In September 2018, Typhoon Jebi struck Kansai. As it drowned the international airport, I just so happened to be in Osaka, killing time at a coffee shop next to the hostel every day. In the dark coffee shop sat but one middle-aged man. He would place his coffee cup on the table, then retreat to his position to read the papers. I liked his reticence. Like sailors, he never spoke more than what was necessary.
As it neared dinner time, the wind was growing stronger, the sound of a trembling tin board came through the window and a black cat came in by the back door. The man deftly set up a towel, water and kibble for the cat. Such somber expressions must belie volatile emotions, I thought at once. The love of the mature man is truly a complicated and elusive thing.
I have been asked by a few friends before on what my favorite photography book is, to which I never answered straight away, but told the story of a man instead. When his wife left him, a reticent man decided to get a cat, which he namedサスケ(Sasuke). Ten days later, the cat ran away. The man desperately put up notices in search of it. After two weeks, a neighbor brought over a cat. At first glance, it looked a lot like Sasuke, but they were not the same cat. At that moment, the man thought, “There’s nothing I can do, I might as well take this cat for it.” And so, he adopted the cat, which he named サスケ二代目(Sasuke the Second). Wherever he went, he kept the cat by his side to take all kinds of photographs.
The name of this man is Masahisa Fukase.
In the year that followed, Fukase ventured the world with Sasuke the Second. During summertime, he brought the cat outdoors to enjoy the blazing sun and see elephants at the Ueno Zoo; In early autumn, they went to the Oiso seaside to see the ocean; Came wintertime, snow fun at the Yoyogi Park against the cold. At the bottom of the photographs, he scribbled scrawny letters to record all kinds of life events: “August: First tree climb”, “August: First leap across a little stream”, “January: New year’s snow”. Looking back on the year, Fukase said, “Most of the time I was crawling on the ground, taking photographs in the cat’s perspective. To an extent, I have become a cat too. This must be the happiest thing ever, taking photographs, having fun with a cat that likes me and experiencing the harmony of the four seasons.”
Every time I opened Fukase’s Karasu, I would read it in one go. However, each time I saw Sasuke the Second as captured under his lens, my heart grew heavy and I would no longer want to read on. Perhaps this photography book touches on a certain aspect of life that is true, but which no one wants to go into. If all is only a process, does it mean that no one is irreplaceable? Rather than hanging onto some person, some name, why not take it from Fukase – down a big pint of cheap whisky, step into an ever-moving train to the snow country and accept whatever experience that may come.
Fukase once photographed his wife with the same sentiment. His wife, however, resented it and thought he could only see herself through his lens, “Every photograph of me is but a projection of his own self.” This pained Fukase. When Yoko left, he thought, “To carry on photography work in the name of photographing loved ones brings no happiness, for both the photographer that is myself, and her, who I once loved. Does photography really bring happiness?” He could not answer this question. The arrival of Sasuke the Second soon after was perhaps Fukase’s redemption. In every portrait of Sasuke the Second, I saw the desire for the quiet life, and the pain underneath.
Three days later, the typhoon left. The sky was clear, sunny and bright as an awakening. Before leaving Osaka, I had meant to strike up a banter with the man at the coffee shop, but I did not. I could not imagine the voice of men like him. That afternoon, I ate a dull omurice at the shop, then boarded the Shinkansen to Shikoku and, sitting by the window, sank into a deep slumber.