Takashi Homma at the Parco Gallery

by Monty DiPietro

There is something both ominous and ironic in Takashi Homma’s "Tokyo Suburbia," a photography exhibition at Parco Gallery that is drawing a steady flow of mostly teens and twentysomethings to the Shibuya Ward contemporary art showcase. The irony here is that exhibition visitors are finding the gallery walls covered with images of the very suburban landscapes they leave behind on their weekend treks to trend central. From a Tokyo perspective anyway, the social landscape of "kogai" (suburban "newtown" housing developments) is quickly becoming "cool," in a perverse sort of way.

In Homma’s new, telephone-directory-sized photo book from which the exhibition takes its title, sociologist Shinji Miyadai addresses interest surrounding the junior high school student who last year killed and decapitated an 11 year old boy in a Kobe kogai, before mounting his victim’s head on a schoolyard pole. "The newtown is the space that produced Seito Sakakibara (the killer’s pseudonym). No doubt it has also produced many kids who have a lot of sympathy for Sakakibara," writes Miyadai. "Some kids can relate to Sakakibara’s act of chopping off the head of his victim, finding it "way cool" because it also contains some elements that are about de-socialization."

While there is nothing especially frightening immediately evident in the endless repetition of neat little prefabricated homes, chain restaurants and massive concrete apartment blocks that Homma takes as his subjects, neither is there a hint of the undercurrent of horror residing in the Overlook Hotel to be found in the opening panoramic shots of Stanley Kubrick film "The Shining." But it is from this isolation, what Miyadai terms "de-socialization," that the new class of disconnected Japanese youth is emerging. "It really makes you wonder," writes Miyadai, "what reality is to these kids who’ve spent their whole lives since they were born in a place with no name."

About a third of the color photographs in the show are semi-candid portraits of suburban teens, who, with their over-sized, school-uniform trousers and dyed hair, come across as both semi-dismissive and wholly insouciant. The pictures do not attempt to catch the kids in an act of, say, vandalism or prostitution, and neither do the shots of buildings strive to portray these in a particularly dramatic fashion. With a few exceptions, there is a sense that Homma took his subjects as he found them rather than waiting, for example, for the light to fall on a house in a certain way. This is a show which, it seems, is all about not really caring – an attitude that may best characterize the "cool" in late 20th century society.

A four square meter white plastic model of a housing development sits at the center of the exhibition space, while a Tokyo-area map on one of the walls indicates how widely the locations for the photographs were spread. (Without the map as a reference, it would be easy to imagine that the pictures had all been snapped within a few hundred meters of each another.) The gallery has also built a small room, inside of which projectors throw the same series of images up onto two adjacent walls. The 62 pictures were taken between 1995 and 1998, range from passport-size to a 180x140cm print, and are priced from 30,000-200,000 yen.

It can only be hoped that Homma, 36, has left behind the pouting-young-girls-in-white-panties pictures found in his 1995 book "Baby Land" in moving on to the more socially relevant work found in "Tokyo Suburbia." The artist is off to a good start in documenting the unnatural and disturbingly "cool" environments and young residents surrounding Tokyo, and it should be interesting to see where this takes him.

notes: Until Jan 10, 1999 (3477-5873).
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