Beka and Lemoine have garnered acclaim in the worlds of film and architecture for their sensitive accounts of the way people are shaped by the spaces they inhabit. You may remember Beka and Lemoine’s work capturing the lives of Barbican residents in Barbicania. But in their latest film, Moriyama-san, Beka and Lemoine head to Tokyo to document a week-long encounter with Yasuo Moriyama, the enigmatic inhabitant of an extraordinary house.
Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA), the Moriyama House is one of the most famous buildings in contemporary Japanese architecture.
Curator Florence Ostende speaks to film-makers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine about Moriyama-san, which is being shown alongside a scale model of the award-winning Moriyama House in The Japanese House exhibition.
FO: How did you come to film the Moriyama house?
LL: We met Nishizawa a couple of years ago and discussed making a film in the Moriyama House. But it was never the right time to make it happen. Ila went to Japan in summer for something else and went to visit Nishizawa in the SANAA office. Nishizawa took him to the Moriyama House, and it was such a powerful encounter that they made the film happen right at that moment.
IB: The day after, I asked if I could go back and stay in the Moriyama House for one night. I stayed for a week, each day asking Moriyama-san if I could stay one more night. He was very kind. He bought me a futon, because he sleeps on the floor with just a pillow. He slept for a week in the basement because of me.
He’s a very silent person living in a sort of dream world of books and films. He’s extreme in his culture
LL: The film is all about the relationship between Ila and Moriyama-san. It’s not exactly a portrait of Moriyama, but a portrait of him through their encounter. Communication was sort of a frontier. They were using very few words in English, trying to explain themselves. You have a lot of nice situations about the cultural limit of understanding one another. He’s a very silent man. When he listens to music he listens to it loudly, but the rest of the time he’s a very silent person living in a sort of dream world of books and films. He’s extreme in his culture.
FO: The quality of his collection of books, music and films is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible, the depth of his knowledge.
LL: The film is all about his cultural resistance to a norm of living. Everything he does is beyond norms. The way he sleeps, washes himself, eats. His relationships with other people.
FO: Ila, in the film can we see you interacting with him?
IB: No you can’t see me but you can hear my voice. You feel my presence, all the time. I didn’t have my normal camera. I just had a little photo camera which was very good quality but very small. It’s like there was nothing between us.
LL: He’s a living mystery. He is initially a closed door. The film is about opening this door a little bit to understand what he thinks.
His greatest pleasure is to stay there. He’s created this microcosm in which he lives perfectly well
IB: There are some very intense moments, but involving silence and not talking. He talks with silence. So I tried to talk about his mother, about his dog. He was very sad about his dog because it had passed away only a week before.
LL: He never leaves the neighbourhood. He never travels. His greatest pleasure is to stay there. He’s created this microcosm in which he lives perfectly well. Eating in a restaurant every night, this is the only time he goes out of the house.
FO: How would you describe a typical day?
IB: He reads. He only reads. At night he watches movies and listens to music.
LL: He uses the house in different ways depending on the time of day. He spends time with a different book in each space, in the most unexpected positions – hanging in a void, almost falling from a window. He has no sense of the constraints of time. When you enter the house you enter into another kind of time.
IB: He has a personal time, and if you are allowed to enter into his bubble you change your time too. I spent one week there but it felt like three years or five minutes.
LL: From one day to another his life doesn’t change that much. He reads every day. He watches films every day. The composition of the film is more about the different spaces, and what he does in each place.
IB: There’s a sort of discovering of the house. You discover the house very slowly, just walking with him, talking in one place, reading in another.
FO: One of the reasons we chose this house to reconstruct in the exhibition is because it’s one of the most difficult to photograph. It has this kind of roughness. We felt that it was very difficult to represent in the show through the usual mediums.
IB: With a photograph you can’t reproduce the time that is found inside the house. We begin the film by saying that is a sort of forest in the middle of the metropolis. Inside the forest lives a hermit. You don’t have the same time of Tokyo inside this house, it’s completely different.
LL: The film doesn’t describe the architecture. It gives a sense of how to live, and what an extraordinary world it is.
FO: As you are editing the film, how are you able to translate the relationship between Moriyama and the house into a durational framework?
LL: He imposes time. In previous films we have encountered characters that have needed the support of editing. You enhance them with editing. Whereas here we use the sequence as it was shot, to keep the intensity of a moment that doesn’t need artificial editing. It is direct time.
IB: I didn’t impose my time, I was just following him. He speaks very slowly, moves very slowly. What I think will be wonderful is to have people watch the film in the exhibition, and then go back into the house. You will come back to the house and move inside slowly, just watching the space. It’s a beautiful thing to have the house and the screening of the film together.
The house is not a perfect house for noise music.
FO: How would you describe his taste?
IB: He told me that he used to listen to very noisy, radical music, and now in this house he listens to minimal Japanese music. The house is not a perfect house for noise music. This is something we’re very interested in. How the space, the architecture, the city changes your personality.
LL: Mr Moriyama explodes every code. His collection is made of extremely contrasting objects. He has a little manga toy next to an extraordinary, refined sculpture. Japanese architecture is very stereotyped in the way that it is photographed because you have all these perfect details, but the Moriyama House constantly explodes this angle because you have washing machines in the garden, shirts hanging in the trees. That’s the world of Moriyama House.
IB: He doesn’t have a mirror! He shaves himself in the reflection in the windows.
LL: This is a metaphor for how he sees the house. It’s not a space for presentation, it does not represent itself. He’s not somebody showing himself. He’s rather shy and difficult. In this house he is saying you’re not visiting a museum, you’re visiting a house which is highly personal. I can put a washing machine in the garden even if it’s horrible in your picture. I don’t care.
IB: It’s not a narcissistic house. Moriyama is not narcissistic and neither is Nishizawa. I don’t think any of the more narcissistic architects could make a house like this.
Explore the Moriyama House for yourself at The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 until 25 June
Discover more from The Japanese House in our blog collection: barbican.org.uk/thejapanesehouse
Learn more about Moriyama-san, and Beka and Lemoine’s other documentaries on their website.