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REVIEW: Metamorphosis of Japan After The War/Open Eye Gallery

Only UK showing of 123 rarely seen images. Liverpool is lucky to have bagged it

Written by . Published on January 25th 2015.

REVIEW: Metamorphosis of Japan After The War/Open Eye Gallery

BIENNIAL and John Moores Exhibition aside, the biggest show in town, these last 12 months, has been one called The Holding Operation. It has been running right across Liverpool’s public galleries and museums and consists of ever dwindling staff numbers repackaging and reordering existing items in collections and presenting them as new - morale permitting - as the samurai sword of George Osborne delivers death by a thousand cuts to the cultural sector.

Touring shows break some of the monotony. Photography remains big and with the annual camerafest Look/15 around the corner there will, for a short time anyway, be plenty of good documentary work on the walls of publicly funded spaces to pull punters back in.

In the meantime, the sun has risen over Mann Island in the shape of a thoroughly engaging arrival that has devastation, ashes, rebirth and greatness at its heart.

Ihee Kimura Young Woman. Omagari, Akita, 1953.Ihee Kimura: Young Woman. Omagari, Akita, 1953.

Metamorphosis of Japan After The War is a collection of more than 100 black and white images, which has rarely been seen in public spaces before now. Organised by The Japan Foundation, it has been hung in consulates, embassies and other civic institutions around this world - Iraq, Germany, Vietnam, The Ivory Coast.

This is its only UK outing and Liverpool is, frankly, lucky to have bagged it.

If you have spent any time there, you will understand that the Japanese psyche is all about honour. That honour was stripped, in one fell swoop, on August 6, 1945, when the B29 Enola Gay flew over the city of Hiroshima.

Could Japan recover? It could. And some. An imperial power no more, it was a demilitarised but not necessarily demoralised state. 

The critical mass of energy from the atomic bomb may have spectacularly ravaged Japan but, as we know, energy cannot be created or destroyed, it has to be reworked. Thus, over the next 20 years the rest of the world stood and watched as the nebulous nation crackled to life as a global economic and technical superpower, bathed in dazzling light.

Democracy played a big part in free creative expression and the nation that would give us Canon and Nikon also spawned the raw talent that would press those hi-tech shutters. What that talent captured was, perhaps, completely at odds with this tsunami of progress: Japan's human side.


Fashion show in a Tokyo department store

Metamorphisis... reflects on the turbulent period that followed the war and ended with the world’s "acceptance" of the nation again, in 1964, when the Yokyo Olympics were staged. Curators Tsuguo Tada and Marc Feustel have laid out the dark, the stark and the immensely striking work of 11 leading Japanese photographers. 

They include the genius of Ken Domon, perhaps the best-known Japanese photographer of the 20th century. Ihee Kimura, above, whose approach to realism was distinguished from Domon's by its unique aesthetics. Hiroshi Hamaya, who photographed the climates and environments of mountain and agricultural villages together with the lives of their inhabitants. 

Jumping out is the wizardry of Tadahiko Hayashi whose portraits are simply mesmerising. Then there are the “younger” generation - Shigeichi Nagano, Ikko Narahara, Kikuji Kawada, Shomei Tomatsu and Yasuhiro Ishimoto not forgetting the verve of Eikoh Hosoe and Takeyoshi Tanuma.

The exhibition is divided into three sections: "The Aftermath of the War" "Between Tradition and Modernity" and "Towards a New Japan”. 


It all forms a vivid narrative and the pictures only just scratch the surface.  Not only that but the small digital screen does them no justice. These are close-ups that you need to breathe in, close up, and if there is one criticism it is that the huge grid of street photographs in the main gallery, perhaps 18ft high, do not allow for the quiet contemplation they deserve as individual records.

Apart from anything else, this Open Eye show one reason to venture to lonely Mann Island - and let’s face it, one does need a compelling reason, as even the now-closed Starbucks found to its cost

The reward is an abundance of beautifully composed, thought-provoking work from the one-shot-luck days of Fujifilm, which will to zap those starved of visual stimulus between the eyes. 

As free, accessible shows go, it's the big pachinko jackpot.


*Metamorphosis Of Japan After The War, until 26 April 2015, Open Eye Gallery, 19 Mann Island, Liverpool Waterfront, L3 1BP. www.openeye.org.uk Phone: 0151 236 6768. Gallery Opening Hours:10.30am - 5.30pm. Tuesday to Sunday during exhibitions.








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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJanuary 27th 2015.

This looks a great exhibition. I'm not sure about some of the writing in this piece though, Japanese Honour was not stripped away by the bombing of Hiroshima, it was non existent, destroyed by the evil its army visited on china and south east asia in the 30's and 40's.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Ueno TakashiteJanuary 27th 2015.

I don't think you understand the meaning of the word honour in the way that the Japanese do. You are merely voicing sweeping rhetoric that has absolutely nothing to do with how the mindset of the country was crushed by the A Bomb.

AndyJanuary 30th 2015.

I don't think you respect the meaning of honour by making up a mock Japanese name in the style of a 1970s comedian.

AnonymousJanuary 27th 2015.

I'd love to see this, but isn't the Open Eye now situated in the hideous black coffins that sit on Mann Island like a turd on a birthday cake? I would never set foot in one of those buildings in fact I avert my eyes when near them. The councillors who allowed them to go up certainly had no honour.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
John BradleyJanuary 28th 2015.

Well if they keep your philistine self out of town then that is a mark in their favour.

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

No need to get personal. Here, have a slice of cake.

John BradleyJanuary 29th 2015.

You saying I'm fat?

Peasant LeeJanuary 30th 2015.

I don't have a problem with the design of the Mann Island building, just the location. How did it get past the planning stages after destroying that glorious view from Canning/Salthouse Docks looking north to the Three Graces? Something stinks. The exhibition? I wouldn't say Liverpool was 'lucky' to hold it. You can view the work of these excellent photographers online.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 30th 2015.

Anyone who thinks it is better to look at pictures online than experience the aesthetic of seeing them hung large and in context, in a gallery, as one collection, truly is a philistine. And a teeny bit of a racist philistine at that, eh "Peasant Lee".

Richard DesmondJanuary 30th 2015.

You can see pictures of naked ladies online too, Peasant Lee. Much better than actually shagging one.

AnonymousJanuary 31st 2015.

So are you suggesting that there is no point in going to any event if you can see examples of the work online. What a ridiculous viewpoint. We might as well all give up now.

John BradleyJanuary 31st 2015.

The point of going to real world exhibition, is not to appreciate the work but to be seen pretending to appreciate the work. To learn they latest stock buzz phrases amongst the artterati. They serve the same function as common latrines in the giant otter population of the Amazon. The aural function the artterati is as sensitive as the nose of the otter in picking out and identifying the unique features of it groups shit.

Peasant LeeJanuary 31st 2015.

"So are you suggesting that there is no point in going to any event." I'm suggesting what I wrote, moron. You sound like the two taxi drivers played by Harry Enfield and Paaul Whitehouse who work themselves into a froth.

Peasant LeeJanuary 30th 2015.

How bigoted of 'ANONYMOUS' (surprise, surprise) to accuse a person of being a Philistine. I see you're another person who cheapens, demeans and abuses the 'racist' word, making it harder for real victims of racism. Shame on you.

Peasant LeeJanuary 30th 2015.

Whatever floats your boat, Dicky.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Richard DesmondJanuary 30th 2015.

Oh alright. Naked men then. Sorry, I forgot.

AndyJanuary 30th 2015.

How can you forget you're gay, Dicky?

Peasant LeeJanuary 30th 2015.

Dicky Desmond and his homo erotic posts. Oh dear. Wrong place, Dicky. Children have access to this page.

AndyJanuary 30th 2015.


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