Steps

Ippo. Ippo. Ippo.

一歩。一歩。一歩。

One step. One step. One step.

As we humans engage and act within emergent Anthropocene materialities and events, we produce new temporalities: new lived experiences, psychologies, and concepts of time.

Land of Hope (Kibo no Kuni; 2012), directed by Sion Sono, is the first fictional film made about Japan’s triple disaster: the great Tohoku earthquake, the resulting tsunami, and the meltdowns that continue at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The story follows the post-meltdown lives of two farming families. One family’s house falls within the twenty-kilometer evacuation radius. The other’s, which is right across the street, falls outside the exclusion zone. At times, the film borders on the absurd. Nevertheless, like the characters in the film, we inhabit the planet where the triple disaster continues to unfold in real time. Like them, we are living the cultural energetics and temporalities of the Anthropocene.

The film offers insight into some of the psychological states, cultural awarenesses, and timescapes being generated by material realities of the Anthropocene: Fukushima, fracking, nuclear waste, climate change, plastic oceans, and the sixth great extinction. We watch as its characters struggle to adapt to their new conditions of daily life, including irrevocably altered senses of self, nation, agency, and time.

After the tsunami, one of the film’s main characters returns to what remains of her hometown to search for traces of her family. Unexpectedly, ghost children appear. She tries to help them, and in an attempt to cheer them up, she takes three energetic steps up the hill of tsunami debris, as she exclaims “one, two, three!” In the English subtitles, these words are translated as: “hop, step, jump!” But the ghost children interrupt. They correct her: “Don’t walk in that showy way. From here, we Japanese will take one step at a time. Like this: One step. One step. One step.” Ippo. Ippo. Ippo.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, William Gail, former head of the American Meteorological Society, pointed out that it will take many years, in some cases decades, for our habitat’s newly emerging climate and geological patterns to reveal themselves. For this reason, he argues, “our [ knowledge about the Earth] will turn obsolete faster than we can replace it with new knowledge. . . . Our grandchildren could grow up knowing less about the planet than we do today.” In other words, our species’ relatively recent abilities to consistently anticipate the future, design it, and plan for it, are rapidly going extinct.

Many of us who live in the contemporary West have difficulty recognizing, much less attuning to or moving within, our limits as individuals. We have even more difficulty doing so as states, societies, or as a species. We need practice at doing this. Like the characters in Sion Sono’s film, we can’t stop moving or acting. From here, however, we also cannot move with an offhanded “one, two, three!” We cannot presume to know or see steps two and three from step one. We cannot move “forward” with the certainty that two will follow one, and three will follow two. We can no longer step off, aimed for fixed, certain destinations. We can no longer march across the Earth’s wild differences with uniform, linear, homogeneous cadences.

We may have a rational grasp of the numbers of climate change, of Fukushima, or of the Pacific’s gyre of plastic. But we also need to integrate such realities into embodied knowledge, to hold the thoughts of them and to build social practices capable of responding to them. As artists, we are exploring the potential of ippo, ippo, ippo as a practice for generating aesthetic experiences of, and temporal ideas about, things and beings that are configuring and reconfiguring in our midst. We are activating ippo, ippo, ippo as a social energetics, as a conductor for laying down our plans and our experiences as artists, then picking them up and laying them down again with a difference. Rather than one, two, three, we advocate: One step. Pause. Pay attention. Sit with the consequences and potentials that arise and fall away with and in that step. Adjust. Reconfigure. One step. Pause. Pay attention. Sit with the (new) consequences and potentials that arise and fall away with and in that (different) step. Revise. Readjust. The generative repetition of ippo, ippo, ippo moves us out of circular returns to the same and into elliptical returns with a difference. 

When we do this, we know as we go.

In the ghost children’s steadfast, step-by-step gesture of ippo, ippo, ippo, we sense a deliberate and attentive movement, one that minimizes risks of distraction and burning out. They pace themselves to the strangeness of the moment and to their surroundings. They conduct themselves in accord with the gravity of their situation. Their placing of their steps as ippo, ippo, ippo follows no plan, map, or script. The characters take in the present–aftermath–continuation timescape of newly lost lives by walking hypothetically, conditionally, with and in the propensities of their time’s new material realities. Moving ippo, ippo, ippo makes it difficult to be simply a spectator or consumer of the scene. It calls for the fullest possible attention to long—very long—pasts and futures. It invites graceful acceptance of the ways in which the self is conducted, transferring one’s heat and energy in ways that are paced and attuned to long and unknowable futures and pasts. Ippo, ippo, ippo does not dwell in the stasis of being frozen in fear or grief, or the equally confining attachment to fixed goals or certainties that compel humans to move on the planet with showy—that is—impositional—hops, skips, and jumps.

Attempting to move like this—ippo, ippo, ippo—we are rewarded, still and so far, with energy. The energy of dynamically focused attention. Of vitalizing play when it is scaled to human limits and capacities. As an aesthetic energetics, ippo, ippo, ippo is enabling us, as humans and artists, to be and to last, for the time being.

Reference 

Land of Hope [Kibo no Kuni]. 2012. Directed by Sion Sono. London: Third Window Films.