An Interview with art duo SHIMURAbros


I first came across the work of brother/sister art duo SHIMURAbros when I was covering fashion for The Japan Times. I went to a small, dark studio in Aoyama to see the latest collection from coveted Japanese brand The Viridi-anne who also opened a flagship store on the same night just around the corner. The designer Tomoaki Okaniwa had chosen to show the collection, for Spring/Summer 09, in the form of an installation which was created by SHIMURAbros. Three screens displayed a man, wearing The Viridi-anne, almost impossibly slowed down which was reminiscent of a silent movie and it turned out that it was. SHIMURAbros had used the slapstick movement of Buster Keaton and slowed it down using advanced camera techniques so that it almost resembled classical ballet and, in turn, it wasn’t particularly funny.

I bumped into Yuka Shimura that day and we have stayed in contact since and I’ve followed the work of Yuka and her brother Kentaro for years now as they continue to impress the Asian and international art community with their use of new technology to change and reevaluate the manner in which we view and perceive older art works such as the work of silent movie actors or old tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood.” They have also worked with bona fide film stars such as Kill Bill’s Chikai Kuriyama on 2010’s “Milk Maid” and went through the process of CT scanning a train for one of their most known pieces X-Ray Train.

Yuka was born in 1976 in Yokohama and graduated in 2006 from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design London. Kentaro was born in 1979 in Yokohama and graduated in 2003 from Tokyo Polytechnic University, College of Art.

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I sat down with SHIMURAbros at a café in Roppongi Hills which overlooked their latest installation titled “Eicon/Safety Last” and we discussed some of their past and present work and plans for the future.

SHIMURAbros Interview April 2014.

Paul McInnes (PM): You’ve travelled a lot in the last few years.

SHIMURAbros (SB): We’ve been to Singapore, China, India…

PM: India? What were you doing in India?

SB: In Mumbai we showed our “X-Ray Train.” We brought our 7 meter installation. It was quite big but we could fold our screens.

PM: Do you have different reactions to your work in different countries?

SB: In every country we have different reactions. That’s a good experience and fun for us too. For instance the installation we are showing today (in Roppongi Hills) is called “Eicon/Safety Last” people are having really interesting reactions to it. As you can see, there is a woman taking picture with our installation as her background.

PM: What was the idea behind the Eicon series?

SB: The idea started from slapstick comedy. That’s’ the style of action comedy in the 1920s. The first Eicon (which means electric icon) recalled Buster Keaton and the latest Eicon recalls Harold Lloyd. The main character is climbing the skyscraper and looks like he’s falling down. That’s the scene we took from the old movie. The original “Safety Last” in 1923 used a camera which took 16 frames a second and was hand-cranked. Because of the camera and frames it looks like comedy. But when we shot the same action using our camera technique using 2000 frames per second it doesn’t look like comedy at all.

PM: Is it a special camera?

SB: Yes, this camera is used for determining and examining especially close finishes at Olympic contests. We are always interesting in using and collaborating with new technology.

We want to challenge the film itself and to see how we can change it from the theater version and style. We are really impressed by old works for example the 1920s.

Actually we focused on the 1920s again in our “Film Without Film/Creative Geography” which is based on the original work by Lev Kuleshov. We reworked this by putting his work into a 3D printing machine to print out the movie itself. The size was 35 mm analogue film. What we see is actually the body of the film. We see the movie in 2 dimensions but we cannot touch it because it’s an illumination.

However, in our piece we see the movement, time and space together in three dimensions. We believe that this is the first work in which the body of the movie can actually be touched.

PM: Do you plan to continue the Eicon series?

SB: Well, yes. This is our third Eicon work and the second one was “Eicon/Red Riding Hood.” “Red Riding Hood” has different tales in each era. The story evolved from folktale and was adapted by Charles Perrault. And then later by Brothers Grimm.

In each era the character of Red Riding Hood has different costumes and bags and so on. We used an infra-red camera to shoot our red riding hood. And we see the images without the red because it’s infra-red. And next to it we see the same image but with color. The last image is our Shimurabros images representing the 21st century take on the story. She wears a plastic red rain coat but the image next to it you can see through the coat due to the camera.

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PM: For your latest work you collaborated with many stores in Roppongi Hills for the costumes in the film. Can you tell us more about how that came about?

SB: Firstly this work is a commission from Mori Buildings who own Roppongi Hills. The main producer saw our first installment of Eicon and he decided to ask us to show here. And we have the opportunity to show this as part of Roppongi Art Night which is in the coming weeks. Our film here will continue to the 20th of April.

We wanted to use costumes which are very close to Harold Lloyd’s original clothes in the film from 1923. And also the woman’s clothes too. So we said to the stores that we would like to have clothes which are close as possible to the originals.

PM: Are you interested in fashion and clothing?

SB: Well, the costumes tell us about history. When we choose the theme of a film we also have to choose costumes so in that respect we are interested in clothing and fashion.

PM: Where did you shoot this installation “Eicon/Safety Last”?

SB: We had two studios. One in Roppongi because we had to hang the main character so we needed to have high ceilings. And the other was in Aoyama.

PM: Which art form do you prefer to work in? Film, sculpture etc…?

SB: Actually we don’t like to categorize things. We see everything we do as making films. So for example “Film Without Film” looks like sculpture but it’s a film in a different form. And this installation here is also a film. Even our mixed media work use images so we consider them in some way as film.

PM: What’s coming up for you?

SB: From this August we are moving to Berlin for a few years. The Pola Art Foundation will fund our research with the studio of Olafur Eliasson. You know Olafur Eliasson works there with so many people to create big installations such as at the “The Weather Project” in at the Tate in London? It’s so great to have space in his studio.

And before then we will show “SEKILALA” next month in Hong Kong Arts Center because we were nominated for the screening at the Film Sector at Art Basel Hong Kong.

Written by
Paul McInnes
Austin James Rea