It has been already eight years since I spend a whole year at Kushiro City between 2011 and 2012. Situated at the eastern part of Hokkaido in Japan, it is known for the large Kushiro Marsh, home to deer, sea eagles and Japanese cranes. Although recently, tourism in Kushiro has increased dramatically because of the unspoiled beauty of its natural surroundings, exquisite seafood and glorious sunsets, everywhere in the city one can see signs of decline from its past glory during the booming 60s and 70s.
Upon arrival (if traveling by bus or train) the visitor cannot help noticing hundreds of empty storefronts. Half of the businesses on the main street (Kita-Odori) have gone out of business and corrugated steel doors, taped-up windows, and ‘space available’ signs are a common view. However, at the same time new areas especially at the suburbs keep blossoming so there is a delicate balance between these two contrasting faces of the city.
As back then, I was researching on the aesthetic of wabi-sabi (the concept of humbleness and rusticity), it was not hard for me to draw certain parallels between my research and immediate surroundings. After the end of the bitterly cold winter, I waited until it was warm enough before I started filming footage of deserted or rundown places which I came across around me or when driving through the countryside. Filming was not difficult as there was usually hardly any person to get in the way.
When I reviewed the footage, I realised that it was not the old buildings that attracted me as such, as after all, I was born in Greece where ancient relics are pretty much under every stone you turn and in the UK where I live, habitable old buildings which date as back as the medieval times are not uncommon. On the contrary, the majority of the buildings I have seen in Hokkaido lack of any stylistic elegance built as they are with the sole purpose of withstanding the elements (snow, cold, typhoons and earthquakes). In fact, such constructions are not expected to last for more than 30 years of so. Therefore, when a building passes its ‘expiry date’ often deteriorates dramatically, it is not unusual to get abandoned as it is far too expensive to demolish, let alone build a new one in its place. For that reason in the countryside of Hokkaido, where land is not expensive and population is sparse, one can experience the unusual phenomenon of ‘modern relics’. Yet, at certain places in Japan, it is the overwhelming feeling of impermanence and sparseness of human presence that I found myself peculiarly attracted to and thus feel compelled to capture both in music and on film.
The video footage taken back then was meant to be edited long time ago. However very much like its content, it was somehow neglected and eventually forgotten. However, recent images of deserted public spaces in the UK and other parts of the world brought back the memories of the laid back ambience in Kushiro City and the often empty spaces I experienced back then. The soundtrack used in this short documentary was composed around the same period and was released on CD several years ago by Sargasso. In the current version, the music has been mixed with ambient sounds taken from the footage.
The idea of filming old dilapidated buildings is not new. In 2015 I watched a Japanese documentary drama with the title ‘Vacation at Deserted Places’ (背教の休日) that did just this.
Unlike the ‘Vacation at Deserted Places’ the short music documentary ‘Aura’ featured here is neither meant to be consistent, exhaustive or focus on buildings or architecture. Instead, it is a game of loosely connected visual associations aiming to give a glimpse of the charm of impermanence and time flux and is similarly organised as the structure of the soundtrack that was composed with this ambience in mind.