Friday, December 19, 2008

Awalk in Beauty

When I lived in Hong Kong, crossing the harbor on the Star Ferry was the greatest of delights, moving over rough water toward one of the world's greatest skylines. I loved the Lippo Centre, with its pandas climbing straight out of an old Atari game. And I loved I.M. Pei's Bank of China Tower, all those odd angles throwing out some wicked feng shui mojo to its neighboring rivals. I had long heard that Pei's Miho Museum over in Shiga is equally amazing, though softer. It took me a decade, but I finally got there, stumbling on filmatic metaphor the entire way.

It took Markuz, and his sister-in-law, Mie, to make it happen. We climbed into her car for the long and winding drive into a landscape well into autumn, rice fields cropped like 50s haircuts. We left the car and jumped forward 20 years, climbing a gentle rise into a 1970s vision of the future. The walk was made of some synthetic type of brick, over which elongated electric golf carts soundlessly ferried lazier visitors. A handful of gardeners were picking up falling leaves, eerily disappearing behind trees and into shadow like Noh stagehands (or Disneyland workers, if you prefer a more postmodern simile). We entered the tunnel I'd long heard about, my own impression in keeping with the 70s pop cultural theme, remembering Steve Austin moving through a similar spinning passage on his way to meet Bigfoot. Watching other people passing from the tunnel brought to mind the final scene of Close Encounters, small figures passing dazzled into the light. (As this museum is owned by the Shumei religious sect, I think that this too, is a fair simile.) Leaving the tunnel we catch our first glimpse of the museum, like a squat temple of brilliant glass and steel, gorgeous against the hills and forest. From inside, the sound of the wind moving through the valley sounded like a Theramin. Occasionally a young woman who would moved about with a small bell and a placard with the single word, "Silence." Was this a request, or some kind of ironic Dadaist performance?

The exhibition we can to see was of a series of objects owned by Kawabata Yasunari, Nobel Prize winner of Literature. (His Nobel medal itself was here on display.) This man 's life purpose seemed to have been full immersion in beauty. Likewise, all the art and objects around him appeared to have nestled themselves in the deepest corners of his soul, to continually pop up in his writing. Symbiosis complete. Noting all this, I thought him the antithesis of the antihero of Mishima's Kinkakuji, who was so overtaken by the temple's beauty that he had to destroy it. Kawabata instead tried to synthesize with beauty, and his canon is a continual meditation on aesthetics. I found myself inspired, finding love once again in a culture whose blemishes are all I seem able to see these days. Truer, deeper beauty is all around me still, the choice is mine whether or not to see it. To quote Takamura Kotaro:

"Once beauty manifests itself in the world, it never perishes."

On the turntable: The Beta Band, "Best of..."

On the reel table: "Kill Your Idols" (Crary, 2004)

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