Caught in a culture clash

Trish Lorenz looks at photographs of Japanese women trapped in the insidious suburban spread

Despite globalisation, Japan remains an enigma, and many of the country’s contemporary cultural exports only serve to further skew our ideas of what constitutes everyday life in the country.

Take young Tokyo-based photographer Tomoaki Makino’s first solo show in the UK, which opened last week at Museum 52 in London’s Shoreditch. Entitled Afternoon, it features a series of portraits of middle-aged Japanese women (including Makino’s mum) in their Tokyo homes on weekday afternoons. Their home environments veer from traditional Japanese to interiors that wouldn’t look out of place in middle England – filled with patterned velour sofas and matching curtains.

What subverts the images is the combination of the subjects’ poses and the accoutrements that Makino has put in the frame: exercise equipment, cuddly toys, a rabbit in a cage and an old dentist’s drill. Makino has staged incongruous moments where the women are captured midway through what seem to be solemn pieces of theatre or dance steps. They stare into space, projecting a sense of melancholy, seemingly trapped by their homes and their possessions.

Makino, a member of the Stair AUG photographic collective and recipient of prizes in his native Japan, suggests the exhibition can be read as a comment on the creeping Western-style suburbia slowly colonising Japan. Four suburban developments just outside Tokyo identical to those in Orange County, California, have recently sold out.

Makino says he was also inspired by the film Calendar Girls that recognised, with a touch of subversive humour, the many facets of older women in British society. Middle-aged Japanese women, who for many years took on the invisible role of homemaker, are slowly starting to find their voice. His photographs, beautifully shot with an almost harsh, whitening light that leaves no shade for interpretation, capture this moment.

They do so with the same sense of dislocation within the reality of the everyday, of illusion that’s simultaneously disturbing and engaging, present in Haruki Maurakami’s book The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. And you’ll find yourself thinking about these women for many days to come.

Afternoon runs 11am-6pm, Thursday to Sunday until 23 April at Museum 52, 52 Redchurch Street, London E2. Tel: 020 7366 5571

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