« Teengirl Fantasy I: Tavi Gevinson, Collage, The Importance of the Altar | Main | In The Waiting Room: Non-Place, Distance, Purgatory »
Tuesday
Jul122011

Eiko Ishioka I: "Closet Land"

[ED: Eiko Ishioka is perhaps best known for her costume design. Her work on Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula won her an Oscar in 1992, and her designs for The Cell were nominated for multiple other awards.

Though her work as a stage designer for theatre is extensive and well documented in her books Eiko on Stage and Eiko by Eiko, lesser known is her credited work as a production designer for film, as there is little to speak of: Paul Schrader's Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters, a single episode of Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, and a shamefully unseen 1991 film called Closet Land starring Madeleine Stowe and Alan Rickman.

What follows is the first in a series on her work.]

"Closet Land is not based on a play or a book. It is my original work. From the get-go, I conceived of it as a film, and I wrote it as a screenplay. I fully intended it to debut as a film—not as theatre or as a book. Because film is the only medium fully equipped to take the audience directly into intense emotional states—be they of pain, or of joy. Closet Land, which indeed deals with torture and physical abuse, deals with pain. What my best viewers have also understood is that my film, despite being about torture, also deals with the exhilaration of freedom and the power of human imagination—because my film is not only about torture." [1]

 

"Set in an unspecified country, Stowe's character is taken from her home in the middle of the night, accused of embedding anarchistic messages into her book, entitled Closet Land. The book is a story about a child who, as a result of bad behaviour, has been locked in a closet as punishment. While in there, the child is greeted by a group of childhood ally archetypes who innocently attempt to comfort the scared little girl. The seemingly simple content is questioned by the government, which accuses the author of encouraging and introducing anarchism among its audience of naïve children.

While the interrogator is obstinate in his belief that the author is guilty of hidden propaganda, the audience is convinced of the victim's innocence. The audience later learns that the novel was actually created as a form of escapism, providing a coping mechanism for the author, who endured sexual abuse as a child. Near the end of the film, the interrogator claims that he was the man who had sexually abused the author in her childhood. But one cannot be entirely sure he was the one who abused her, as the film suggests he was just using the abuse against her as a way of breaking her down." [2]

 

"Before starting a project, I have to fully understand its content. That involves analyzing and breaking down the script, and talking with the director, producers, actors and other crew members to really grasp the important points of the film. My first task once I begin designing is to face a blank piece of paper and let my mind wander limitlessly through what I want to express. When I have settles upon a direction, I will gather resources as necessary. Research materials are always merely hints for further developing ideas. Period pieces and historical stories naturally require thorough research and an understanding of the visual world of the specific time period, but here too, I will "recook" the historical cues to create my own tableau.

After first listening to a director's vision about the characters and then analyzing and digesting this information, I begin building ideas through a process of trial and error. In other words, I try to avoid handing a director detailed material right away, making my initial idea sketches a way of communicating my genera concept rather than presenting a polished design. Sometimes I make several intermediary sketches before producing detailed, large-scale drawings; other times I jump directly from the initial sketch to the final design. As you might expect, final drawings need to depict every single detail clearly defined and in color, and—above all—convey a unique and compelling design." [3]

"Production designer Eiko Ishioka (Broadway's Madame Butterfly and the Paul Schrader adventure film Mishima) makes the torture chamber/womb that is Closet Land's sole set a monochromatic mixture of decors: classical marble pillars, futuristic black-slab desk/operating table, a primitive chair barely held together by frayed leather bindings, and deep, floor-level drawers that contain nasty tools and information. Like memory, this hard place is a grab-bag of styles, a black-gray-white setting in which a scarlet smear of lipstick or the sullen red of a fired-up barbecue grill signals the reenactment of a child's rape. Or of that wound - every Eve's loss of innocence - that may or may not become the raw material for full-fledged sexuality, character, even art.

Stowe's wound is like Hester Prynne's scarlet letter, an advertisement of gender-based existential guilt. Her old fall permits flying only in the mind, on the green wings of a cat, one of her comforting kiddie-lit animal characters. In the story that has brought her to the attention of The Authorities, a little girl is locked in the darkness of a closet by her mother. Lonely and frightened, the child imagines that the coats and shirts hanging above her are transformed into a friendly menagerie, including the winged cat and a friendly rooster that play with her until her mother returns. In his therapeutic guise, Rickman probes the significance of this core story and its origins: What did your mother not notice? Why was the child locked in the closet? Stowe resists with all her might, insisting her stories are just "cotton fluff". The white magic of her fictions must be preserved. She cannot countenance the eruption of dark forces there, of less-than-sanitized animal life. Flying is only possible if one never looks down. Rickman's gynecological torture - including a crude grope to see if she's menstruating, the application of a red-hot skewer and electrical shocks - forces her to focus on blood and pain "down there", the primary associations that divorce her spirit from her body." [4]

ALL STILLS TAKEN FROM THE FILM CLOSET LAND, DIR. RHADA BHARADWAJ, 1991; TEXT [1] TAKEN FROM AN ESSAY BY RHADA BHARADWAJ, VIA CLOSETLAND.COM; TEXT [2] TAKEN FROM WIKIPEDIA; TEXT [3] TAKEN FROM AN ESSAY BY EIKO ISHIOKA, FROM THE BOOK COSTUME DESIGN BY DEBORAH NADOOLMAN LANDIS, 2003; TEXT [4] TAKEN FROM "FOREIGN PARTS" BY KATHLEEN MURPHY, ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN FILM COMMENT, MAY-JUNE 1991, VIA ALAN-RICKMAN.COM

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.