Born in 1940 in (Japan)
Lives and works in (Japan )
Liste expositions


Born in Tokyo in 1940, Mako Idemitsu comes from a wealthy and typically patriarchal family. Her father Sazo was one of the most powerful industrialists in Japan in the petroleum domain, and a great art enthusiast and collector. She had a paradoxical love/hate relationship with him. Her work stems from this family experience, dealing in particular with the condition of women in contemporary Japan. She began literary studies at Waseda University (Tokyo) with the intention of becoming a novelist, then studied at Columbia University in New York. She met Sam Francis there, an abstract expressionist painter, whom she married and had two children with. As a mother and housewife, Mako Idemitsu found herself plunged into an identity crisis that she sought to express through cinematographic creation. She started to shoot films and became an active member of a feminist group.

During her American years (1963-1964 in New York; 1965-1973 in California), her films were influenced both by concepts from the psychologist Carl Jung (particularly the “archetypes” Animus, Great Mother, Shadow) and feminist theories, at the very moment when women's liberation movements were gaining momentum in the United States. In fact, Woman’s House (1972), her first film in 16 mm, bears witness to one of the first feminist events in art, Womanhouse, organised as part of the Feminist Art Program founded by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro at the California Institute of the Arts. [1]

The artist returned to Japan in 1973 and pursued her career as an experimental filmmaker, at a time when there were still very few women artists. Most of the films she made at this time contained images representing natural elements: shadow, light, sky, plants, trees, etc. A certain poetic and lyrical quality emanates from these films, which demonstrate a high level of formal precision. The voiceover commentary spoken by the artist herself adds a personal and subjective dimension.
The use of light and shadow reflects the artist's “inner condition”, as Mako Idemitsu describes it. [2] Thus, Whispering Light (1985) shows images of plants, in the shade or the light, under the subjective gaze of the narrator who relates her mother's death in voiceover. In At Any Place 4: From the Tango of a Housewife by Mamako Yoneyama (1978), the theme of the everyday life of a housewife is explored through the superposition of two series of images: the performance Tango of a Housewife by the mime Yoneyama Mamako, combined with images of clouds, sunsets and fireworks.

Alongside her film work, Mako Idemitsu started to make videos in the early seventies. While her first videos still resemble her experimental films (like the video Inner-Man (1972), in which the image of a woman dancing in a kimono is superimposed with that of a naked man dancing [3]), what would draw attention to the artist's overall work were the videos that she made from the late seventies: family drama videos with themes relating to the condition of housewives in contemporary Japan, the mother/child relationship as well as the familial and social forms of oppression women artists are confronted with. It is worth noting that in these videos the artist uses her famous “Mako style”, which consists of the omnipresence of a television monitor on the set – the story-telling agent par excellence – on which the main fiction is echoed in counterpoint.

This procedure is used for the first time in Another Day of the Housewife (1977), a video in which the artist plays the main role, drawing her inspiration from her own experience as a housewife, stuck in repetitive routines. We see an eye on the television screen, which observes the woman, a kind of surveillance that represents the constraints that she has internalised. The role of the television set incorporated in the staging becomes even moShadow Part 1 (1980) and Shadow Part 2 (1982). The characters' psychological projections are represented on the screen. These works allude to the notion of shadow (Shadow) in Jungian psychology, referring to the dark aspects of the personality.

In other videos by Mako Idemitsu, the television images go so far as to replace the actual presence of a character. In Hideo, It's Me, Mama (1983), the interaction between the mother and her son is achieved solely by means of a television set representing the son. This video deals with Japanese mothers' attachment to their sons (mothers are treated like servants by their husbands who are only concerned with their careers), as well as television: the two obsessions of Japanese housewives at that time. The systematic presence of a monitor within the fiction itself as it unfolds, reveals the frictions between family members: images on the screen consequently adopt a narrative function, by juxtaposing a secondary narrative to the main one, which may be the representation of the characters' thoughts, a subsidiary narration, or a projection of the subconscious mind.
This procedure is also at work in Yoji, What’s Wrong With You? (1987). This video presents the story of a mother who does not accept her son's love relationship. In parallel to the main action, a complementary narration takes place on the monitor, which is part of the setting of the main action, thus establishing several additional layers of meaning. In short, Idemitsu's “fictional” videos are strongly marked by a kind of over-dramatisation, by the artificiality of the staging and by the excessive behaviour of their characters, which leads to the creation of a critical distanciation with respect to the strong influence of certain modes of relations in familial and social spheres.

Mako Idemitsu also produces video installations, in which she develops a more directly political dimension: Past Ahead (2005) consists of photographs by the artist and her sister, images of a peaceful life at the start of the 1940s in Japan, juxtaposed with images of the Japanese army invading Asian countries, as well as images of the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. The combined presence of the two series of images highlights the rupture between ordinary life and political reality in Japan, related to its military activity. While examining these historical events with a degree of distance, the work also alludes to the Japanese army's deployment in Iraq at that time.
Mako Idemitsu's work is found in the collections of the Fukuyama Museum in Tokyo, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It has namely been shown at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma et de la Vidéo in Montreal, at the Georges Pompidou Centre, at the Venice Biennale and at the Documenta 8 in Kassel.
Mako Idemitsu lives and works in Tokyo.
Sylvie Lin
1. The exhibition took place in a house in Hollywood, transformed into an exhibition space for women artists.
Each of them invested a room and installed a work there.
2. Cited by Norio Nishijima, in ‘Myth of the Heart. The Film and Video World of Mako Idemitsu’. At 3. The work is based on the idea of the animus from Jungian psychology.
“The animus is rather like an assembly of fathers or dignitaries of some kind who lay down incontestable, “rational” ex cathedra judgements. On closer examination these exacting judgements turn out to be largely sayings and opinions scraped together more or less unconsciously from childhood on, and compressed into a canon of average truth, justice, and reasonableness, a compendium of preconceptions which, whenever a conscious and competent judgments is lacking (as not infrequently happens), instantly obliges with an opinion.”
C.G. Jung, “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,“, Gerhard Hull, Princeton University Press (April 1, 1972), p 332.

Artist's website