[29 November 2006]
Visual artist and musician Takagi Masakatsu has been gaining a lot of quiet notoriety, lately. First there was his video profile posted on Apple’s web site, which drove enough traffic to his site to shut it down. Then there was the typical legion of Internet promoters (for example, YouTube) that further spread his name. And, of course, the fans of bedroom pop electronic music have probably seen his name appear sporadically on the occasional message board.
From Kyoto, Japan, Masakatsu strives to show the beauty in everyday things. This might seem a tad unoriginal at first, but after seeing Masakatsu transform things and people into colorful animated graphics set to the backdrop of his own music, his vision makes sense. Masakatsu wants to portray life as a mix of vivid colors. He takes in what he sees, crumbles it up, dunks it in paint and spits it back out. In other words, the ordinary is transformed. What Masakatsu does is take original footage and turns them into animations; sometimes pixelated beyond recognition, overlapped with other images, or just in plain ‘ol slow motion. The images are then oversaturated and distorted in stunning ways to create some pleasing eye candy.
World is So Beautiful is a collection of videos shot around the world. Masakatsu (who did all the images, sound and even artwork) went to countries likes Turkey, Cuba, Germany, France, and Guatemala and recorded the random things he saw. The images were taken back to Japan where they were edited, tweaked, given an artistic flair and put on display at various art museums. Some of the videos are also viewable on his official website, Takagimasakatsu.com ,
and on places like YouTube (see below).
There are 10 videos on the DVD. The first, “Festival in a Forest”, which was filmed in Japan, shows a forest with tiny spurts of glowing light hopping around and then exploding into tiny fireworks. The music is warped, with soundbites of children spliced throughout. In fact, the majority of the videos are focused on children; more on that later. The second video is where things really kick in with an animated shot of a busy public square in Nepal where all the kids are ecstatic to be on camera. The video is played backward, in slow motion and is laden with a reddish / orange tint. Although the shots are gorgeous, the music trumps the images, providing a background of glitchy electronic music with a repetitious endearing melody.
“South Beach”, filmed in Cuba, is images of children diving into an ocean. The children are mere shadows as the ocean glistens and illuminates in frightening and beautiful ways. The music is a combination of many edited vocals to make a distinguished melody. “Birdland #2” is a standout video that starts off with black and white images of birds and trees, and then morphs into images of people. The song used for this video is the most conventional, using a simple “no no no no no” vocal over a keyboard.
The fifth video, “Life Never Ever Like Before”, is my personal favorite, as it begins with a burst of energy the other videos don’t have. The sounds used are a mixture of sluggish trumpets and other rich instruments to give the song a feeling of heaviness. The best way to explain this is to imagine walking through nipple-deep water. That’s this song.
Unfortunately, once again, the music trumps the images; Masakatsu missed a good opportunity here. The song is clearly an underwater song, and instead, Masakatsu uses a mildly boring image of people sitting around a fountain. But I suppose the fountain is cheaper and easier to shoot than an underwater scene. Oh, well.
From here, things begin to blend together. The quality of the music drops and the videos begin to look too much alike. “Cho Cho Thin Gale” is especially terrible, consisting of blurry shots of musicians on the streets of Xela, Guatemala, combined with a lazy track suitable for terrible Saturday morning cartoons. Things begin to pick up again with “Golden Sky and What is Beyond”, where Masakatsu finally stops oversaturating and pixelating his images to death. Here, a simple shot of people climbing up a mountain in Indonesia is more impressive than several of the videos before it.
“Sorina Street” finally wins the tug of war between music and images. Here, the music is a simple piano track as the image of a little girl playing the accordion on the streets of Istanbul takes over. The filming in this video is the most impressive, appearing more cinematic than amateur-ish, like the others.
The last video, “World is So Beautiful”, is the longest and a little different from the others. Here, the music takes backseat in favor of un-animated shots of children doing everyday childish things like going to school and playing in the rain. Although it’s cute and endearing at first, it’s basically just 15 minutes of kids hamming it up for the camera. It gets old after the first minute.
And speaking of kids, children are the main theme of all the videos. From a logical point of view, this makes sense. Children are easy to film. Walk onto any playground with a video camera and instantly you’ve got their attention and willingness to participate. From a creative point of view, children project an aura of innocence, which directly parallels with Masakatsu’s light and, at times, whimsical music.
It’s somewhat strange, though, that a video considered “a gift to the world” doesn’t feel worldly enough. Although each video was shot in a different country, the atmosphere and flavor of those countries were missing. The animation also made it hard to decipher where these people were and what they were doing. Besides a few shots of kids saying “Hello” in different languages, the video lacks a true universal view. And since that is the main idea for “World is So Beautiful”, Masakatsu mildly fails. On the plus side, the images that he creates are still beautiful and should catch the eye of even the most average art seekers.