Video Letter is a strange and unsettling film that records a correspondence by videotape between Shuji Terayama and his acquaintance, the famous modern poet, Shuntaro Tanikawa.
Both men seem aware of Terayama’s impending death. Both seem pre-occupied by questions of identity. The following is from Tanikawa`s last message to his friend, in March 1983.
In the early 1980s, home video was in its infancy as a consumer product. The two established artists have to put aside their technical mastery and grapple with an unfamiliar new medium. The result is a punky, DIY aesthetic that manages to be both simple and moving.
Instead of the put-ons and flights of fancy for which he was known, Terayama shows the stark reality of his daily existence- the pills he has to take, his pustule-ravaged skin, his aged mother resting on a futon. In one “letter,” Tanikawa strips himself bare in a more literal way, dumping his clothes one by one on the floor.
The first message from Tanikawa is dated September 1982. It opens with some twenty year old photos, presumably taken by Tanikawa, of a fit and youthful Terayama in the company of composer Toru Takemitsu.
The last message from Terayama is from January 1983, just a few months before his death from liver disease at the age of forty seven.
Is this me? No, that’s just four characters written on a manuscript page.
Then, is this me? No, that’s just a single photograph.
Well, is this me talking here? No, I’m no longer here.
So am I an invisible man? Yes, maybe I am.
Maybe, I’m a Japanese. Maybe, I’m a native of Aomori Prefecture. Maybe, I’m a poet. Maybe, I’m not Shuntaro Tanikawa. Maybe, I’m a single man. Maybe, I’m the producer of the Tenjo Sajiki theatre group. Maybe, I’m an only son. Maybe, I’m a patient with liver disease. Maybe, I’m an earthling.
Is it “me” who decides which of these is most correct?