Philip Charrier – Last Train from Shinjuku – A Journey to Masahisa Fukase

Sometimes ago I came across a very interesting study of a great photobook, a journey to explore the origin of Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens, done by Philip Charrier – he teaches history at the University of Regina, Canada and writes about modern Japanese photography but also experiments with his camera.

Below you can find a few excerpts from the essay. Text and photos, copyright Philip Charrier, unless specified, are reproduced with permission from the author.

“It’s difficult to explain, but I like ravens. If I’m reincarnated I want to be a raven. I’m wishing that I could stop this world. This act [of photography] may represent my own revenge play against life, and perhaps that is what I enjoy most.” Masahisa Fukase, 1976


Recently I returned from a five-month stay in Tokyo to investigate the circumstances behind Masahisa Fukase’s sublimely sorrowful photographic vision. In this process Tokyo’s vast commuter rail network served as my map and principal connection to the sprawling city, and the omnipresent transmission lines that carry power to the trains became the horizon against which moved the small, tentative dot that was my project.


“10 December 2007. As my train pulls away from Shinjuku it strikes me that the woman opposite could be Yukiyo Kawakami. I have seen an image of her nude body entwined with that of Fukase; I have seen her face smiling lovingly at him at twilight; I have seen the first child she had with Fukase, stillborn and lying on its back in a kind of timeless empty space.”


“18 December 2007. When I asked why Fukase became unhappy later in his life, Yōko became upset. She said that I could not apply words such as ‘happy’ to his situation, or to their situation as a couple. ‘Happy’ was my word and represented my very different, outsider’s viewpoint. As long as I thought in terms of ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’ I would never understand Fukase. The word slipped out of my mouth again later in the interview, and Yōko reacted even more angrily the second time.”


“25 January 2008. As I turned to go I felt that “Nami” the bar had become a kind of prison for her. I looked at her again from the top of those fateful stairs and expressed a more final goodbye with my eyes in the hope that she would be away before I returned. Jack reminded me to hold onto the handrail as we descended to street level to begin the long journey home.”


I invite you to read Philip Charrier – Last Train from Shinjuku – A Journey to Masahisa Fukase, the full three part study at author’s site:

Short Bio: Philip Charrier teaches history at the University of Regina, Canada. He writes about modern Japanese photography and experiments with his camera to better understand the countless ways that images produced with a machine can become art. “I feel most alive when taking pictures,” he says. “I have heard about dying photographers clinging to their cameras. That will surely be me.”

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