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Toshio Matsumoto, 1975

A propulsive exercise in style over substance, Toshio Matsumoto’s Atman exposes the fundamentals of horror through elevating its disparate aspects. Shooting frame by frame at 480 different positions, the camera appears to gyrate around Hannya-masked ‘Atman’, a name belonging to an early Buddhist deity often connected with destruction. Therein formal simplicity is compromised by volatility; rapid movement unwilfully guides us to ulterior terrains, and our distance as audience is thwarted by malevolence.

Matsumoto’s oeuvre is no stranger to the avant-garde; mirages of bewildering rapidity span his filmography. Known best for features Funeral Parade of Roses and Demons, his defining characteristic is his multi-dimensional, haptic approach to filmmaking. His films spill outward beyond the screen; they are unbounded vortexes of lyrical absurdity and violence. Above all else, they are unified by a sensibility towards movement, object and camera alike. Matsumoto’s decision to shoot Atman frame by frame yields emotional consequences both mesmeric and unsettling. Replaced by a succession of images, the film medium is reconfigured to confrontational staccato, or, in the words of William Burroughs on his own artistic experimentalism: ‘they atrophy and amputate spontaneous.’

Borrowing conclusions made by Susan Sontag, ‘photographs may be more memorable than moving images because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow’. That is, while streams of images create a sense of fluidity, each image ‘cancels its predecessor’, and the effect of this is an onslaught of information bracketed by aesthetic contradiction. Capturing real-time duration, typically that which emulates authentic experience, is no match for the jarring and affrontive encounter with a sequence of images perversely strung together. This is because, as Sontag claims, ‘photographs shock insofar as they show something novel.’ In Atman, Matsumoto layers confrontation image by image, aware that the film medium, ordinarily reassuring in its linearity, is destabilised by an assemblage of jump-cuts.

Matsumoto champions the physicality of encountering art: an emphatic transference of images, which, at home within the avant-garde, yields tangible ramifications. If horror aims to either nefariously or seismically wound us, Matsumoto toes the line between both. The disorientating experience of watching Atman is an embodied process, one which absolutely correlates to emotional terrorisation. Its lacerations are subtle at first, insidiously so as images worm through the mind, until, by the short’s end, its aesthetic sickens and brutalises; it is a burning task of cathexis if one dares endure it.


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