Wearing a top hat, spectacles and tail coat… Taiji Kozaki looks like one veritable motion picture engineer from the good old days! Although he displays tiny images without any sound effects on a projection screen, the clatter of the hand-operated projector, Kozaki’s vibrant voice reading out the narratives and the music from the gramophone echo in the darkness of the room. Motion picture engineers were extremely popular when cinema was first introduced to Japan – but sadly no longer today. That’s why PingMag went to meet the modern day motion picture engineer Taiji Kozaki from beyond time and space!
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Natsumi
Taiji, what do motion picture engineers actually do?
I project old animations in cinemas using a manual motion picture projector while reading out the dialogues and narratives according to the story. Motion picture was popular mainly during Meiji, Taisho, and the early Showa period – but it has practically disappeared now. Together with my representative Natsuki Matsumoto, also a part-time lecturer at Musashino Art University, I work under the name of Chiroptic GmbH and we use projectors and films to show motion pictures, do exhibitions and give lectures about them all over Japan.
What made you become a motion picture engineer?
My father used to run an ironwork factory. And as mechanization and eventually digitalization progressed, I, as a child, felt some kind of loneliness when I saw all the familiar analog machines disappear. The feeling remained even after I grew up. But in 2004, still nursing this feeling, I met Natsuki Matsumoto, now my master of motion pictures. That was when I felt that perhaps I could express my attitude towards society and the machinery through projectors – which was the reason I became a motion picture engineer.
This is an extremely valuable manual projector that has been in use since the Meiji or Taisho period.
the projector case, handmade by Taiji
What do you mean exactly with the overpowering feelings you had towards today’s society?
It’s a feeling, or maybe better the attitude of treasuring things. For example, in the old days, everything used to be sturdy and long-lasting. But nowadays, the same things are made out of inexpensive materials such as plastic and all the articles are being mass-produced. You can certainly buy those products cheaply and easily, but they will break in no time. Then, because things are so cheap, people’s attitude towards them would become superficial: if things break, just buy another one. Such a way of thinking is so common in our contemporary society, and I have the feeling that our emotional attachment towards things is starting to wear off. It is as if the feeling of wanting to treasure something has a lot to do with being considerate to others too.
I see… So your thoughts on this issue led to your career as a motion picture engineer?
These antique images only go with their read narratives from the motion picture engineer and the music from the gramophone to accompany them. This limited amount of information should stir people’s imagination and I think that imagination of this kind will become the source of enjoyment and compassion for others. It’s all right when everything is convenient in a society – but when there is an overflow of too much information, people will start to lose the ability to imagine and their hearts will start to get twisted. That will eventually lead to new problems, such as the depletion of earth’s resources and increasing crimes. In order to end this vicious circle, I would like to come to a point where people can maintain a good attitude towards objects in general and let others know about it, too.
Could you tell us more about your other activities beside being a motion picture engineer?
I also do what I call Steam Deliverer: this involves making tea at locations requested by a client, so basically it’s a tea delivery service. I started this service for people to enjoy a slightly different atmosphere or scenery, apart from the usual drinking a nice cup of tea. Other than that, ever since I was little, I have loveed making things, for example briefcases, lights and knick-knacks using driftwood and little bits and pieces from antique fairs that people don’t want anymore.
This is “Steam Deliverer” Taiji, making a nice cup of tea.
This sturdy paper boy bicycle is his favourite.
Are there any common ties between being a motion picture engineer, Steam Deliverer and making things?
Wanting to entertain people is my fundamental essence. I want people in this modern society to use their imagination by playing the mysterious role of a motion picture engineer, wearing a top hat and tails – or a Steam Deliverer that nobody knows where on earth he came from. I think that small details like the projector box or the tea set case will help expand their imagination even further. It’s just so much more fun to look at than an ordinary cardboard box, you see.
This deco light used at movie screenings is also handmade by Taiji.
A sewing box made out of a Shamisen case!
Finally, do you have any future plans – or messages to the readers?
So far, I’ve only been making things I just loved to do, but acting out of sensibility tended to end up being an one-off thing. So I would like to develop my theoretical side by studying not only artistic but more diverse subjects, and make sure I can convey my messages to even wider audiences.
Taiji, thank you very much for your time today! Chiroptic GmbH will be introduced in the Otona-no-Kagaku Magazine vol.15, out on March 29th from Gakken publishing. The magazine will feature an interview with Natsuki Matsumoto and film director Nobuhiko Obayashi. Don’t forget to check it out!