PRINT January 1986


Tokyo 1970–1985

Masatoshi Naito, Tokyo 1970–1985 (Tokyo: Meicho Publishing, 1985), 221 pages, 90 black and white photographs.

The Tokyo described by Masatoshi Naito’s photographs is a land of the dead, guarded by fiends and demons whose outer appearances are those of destitution. These guardians have slipped past the city’s corporate headquarters, department stores, and commuter trains, past the timetables by which its intricate urban machinery is scheduled. Naito is drawn to “black holes,” to the shadowy, subterranean, or nocturnal world where, he believes, the true psyche of Tokyo resides; here he finds links to Edo, the city out of which today’s capital grew into a megalopolis. Naito’s Tokyo has grown like “the gnarled twisted movements of some gigantic creature” on land claimed from Tokyo Bay by dumping the garbage of the city’s own consumption. Garbage, the recurring image of these photographs, forms the habitat for Naito’s derelict demons.

Naito is a folklorist as well as photographer; among his previous publications is Mummies in Japan (1969), and his work includes a series called “Hags,” 1968–70, some of which were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1974. Sinister old women recur throughout this new book, together with whores, hostesses, comatose drunks, accident victims, and gangsters. The photographs are very black, grainy, and bled relentlessly across the gutters of the book. The style has all the predatory qualities of that of Daido Moriyama, the great photographer of Naito’s generation, who has also stalked the back streets of Tokyo for the last fifteen years.

Naito is deceptively artless. The photographs are as compassionless as police records. Their sequence forms a voyeuristic fiction that is both grotesque and sexual. The unwitting actors in this drama are toothless, not by design, but because they have no mask—they inhabit the black hole beneath all the stereotypes we call “Japan.”

Mark Holborn