Notes on « La Parole électrique »

// The directors speak

What is immediately striking in the Tokyo metro is the very strong presence of the mobile phone. This object has taken the place of the book or the newspaper. It’s above all young women who use it, less to call elsewhere than to read messages and mails, to consult the luminous screen in the palm of their hands. In one gesture, calm and sure, seductive, they liberate the metal object of fetish from their handbags, un-flip it with a simple flick of the wrist, and absorb themselves in the active contemplation of the screen. This generalised usage of the mobile produces an infraction of the private in the sphere of the public, displacing the boundary between the two.

I’ve been filming for several weeks with the mobile phone. Flat, grey and light object, close in a sense to the “Paluche” invented by Jean-Pierre Beauviala in the 70s, the camera held in the fingertips, the tactile extension of the gaze which serves simultaneously as spy gadget, the dictaphone and the “caméra-stylo” so dear to Alexandre Astruc. It’s fascinating to reveal this multiplicity of functions. One machine fuses text and image, sound and film. Like a typist, I write, calculate, photograph, film, record, all by feeling (eyes closed). Observing these young women handle their phones, I see the image of our future : our Japanese future. Within a few years, in Europe, in Paris, we’ll actively consult our mobiles in the metro, compulsive and at ease. I’ve heard that this type of multi-functional phone has existed in Japan for six years already. Held at the end of the arm, the translucent dormer of the telephone never stops popping up in the milieu of digital cameras, like a virus. The spectacle fascinates me : inversed image, in the mirror, of my own filmmaking practice on the phone.

I film the Tokyo metro : passengers, sleepers, young women on the phone. I lift the mobile up to the level of my face, like everyone, pretending to consult my own screen, while the Cyclops eye on the other side of the grey box records the scene. Complete discretion. I’m a secret agent. I think back to the beautiful project of Walker Evans, taking portraits of the subway riders in New York from 1938 - 1941, hidden behind a suspended book. The Passengers. Fascinated by the sadness and the softness of the faces. To make it work, Evans hid his camera in a sort of shoebox with a hole. Filming the Tokyo metro day after day, I realise that this little mobile phone, whose powers I’ve been exploring, finds its reason to be, here. Only it can reconcile the discretion of the voyeur and the proximity of the shot. The film becomes a strange face-to-face, a telephone duel between the filmmaker and the models. In Japanese, the word telephone is formed by two characters : word and electricity. The linking of these two terms creates a montage effect, an extension, or maybe even a short circuit. One thinks about the interest of Eisenstein in Japanese writing. Word + electricity = telephone. Seeking a possible counter-balance to the metro, I will shoot train tracks near Gifu and its electric poles, so familiar in the urban Japanese landscape, which draw, to my neophyte eye, peculiar pictos in the sky.

Erik Bullot