact form of an already inaccessible reality.
Hayao calls his machine's world the Zone - a homage to Tarkovsky.
What Narita brought back to me, like a shattered hologram, was an intact fragment of the generation of the Sixties. If to love without illusions is still to love, I can say that I loved it. It was a generation that often exasperated me, for I didn't share its Utopia of uniting in a common struggle those who revolt against poverty and those who revolt against wealth, but it screamed out that gut reaction that better adjusted voices no longer knew how, or no longer dared, to utter... I met peasants there, who had come to know themselves through the struggle. Concretely, it has failed. At the same time, all they had won in their understanding of the world could have been won only through the struggle.
As for the students, some massacred each other in the mountains in the name of revolutionary purity, while others had studied capitalism so thoroughly to fight it that they now provide it with its best executives. Like everywhere else, the Movement had its posturers and its careerists - including, and there are some, those who made a career of martyrdom - but it carried with it those who said, like Che Guervara that they trembled with indignation every time an injustice is committed in the world. They wanted to give a political meaning to their generosity, and their generosity has outlasted their politics. That's why I will never allow it to be said that youth is wasted on the young.
The youth who get together every weekend at Shinjuku obviously know that they are not on a launching pad to real life, that they are life, to be eaten on the spot, like fresh donuts. It's a very simple secret, the old try to hide it, and not all the young know it. The ten year old girl who threw her friend from the 13th floor of a building after having tied her hands, because she had spoken badly of their class team, hadn't discovered it yet. Parents who demand an increase in special telephone lines devoted to the prevention of children's suicides find out a little late that they had kept it all too well. Rock is an international language that's spreading the secret. Another is peculiar to Tokyo...
For the Takenoko, twenty is the age of retirement. They are baby Martians. I go to see them dance every Sunday in the park at Yoygi. They want people to look at them, but they don't seem to notice that people do. They live in a parallel time sphere, a kind of invisible aquarium wall separates them from the crowd they attract, and I can spend a whole afternoon contemplating the little Takenoko girl who is learning, no doubt for the first time, the customs of her planet. Beyond that, they wear dog tags, they obey a whistle, the Mafia rackets them, and with the exception of a single group made up of girls, it's always a boy who commands.
One day he writes to me: description of a dream. More and more my dreams find their setting in the department stores of Tokyo, the subterranean tunnels that extend them and run parallel to the city. A face appears, disappears, a trace is found, is lost, all the folklore of dreams is so much in its place that the next day when I'm awake, I realize that I continue to seek in the basement labyrinth the presence concealed the night before. I begin to wonder if those dreams are really mine, or if they are part of a totality, of a gigantic collective dream of which the entire city may be the projection. It might suffice to pick up any one of the telephones that are lying around to hear a familiar voice, or the beating of a heart - Sei Shonagon's for example... All the galleries lead to stations, the same companies own the stores and the railroads that bear their name, Keio, Odakyu, all those names of ports. The train inhabited by sleeping people puts together all the fragments of a dream, makes a single film of them, the ultimate film. The tickets from the automatic dispenser grant admission to the show.
Video games are the first stage in a plan for machines to help the human race, the only plan that offers a future for intelligence. For the moment, the insufferable philosophy of our time is contained in the
Pac-Man. I didn't know, when I was sacrificing all my coins to him, that he was going to conquer the world. Perhaps because he is the most graphic metaphor of Man's Fate. He puts into true perspective the balance of power between the individual and the environment, and he tells us soberly that though there may be honor in carrying out the greatest number of victorious attacks, it always comes a cropper.
He was pleased that the same chrysanthemums appeared in funerals for men and for animals. He described to me the ceremony held at the zoo in Ueno, in memory of the animals that had died during the year: For two years in a row this day of mourning has had a pall cast over it by the death of a panda - more irreparable, according to the newspapers, than the death of the prime minister that took place at the same time. Last year people really cried. Now they seem to be getting used to it, accepting that each year death takes a panda, as dragons do young girls in fairy tales. I've heard this sentence: The partition that separates life and death does not appear so thick to us as it does to a Westerner. What I have read most often in the eyes of people about to die is surprise. What I read right now in the eyes of Japanese children is curiosity. As if they were trying, in order to understand the death of an animal, to stare through the partition.
I have returned from a country where death is not a partition to cross through, but a road to follow. The Great Ancestors of the Bijago archipelago has described for us the itinerary of the dead, and how they move from island to island according to rigorous protocol, until they come to the last beach, where they wait for the ship that will take them to the other world. If by accident one should meet them, it is above all imperative not to recognize them. Hayao Yamaneko invents video games with his machines. To tease me, he puts in my best-beloved animals: the Cat and the Owl.
He claims that electronic texture is the only one that can deal with sentiment, memory and imagination. How can one claim to show a category of Japanese who do not exist? Yes, they're there, I saw them in Osaka, hiring themselves out by the day, sleeping on the ground, ever since the Middle Ages they've been doomed to grubby and backbreaking jobs, and their real name, etas, is a taboo word, not to be pronounced. They are non-persons, how can they be shown, except as non-images?
The Bijagos are part of Guinea-Bissau. In an old film clip, Amilcar Cabral waves a gesture of goodbye to the shore - he's right, he'll never see it again. Luiz Cabral made the same gesture fifteen years later on the canoe that was bringing us back. Guinea has by that time become a nation and Luiz is its president. All those who remember the war remember him. He is the halfbrother of Amilcar - born as he was of half Guinean and Cape Verdean blood and like him, a founding member of an unusual party - the PAIGC, which by uniting the two colonized countries in a single movement of struggle wishes to be the forerunner of a federation of the two states. I have listened to the stories of former guerrilla fighters, who had fought in conditions so inhuman that they pitied the Portuguese soldiers for having to bear what they themselves suffered - that I heard, and many more things that make one ashamed for used lightly, even inadvertently, the word guerrilla to describe a certain breed of filmmaking ... A word that at the time was linked to many theoretical debates, and also to bloody defeats on the ground. Amilcar Cabral was the only one to lead a victorious guerrilla war - and not only in terms of military conquests. He knew his people, he had studied them for a long time, he wanted every liberated region to be also a precursor of a different kind of society. The socialist countries send weapons to arm the fighters, the socialdemocracies fill the people's stores: may the extreme left forgive history, but if the guerrillas are like fish in water, it's thanks to Sweden. Amilcar was not afraid of ambiguities, he knew the traps. He wrote: It's as though we were at the edge of a great river full of waves and storms, with people who are trying to cross it and drown, but they have no other way out. They must get to the other side.
And now the scene moves to Cassaca, the 17th of February 1980 -but to understand it properly one must move forward in time. In one year, Luiz Cabral the president, will be in prison, and the weeping man he has just decorated, Major Nino, will have taken power. The party will have split, Guineans and Cape Verdeans separated one from the other will be fighting over Amilcar's legacy. We will learn that behind this ceremony of promotions, which in the eyes of visitors, perpetuated the brotherhood of the struggle, there lay a pit of post-victory bitterness, and that Nino's tears did not express an ex-warrior's emotions, but the wounded pride of a hero who felt he had not been raised high enough above the others. And beneath each of these faces, a memory, and in place of what we were told had been forged into a collective memory, a thousand memories of men who parade their personal laceration in the great wound of History...
In Portugal, raised up in its turn by the breaking wave of Bissau, Miguel Torga, who had struggled all his life against the dictatorship, wrote: Every protagonist represents only himself... In place of a change in the social setting, he seeks simply, in the revolutionary act, the sublimation of his own image... That's the way the breakers recede, and so predictably that one has to believe in a kind of amnesia of the future that History distributes, through mercy or calculation to those whom it recruits. Amilcar murdered by members of his own party, the liberated areas fallen under the yoke of bloody petty tyrants liquidated in their turn by central power to whose stability everyone paid homage until the military coup. That's how History advances, plugging its memory as one plugs one's ears. Luiz exiled to Cuba, Nino discovering in his turn plots woven against him, can be cited reciprocally to appear before the bar of History - she doesn't care, she understands nothing, she has only one friend: the one Brando spoke of in Apocalypse: horror - and horror has a name and a face.
I am writing you all this from another world, a world of appearances. In a way, the two worlds communicate with each other. Memory is to one what History is to the other. An impossibility. Legends are born out of the need to decipher the indecipherable. Memories must make due with their delirium, with their drift. A moment stopped would burn like a frame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector. Madness protects, as fever does. I envy Hayao and his Zone. He plays with the signs of memory. He pins them down and decorates them like insects that would have flown beyond time which he could contemplate from a point outside of Time - the only eternity we have left. I look at his machines, I think of a world where each memory could create its own legend.
In Iceland, I laid the first stone of an imaginary film. That summer, I had met three children on a road, and a volcano had come out of the sea... The American astronauts came to train, before flying off to the Moon, in this corner of Earth that resembles it. I saw it immediately as a setting for a science fiction, the landscape of another planet... or rather no, let it be the landscape of our own planet for someone who comes from elsewhere, from very far away. I imagine him moving slowly, heavily, above the volcanic soil that sticks to the soles. All of a sudden, he stumbles, and the next step, it is a year later, he is walking on a small path near the Dutch border, along a seabird's sanctuary.
That's for a start. Now why this cut in time, this connection of memories? That's just it, he can't understand. He hasn't come from another planet, he comes from our future, 4001, the time when the human brain has reached the era of full employment. Everything works to perfection, all that we allow to slumber, including memory. Logical consequence: total recall of memory is anesthetized. After so many stories of men who had lost their memory, here is the story of one who has lost forgetting... and who, through some peculiarity of his nature, instead of drawing pride from the fact and scorning mankind of the past and its shadows, turned to it first with curiosity and then with compassion. In the world he comes from, to call forth a vision, to be moved by a portrait, to tremble at the sound of music can only be signs of a long and painful prehistory. He wants to understand. He feels these infirmities of Time like an injustice, and he reacts to that injustice like Che Guevara, like the youth of the Sixties, with indignation. He is a thirdworlder of Time, the idea that unhappiness has existed in his planet's past is as unbearable as to them the idea of poverty in their present. Naturally, he will fail. The unhappiness he discovers is as inaccessible to him as the poverty of a poor country is unimaginable to the children of a rich one. He has chosen to give up his privileges, but he can do nothing about the privilege that has allowed him to choose. His only recourse is precisely that which threw him into this absurd quest: a song cycle by Moussorgski. They are still sung in the 40th century. Their meaning has been lost, but it was then that for the first time he perceived the presence of that thing he didn't understand, which had something to do with unhappiness and memory, and towards which slowly, heavily, he began to walk.
On May 15,1945, at 7 o'clock in the morning, the 382nd US infantry regiment attacked a hill in Okinawa they renamed Dick Hill. I suppose the Americans themselves believed they were conquering Japanese soil, and that they knew nothing about the Ryukyu Civilization. Neither did I, apart from the fact that the faces of the market ladies at Itoman spoke to me more of Gauguin than of Utamaro. For centuries of dreamy vassalage, Time had not moved in the archipelago. Then came the break. Is it a property of islands to make their women into the guardians of their memory? I learned that, as in the bijagos, it is through the women that magic knowledge is transmitted: each community has its priestess, the Noro, who presides over all ceremonies with the exception of funerals. The Japanese defended their position inch by inch, at the end of the day the two half-platoons formed from the remnants of L Company had only got halfway up the hill. A hill like the one where I followed a group of villagers on their way to the purification ceremony. The Noro communicates with the gods of the sea, of the rain, of the earth, of fire. Everyone bows down before the Sister Deity who is the reflection, in the absolute, of a privileged relationship between brother and sister. Even after her death, the sister maintains her spiritual predominance. At dawn, toppled into the modern world. Twenty-seven years of American occupation, the re-establishment of a controversial Japanese sovereignty, two miles from the bowling alleys and the gas stations the Noro continues her dialogue with the gods. When she is gone, the dialogue will end. Brothers will no longer know that their dead sister is watching over them.
In filming the ceremony, I knew I was present at the end of something. Magical cultures that disappear leave traces to those who succeed them. This one will leave none. The break in History has been too violent. I touched that break at the summit of the hill, as I had touched it at the edge of the ditch where 200 girls had used grenades to commit suicide in 1945, rather than fall into the hands of the Americans. People had their pictures taken in front of the ditch, as souvenirs.
On Hayao's machine, war resembles letters being burned, shredded in a frame of fire. The codename for Pearl Harbor was Tora, tora, tora -the name of the cat the couple in Go To Ku Ji was praying for. So all of this will have begun with the name of a cat pronounced three times.
Off Okinawa, kamikazes dived on the American fleet. They were likelier material for it, obviously, than the special units who exposed their prisoners to the bitter frost of Manchuria and then to hot water so as to see how fast flesh separates from the bone. One would have to read their last letters to know that the kamikazes weren't all volunteers, nor were they all swashbuckling samurais. Before drinking his last cup of sake, Ryoji Uebara had written: / have always thought that Japam must live free in order to live eternally. It may seem idiotic to say than today, under a totalitarian regime. We kamikaze pilots are machines, \ we have nothing to say, except to beg our compatriots to make Japam the great country of our dreams. In the plane, I am a machine, a bit of\ magnetized metal that will plaster itself on an aircraft-carrier, but oncel on the ground, I'm a human being, with feelings and passions... Pleasel excuse these disorganized thoughts. I am leaving you a rather melancholy picture, but in the depths of my heart I am happy. I have spoken frankly. Forgive me.
Everytime he came back from Africa, he stopped at the island of Sal, which is in fact a salt rock in the middle of the Atlantic. At the end of the island, beyond the village of Santa Maria and its cemetery of the painted tombs, it suffices to walk straight to meet the desert.
He wrote me, I've understood the visions. Suddenly you're in the desert, the way you are in the night. Whatever is not desert no longer exists. You don't want to believe the images that crop up.
Did I write you that there are emus on the He de France: this name, Island of France, sounds strangely on the Island of Sal. My memories superimpose two towers: the one at the ruined castle of Montepilloyl that served as encampment for Joan of Arc, and the lighthouse tower at the southern tip of Sal, probably one of the last lighthouses to use oil.
A lighthouse in the Sahel looks like a collage until you see the ocean! at the edge of the sand and salt. Crews of transcontinental planes are rotated on Sal. Their club brings to this frontier of nothingness a small! seaside resort which makes the picture still more unreal. They feed the stray dogs that live on the beach.
I found my dogs pretty nervous tonight. They were playing with the sea as I had never seen them before. Listening to Radio Hong Kong later on, I understood. Today was the first day of the lunar New Year, and for the first time in sixty years, the sign of the dog met the sign of water.
Out there 11,000 miles away, a single shadow remains immobile in I the midst of the long moving shadows that the January light throws over the ground of Tokyo: the shadow of the Asakusabonze.
For also, in Japan, the Year of the Dog is beginning. Temples are filled with visitors that come to toss down their coins, and to pray, Japanese style: a prayer which slips into life without interrupting it.
Brooding at the end of the world on my island of Sal in the company of my prancing dogs, I remember that month of January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory, they are my memory. I wonder how people remember things who don't film, don't photograph, don't tape. How has mankind managed to remember?.... I know, it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a Time that will have to reread itself constantly, just to know it existed. As we await the year 4001 and its total recall, that's what the oracles we take out of their long hexagonal boxes at New Year may offer us: a little more power over that memory that runs from camp to camp, like Joan of Arc, that a shortwave announcement from Hong Kong radio picked up on a Cape Verde island projects to Tokyo, and that the memory of a precise color in the street bounces back on another country, another distance, another music endlessly.
At the end of memory's path, the ideograms on the Island of France are no less enigmatic than the kanji of Tokyo in the miraculous light of the New Year. It's Indian Winter. As if the air were the first element to emerge purified from the countless ceremonies by which the Japanese wash off one year to enter the next one. A full month is just enough for them to fulfill all the duties that courtesy owes to time. The most interesting, unquestionably, being the acquisition, at the Temple of Tenjin, of the Uso Bird who, according to one tradition, eats all your lies of the year to come, and according to another, turns them into truths.
But what gives the street its color in January, what makes it suddenly different, is the appearance of kimonos. In the street, in stores, in offices, even at the Stock Exchange on opening day, the girls take out their fur-collared winter kimonos. At that moment of the year other Japanese may well invent extra-flat TV sets, commit suicide with a chain-saw, or capture two-thirds of the world market for semi-conductors -good for them! All you see are the girls.
The 15th of January is Coming of Age Day, an obligatory celebration in the life of a young Japanese woman. The city governments distribute small bags filled with gifts, date-books, advice: how to be a good citizen, a good mother, a good wife. On that day, every 20 year old girl can phone her family for free, no matter where in Japan. Flag, home and country, this is the anteroom of adulthood. The world of the Takenoko and of rock singers speeds away like a rocket. Speakers explain what society expects of them. How long will it take to forget the Secret?
And when all the celebrations are over, it remains only to pick up all the ornaments, all the accessories of the celebration, and by burning them, make a celebration.
This is Dondo-yaki. A Shinto blessing of the debris that has a right to immortality, like the dolls at Ueno. The last state before their disappearance, of the poignancy of things. Daruma, the one-eyed sprit, reigns supreme at the summit of the bonfire. Abandonment must be a feast, laceration must be a feast and the farewell all that one has lost, broken, used, must be ennobled by a ceremony. It's Japan that could fulfill the wish of that French writer who wanted divorce to be made a sacrament. The only baffling part of this ritual was the circle of children striking the ground with their long poles. I only got one explanation - a singular one - although for me it might take the form of a small intimate service: it was to chase away the moles.
And that's where my three children of Iceland came and grafted themselves in. I picked up the whole shot again, adding the somewhat hazy end, the frame trembling under the force of the wind beating us down on the cliff, everything I had cut in order to "tidy up" and that said better than the rest what I saw in that moment, why I held it at arm's length - at zoom's length - until its last 24th of a second. The city of Heimaey spread out below us, and when, five years later, my friend Haroun Tazieff sent me the film he had just shot in the same place, I lacked only the name to learn that nature performs its own Dondo-yakis. The island's volcano had awakened. I looked at those pictures, and it was as if the entire year '65 had just been covered with ashes. So it sufficed to wait, and the planet itself staged the working of Time. I saw what had been my window again, I saw emerge from roofs and balconies, the landmarks of the walks I took through town every day down to the cliff where I had met the children. The cat with white socks that Haroun had been considerate enough to film for me naturally found its place, and I thought of all the prayers to Time that had studded this trip, the kindness of the one spoken by the woman at Go To Ku Ji who said simply to her cat Tora: Cat, wherever you are, peace be with you.
And then in its turn, the journey entered the Zone. Hayao showed me my images already affected
by the moss of Time, freed of the lie that had prolonged the existence of those moments swallowed
by the spiral.
Back to Theory