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MIZUTANI Koji 水谷孝次 (1951年 - ) Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.

Photographer, art director, and graphic designer.


Reviewed on: 2001.05.05 Last modified: 2002-06-08

Over 460 cheerful portraits of teenage girls in colorful street fashion in Tokyo's Harajuku.


Published: 2000.12.25 Publisher: Bauhaus ISBN: 4894616114 Price in Japan: ¥3,360 Qualities: Soft cover, color photos Size: A5, 500 pp. Language: Japanese and English

Street fashion has always been fascinating to observe and photograph. In Japan, it is a major subculture with magazines (and many photographers) dedicated to it. No doubt, Japan is in the midst of a golden age of street fashion. We have never seen such outlandish, brash, or hip street clothes, accessories, hairstyles (and colors), and makeup in Japan ever before.

MerryTokyo's Harajuku area is Japan's de facto capital of teenage street fashion. For one year from Oct. 1999, photographer MIZUTANI Koji commuted to Harajuku and photographed 2,033 teenagers on the street. With that many, it became a serious (but merry) work culminating in this book showing 464 of the female teens (including one grandmother) in all kinds of colorful street fashion. But this book is not just about youth and street fashion. It's also a feel-good book that tries to rub off some of the smiling teens' high spirits and cheerfulness on you. (See sample images at his Web site.)

The book could have ended up as a mere catalog of street portraits and street fashions. However, Mizutani has built up a distinct and cheery concept behind the photographs at the same time. His "merry" concept gives his portraits spritely life and social significance. When he took each picture, he also had the girl answer the question, "How do you express your 'merry' state?" He asked them to write down a few words describing what makes them happy or what their dreams, hopes, and optimism for their future are. Each girl's handwritten "merry" statement is reproduced at the bottom of each portrait in the book.

They said things like "I love to have fun," "Sleep brings me happiness," "I want to appear in a TV commercial," "I love Harajuku and talking with friends," "I want to make more friends," "I want to be cute," "I will be a beautician," "Forever a teenager," "Healthy is best," "I want some cash," "Harajuku is the best!! Harajuku is a place where you can become happy," "I'm merry when I'm in love," "World peace," and "Every day is fun." All 464 merry statements have been translated into English at the back of the book. Everything is in both Japanese and English.

In their own words, the Merry Project declares the following:

What the time is asking for is smiling faces which are full of hope!"Let's make this century a 'Merry' one!" For this, the Merry project was born."Merry" is a message to 21st century." The posture valuing a happy feeling, living positively is the greatest energy which makes a new age!". We, the Merry project think so.

Merry exhibition at LaforetDuring this project in the year 2000, Mizutani also staged Merry photo exhibitions in Japan and even at New York's Metropolitan Pavilion. The first Merry exhibition was held at Laforet (a large shopping complex in Harajuku) in Jan. 2000. It was really unique. All (over 1,000) the smiling portraits (including the merry statement) were poster size decorating the entire shopping complex besides the main exhibition hall (Laforet Museum). They were on walls, in stairwells, around the store entrance, and even under the street lamps. In the main exhibition hall, numerous posters were hung from the ceiling. (See more photos here.)

But not only that, during the exhibition, Mizutani used a digital camera to photograph cheerful teenage shoppers inside the Laforet complex and then used a large-format Epson printer to print out poster-size photos (including the merry statement) that were promptly added to the ongoing exhibition. He wanted to bring the photos to life through audience participation. The result was a shopping complex full of smilling, hopeful faces dressed in colorful things. Over 30,000 people visited the exhibition during the two-week exhibition period.

For the year 2001, Mizutani is expanding his Merry project internationally, namely to London, England. First, he is having an exhibition again at Laforet Museum from April 29 to May 13. It's titled "Merry - London Life." It's a large, multi-screen slide show showing portraits of young Londoners with bright smiles and merry statements. (See photos here.) It is accompanied by an audio track of merry statements recorded in English. The slide show also features work by a bunch of London artists (mostly illustrators). I saw it, but I didn't think the merry photos really matched the somewhat puzzling work of the other artists nor the show's title of "London Life."

Also, at the same time, he is showing some 200 merry portraits of Japanese teens at Selfridges Dept. Store in London. (See photos here.) It will be part of the department store's comprehensive "Tokyo Life" exhibition which will be part of the Japan 2001 celebration in England commemorating 100 years of Anglo-Japanese relations. (Also see the Selfridges Web site.) Merry exhibitions will also be held in Sendai in July and Kobe in Sept. 2001.

The Merry project was born during a time of uncertainty at the turn of the century (or millennium) and after a "lost" decade of economic recession in Japan. Regardless of darkness or despair, we have to keep our heads up, go forward, and hold on to our hopes and dreams (and smile all the while). This was the photographer's basic message. Isn't it amazing to see how much you can get out of street photography? (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)

Merry in KOBE

Reviewed on: 2002-06-21 Last modified: 2005-04-03

Cheery portraits of mostly young women and children in Kobe.


Published: 2002-06-28 Publisher: Kobe Shimbun Publishing Center ISBN: 4343001873 Price in Japan: ¥1,260 Qualities: Soft cover, color photos Size: A5, 120 pp. Language: Japanese and English

He's at it again. This time it's in Kobe, the site of a devastating earthquake that hit in 1995 and claimed thousands of lives.

He photographed 800 smiling faces of people in Kobe, and he published 96 of them in this book. (All their names are printed on the reverse side of the book jacket.) They range in age from babies to an elderly woman. The book was part of the 21st Century Kobe Restoration Commemorative Project in association with the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Kobe was hosted a few of the World Cup matches.

The cheerful, color portraits are full-size, one on each page. And there's a little note written by the person under each photo. All of them are smiling broadly or laughing. A few of the kids are holding a soccer ball in their hands in a soccer stadium. Seeing a smiling face is always uplifting. It's a great project and theme. This certainly won't be his last "Merry" book.