The technical availability of the home video camera changed the way common people in East Asia saw themselves and the world: the excitement and discomfort about the ability to control the making of moving images for the first time; the (self-) invitations to perform and present; the half-staged, voyeuristic and unconscious recording of the family; the overlapping themes and similar occasions that incur boredom. The film is built on home videos made between the 1960s and 1990s from ordinary families around East Asia, showing the “anti-spectacle” power of folk images that are full of anthropological and sociological messages.
Taking the form of remote audio conversation as its main narrative, Anachronic Chronicle: Voyages Inside/Out Asia consists of four chapters. Each chapter has its own focus but they are also interconnected. The first chapter claims that home videos are exciting. For the first time, anyone can easily hold a video camera and peek through its lens, capturing reality with one’s own body movement and vision. The second chapter, however, discovers the boredom of watching home videos at a spatial and emotional gap. There are no “hidden meanings” to be found, just a documentation of family time. The sad nature of home video is discussed in the third chapter. For those who are filmed or are behind the camera, home video can also be a stir up bad memories, and there is a melancholy to seeing oneself at a younger age or a deceased family member “revived”. Finally, the film questions issues of gender and power in the process of home video making. While TV commercials of home video cameras feature women as their major consumers, in reality, it is always the man in the house that makes the home video. In this sense, is home video only made from male perspectives?
Blending voice narratives in four languages, moving images and literary texts, the film is mainly made from home video collections created in the 1990s by both filmmakers’ families, with family films shot by a Hong Kong in the 1960s family appearing as interludes. The film not only reveals how East Asian families created their own image with amateur filming devices but also tells stories of migration, travelling, growing and familial relationships.
PL: The idea of making this film came to me over a long period of time. In 2016, Hong Kong artist Wai Lau contacted me and told me that she had some copies of 8mm films from her grandparents that she never had a chance to have a look at as she simply couldn’t find an 8mm film projector in Hong Kong. Knowing that I had been working on a project about visual archives, she wondered if I could help her find a projector. Unsure about the condition of these films covered with dust, I contacted my film studies friend in Nagoya, Japan, and she told me it would probably a good idea to bring these films to Japan for a veteran projectionist in Nagoya mediatheque to check them and advise what the next steps should be.
A few months later, I brought the films on a research trip to Japan and arrived in Nagoya. The projectionist used a viewer to check the very first part of one of the film rolls. I immediately saw the faces of Wai’s grandpa, whom I recognized from the photos she showed earlier. I think it felt a bit like I was on an archaeological site as some ancient objects were being unearthed. But on the other hand, the film was not that old – probably only a few decades. I guess “new” obsolete media holds such magic for me because of its paradoxical nature: it’s something stuck in the middle of time. It’s touchable but also inaccessible.
The suggestion from the projectionist was to digitize them as soon as possible before they deteriorated further. I actually think it’s lucky that these films were not in too bad a condition considering the humid climate in Hong Kong, sleeping there untouched for at least 50 years. Until we woke them up.
Several weeks later, we received the DVD copies of the films. The content amazed me and Wai. We could definitely tell that some of the films were shot in in Tokyo in 1964 by cross-referencing them with pictures in the family photo collection taken during the Tokyo Olympics. From a Chinese tourist’s eye (mainly her grandpa), which was extremely rare for the time, we see the moving images of the opening ceremony, the football game and the track and field games in colour. The rest of the film was mainly documentation of family outings and business trips in Japan, as well as sightseeing tours in Hong Kong and Macau. Wai was excited about the films too but I was even more inspired by watching the footage. I have always been considering a way to reapproach my own home videos shot on hi8 in the 1990s. Now I seemed to have found the way.
More coincidences happened when I visited Taipei in early 2018, when I was roaming around an abandoned house in the city centre with some Taiwanese artist friends. We were thrilled to discover, totally beyond our expectations, many colour slide films and hi8 cassettes on the floor of the house, lying there as garbage for probably more than 10 years. The slide films documented their previous owners’ trips to the US, Japan and some more everyday scenes in Taiwan. I of course had no idea who they were, or where they might be now, but was again struck by the uncanny familiarity of these images on obsolete media. After getting a slide projector, I began to view all the snapshots from the eye of some unknown Taiwanese back in the 1950s (as was noted down on the margin of the slide cases). With all these images from others, I feel closer to making a film by myself.
The process of collecting the raw materials has expanded my view on my own home video collection, which focuses on the very private, time-specific experience that relates only to my own childhood, family and memory. I decided to make a film that tells a story with this cross-border home video making. I thus shared my idea with Yu, who I know had the experience of migrating from Japan to the US in the late 1990s. He was excited about the idea as, not surprisingly, his family has a big collection of home video on hi8 films too!
YA: Let me start off by sharing our timeline: if my memory serves me correctly, I met Lu for the first time in January 2017 in Tokyo when I gave a small presentation for Boris Groys’ master class at the Goethe Institute and she happened to be in the same venue. I was introduced to her through our mutual friend though it was very brief.
PL: Haha, actually I wasn’t at your talk. We were in the talk by Boris Groys at the University of Tokyo and were introduced to each other after his talk!
YA: Oh really? See, this is why I can’t trust my brain and need to externally store my memory on videos/photos…lol. Anyway, we sort of lost contact after that but a year later, I was a guest resident at ACC (Asia Culture Center) in Gwangju, South Korea and was in the same program there as artist/filmmaker Bo Wang, a long time friend of Lu and her close collaborator. Bo and I also became good friends, and Lu visited us in Gwangju in October that year. At that time, they were working on their feature length documentary Many Undulating Things (2019), which I had the privilege of recording a voice-over narration for. Prior to that, I had also cast Bo in my short film Bivalvia: Act I (2018), and so all these collaborations were happening organically.
PL: Here you go with the early formation of the squad!
YA: That’s right! Then, on December 26th, 2019, Lu and I reunited at an izakaya in Tokyo. It was a small gathering of artists, filmmakers and curators. I had just returned from Italy, so the timing worked out perfectly. As we were catching up, Lu told me about her potential collaboration idea, which I really loved, and I remember telling her about my family’s home video collection and that is when things started to roll. We shook hands firmly that night.
PL: Haha, the hand-shaking feels so close yet so far away at the same time.
YA: Yes and this was literally a few days before the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. At first, we were chatting about meeting up somewhere abroad to shoot additional materials and such. Then came the pandemic, so the project was put on hold. We still wanted to make our film though, and during several months of idling time, we came across an open call by the ACC Cinema Fund. Luckily, we got the grant, but the collaboration had to happen remotely, hence, our working condition itself became the structure of Anachronic Chronicle: Voyages Inside/Out Asia. We managed to use limitations and constraints to our advantage I think. It’s definitely mirroring the atmosphere of 2020 as an added layer, which was intended yet inevitable at the same time.
PL: The film takes the form of a remote conversation between me and Yu as during the first year of the pandemic, when it was impossible for us to meet face to face. That’s why you hear the constant checking sound of “hello” at the beginning of our conversation and sometimes echoes of our talking. It’s a bit challenging because I think the conversation might be more fun if we had been able to see each other. But in this film, we narrate as voiceover while largely thinking on our own end. Our interaction depends solely on our voices, rather than both voices and the sight of each other.
So in this form, the film is somehow like a kind of retrospective “confessional” of its making and the content of the home videos from our own families. But at the same time, the home videos become a kind of “memory machine”. While watching the videos, I began to be reminded of the things I have already forgotten and of things that are not present in the videos.
More interestingly, I began to become a “witness” of Yu’s memory. Listening to his memory of things we can and can’t see on the screen. We can’t tell the truthfulness of each other’s narration regarding what happened then, but it does feel that we have exchanged our memories with each other through making the film.
YA: How nicely put! Indeed, the act of sharing and exchanging memories was particularly meaningful, because you don’t normally show family home videos to others, do you? I also don’t recall having seen other families’ videos either. As the name implies, home videos are perhaps by nature meant to be kept at home, almost in secrecy…
Today, thanks to the Internet, we are now able to share videos instantly on social media from our smart phones — edited and trimmed under 60 seconds or so. But the immediacy of sharing and disseminating clips now seems to take away the certain “homeliness” of the home videos. To me it somehow feels that they are almost as different as home cooked meals vs. fast food. I’m not trying to say which is better or worse in this case, but I do want to point out their inherent difference: for the latter, the sharing platforms (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube can be said as fast-food restaurant chains) already exist whereas the former didn’t during the time of their recording. Having the potential audience in mind affects greatly how you shoot and edit those clips.
And it makes me wonder if memories also function in the same way. Do we subconsciously cut, select, and highlight only the exciting segments from boring times, in order for them to be shareable? In our film, the voice-over conversation serves as audio commentary in a way, just like some movie directors do in bonus tracks on DVDs. It provides context of how/why these videos were shot for audiences outside of your family. And this adds “meaning” to what may appear mundane images for others. Lu’s initial idea to make a film about home videos actually saved our family archives. It certainly became the motivation for me at least to excavate and digitise the whole batch of tapes. Without an impetus like this, I probably would have been too lazy to even look back at these images because of the mixed feelings I have towards my own past. So it meant a lot that we were able to premiere in South Korea, the U.K. and Greece, to know that there were audiences out there who came to see what would otherwise be a lost film.
PL: I totally agree. The laziness and loss of the meaning in “looking back” becomes increasingly legitimate with the increased convenience of individual image-shooting and archiving. But the film gave us a precious opportunity to look back and reflect on not only our own archived images but also our friends’. That’s amazing. Thus, we also interweave other images and footage of home videos from various sources into our own videos. They include Wai’s from the 1960s and the still images on slide films from an abandoned house in Taipei from the 1950s. The mixture of still and moving images from different times and on different materiality of analogue media (slide film, 8mm and Hi8) also presents a mini-history of family film making and home video making in East Asia between the 1950s and 1990s.
YA: That’s a good point. I do like how our images, or shall we say our “memories”, start to blend in. By splicing the archives of your family, my family, and friends’ families, our film not only journeys beyond individual, social, cultural, and national borders but also invites others to voyeuristically voyage our micro-history. Having said that, I just want to add that it’s been a real shame that we couldn’t physically attend any of our film screenings – even our world and international premieres! I guess what began as a remote production, stays in a virtual realm?? I’m craving for voyages…
YA: I think I can relate this question to the scope of digitisation during the pandemic. So as Lu mentioned at the beginning, she already had the experience of transferring 8mm film to DVDs via the FUJIFILM lab in Japan. This digitisation service, very user-friendly by the way, has been around for some time, and normally it would only take two to three weeks to get footage converted at an affordable rate. So I sent the 30 plus tapes to the lab in the beginning of August, thinking that I would get them back by the end of that month. But it turned out that there was a long queue and I ended up receiving the DVDs back in October. Why? During the pandemic, the Japanese government couldn’t enforce lockdown because there was no legal precedent for this. Since there was no legal basis, the government could only “request” that citizens lockdown voluntarily and the majority complied (it may sound strange and paradoxical but that’s how things were, at least in 2020). Those who could afford to stay at home in Japan basically spent a lot of time cleaning and organising their rooms/storage spaces and suddenly a huge demand for digitisation occurred as people finally had the time to excavate their old family home videos! This caused a delay in our production schedule, however, I do think it is a very interesting and noteworthy phenomenon that, in parallel to our process, a lot of other people also finally found the time to reflect and face their past.
PL: Probably the pandemic also gives us an opportunity to pause for a while in our life: mid- to late 30s, when we have accumulated some experience in our respective careers and are working hard to achieve more. Looking back at our teenage years could be more cruel than nostalgic.
YA: It wasn’t just cruel. It was painfully cruel! But I must say, again, I have mixed feelings. It was love and hate happening simultaneously but overall the good just about outweighed the bad.
PL: During the pandemic, everything turned more online. The disappearance of materiality (human body and environment) in daily conversation or friends’ gatherings threw us into a kind of ontological crisis about reality and the perception of time. It seems that working with obsolete but touchable films is a way we seize reality and reconfirm the actual flow of time.
YA: The problem is that the media itself (in this case, Hi8 tapes) survived, but the playback system didn’t. These tapes, covered in dust, have been sitting around for at least two decades in our family storage, because we didn’t have the hardware anymore to access its content. A lot of my family’s home videos were made during road trips to other cities and countries. I mentioned this anecdote in our film, but my father really loved the fact that I had this footage digitised, since he hadn’t had the chance to look back at them for more than twenty years. This time lag was never intended but it certainly added some nostalgic impact. He would watch one DVD per day, as if to re-experience the family trips that he half-missed by concentrating on capturing them on tape. Literally speaking, he got to time travel and that’s how he spent his 2020 at home. Thanks to this project, it unexpectedly became one of the best presents that I’ve ever given to him (well, having said that, video tends to be so powerful that there is always a danger of replacing or overwriting one’s own memory, but that’s another story…). Like a time-capsule, obsolete media has the power to shift time and this lag is meaningful to counterbalance the contemporary value on the nowness and instantaneity.
PL: We look at each other’s home video and search for relevant texts and translate them into Shanghainese, Taiwanese and Japanese. In the process of translating, we constantly encounter mis-translation by DeepL, a translation software we relied on a lot. However, we are not bothered by the mistakes and by rewriting some sentences ourselves, we are instilling new life into the texts.
YA: As Lu had the overall blueprint in mind, she worked a lot on preparing the text whilst I was in charge of the video editing. There have been several occasions that I had locked myself in a hotel room for days trying to edit the whole thing. Not only had I locked myself physically in the room, but I also found myself trapped in nostalgia and just couldn’t edit the footage anymore. When you’re editing, you must distance yourself from the material, but for this particular project, I had a tough time gaining an objective point of view. Listening to your own voice and conversation makes it even more gruelling. I confessed to Lu about my breakdown, and then she thought it’d be a good idea to hand over the half-edited project to our friend Bo for final polishing, he did an incredible job with and I’m extremely grateful for it. We needed that keen, third eye in order to complete the film. I’ve never hit this kind of wall before so it’s been a learning process. However, I do think that there is something here about the nature of home videos that makes it difficult for one to cut, select, and/or delete parts of your own family memory, even the boring times. I also found Lu’s home videos and those 8mm segments sublime. My naïveté clearly got in the way…
PL: We collected texts from two sources. The first one is written by a Shanghai contemporary writer Ag, who published short stories with an art/community-based cultural and publishing project named “51 Personae”. Many of Ag’s stories are titled with a place in Shanghai,e.g. Duolun Museum, Xinwang Restaurant, etc. These are also places I went when I was in Shanghai. The stories are, however, a bit abstract and detached from reality. I was very much drawn into the images that were evoked by reading them.
The other source were short stories originally written by Japanese authors in the 1920s-30s and then translated into Chinese by Liu Na’ou (1905-1940), a Taiwanese writer and filmmaker who spent his life studying in Japan before relocating to Shanghai in 1926. He was assassinated in Shanghai in 1940, probably by the Nationalists due to his close relationship with the Japanese. Known for his own modernist writings, Liu had also made a “personal film” titled “The Man with a Movie Camera” back in 1933, documenting his life in Taiwan and Japan. His inter-Asia life experience, as well as his relevance as probably one of the earliest home video making practices by non-Western people in Asia, struck me as highly important for our project, though it’s not clearly stated in the film. By re-translating the texts that he translated from Japanese to Chinese back to Japanese, we also see a kind of travelling of texts through time and space, creating an inter-Asian history of private images beyond national boundaries.
It was also probably the title of Liu’s film “The Man with a Movie Camera” that reminded me of the gender issue in the home video making process. Those who have hold of the camera are the powerful as they have the access to the materiality of the memory machine and may in turn, construct our memory.
YA: Without the literary elements, the film would have been a confined, micro-narrative happening just between Lu and myself. The texts become a portal to go beyond our personal relationships, expanding to a wider scope of East Asia and its migratory aspects. I like how it oscillates between a multiplicity of languages and regions and by superimposing them we hoped to capture the the fluid, trans-nationalistic nature of our generation and times, which came out of both of our upbringings and even our ancestors. Whether it be a portrait of a person or of national boundaries, when you zoom in with your camcorder all you get is the unclear particles, always on the move.
Yu Araki received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, U.S.A. in 2007, and completed his Master of Film and New Media Studies from Tokyo University of the Arts in 2010. In 2013, he was selected to participate in Tacita Dean Workshop hosted by Fundación Botín in Santander, Spain. During 2017-8, he was a guest resident at Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, South Korea, and Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In 2019, he joined a retreat hosted by MAIX (Malaysian Artist Intention Experiment) which took place in the jungle of Perak State, Malaysia.