Out there, eleven thousand miles away, a single shadow remains immobile in the midst of the long moving shadows that the January light throws over the ground of Tokyo: the shadow of the Asakusa bonze.
For also in Japan the year of the dog is beginning. Temples are filled with visitors who 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 four thousand and one 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 short wave 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 of 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 kimono. In the street, in stores, in offices, even at the stock exchange on opening day, the girls take out their fur collared winter kimono. 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 semiconductors. Good for them; all you see are the girls.
The fifteenth 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, datebooks, advice: how to be a good citizen, a good mother, a good wife. On that day every twenty-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 have a right to immortality—like the dolls at Ueno. The last state—before their disappearance—of the poignancy of things. Daruma—the one eyed spirit—reigns supreme at the summit of the bonfire. Abandonment must be a feast; laceration must be a feast. And the farewell to 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 all the rest what I saw in that moment, why I held it at arms length, at zooms length, until its last twenty-fourth 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-yaki; 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 familiar 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 kindest was the one spoken by the woman of Gotokuji, 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,' and 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.
When spring came, when every crow announced its arrival by raising his cry half a tone, I took the green train of the Yamanote line and got off at Tokyo station, near the central post office. Even if the street was empty I waited at the red light—Japanese style—so as to leave space for the spirits of the broken cars. Even if I was expecting no letter I stopped at the general delivery window, for one must honor the spirits of torn up letters, and at the airmail counter to salute the spirits of unmailed letters.
I took the measure of the unbearable vanity of the West, that has never ceased to privilege being over non-being, what is spoken to what is left unsaid. I walked alongside the little stalls of clothing dealers. I heard in the distance Mr. Akao's voice reverberating from the loudspeakers... a half tone higher.
Then I went down into the basement where my friend—the maniac—busies himself with his electronic graffiti. Finally his language touches me, because he talks to that part of us which insists on drawing profiles on prison walls. A piece of chalk to follow the contours of what is not, or is no longer, or is not yet; the handwriting each one of us will use to compose his own list of 'things that quicken the heart,' to offer, or to erase. In that moment poetry will be made by everyone, and there will be emus in the 'zone.'
He writes me from Japan. He writes me from Africa. He writes that he can now summon up the look on the face of the market lady of Praia that had lasted only the length of a film frame.
Will there be a last letter?
Chris Marker. Trouvé ici avec d'autres textes.