Great Mother (Harumi), 1983

13', Fichier Apple ProREs HQ 422 (NTSC), couleur, son

The three videos Great Mother (HARUMI), Great Mother (YUMIKO), and Great Mother (SACHIKO), explore the mother-daughter relationship. They evoke the complexity of this relationship by showing the patriarchal view of a Japanese ideal of women. To achieve this, the artist relies on the different protagonists and on the permanent presence of a TV monitor, which constitutes an actor in its own right in the ensuing drama. This video monitor, present in all three stories, is a window that can be considered to be a representation of the subconscious, the formalisation of the desire of one of the characters, or to constitute a different fictional time.

In the first part of the trilogy, Great Mother (HARUMI), Mako Idemitsu portrays Harumi (14 years old) rebelling against a dominant mother. Harumi doesn't seem to be able to escape her. Even when she's locked in her room, her mother continues to speak to her through the door, then when Harumi goes to bed, the television screen at the foot of her bed features her mother's disapproving face in close-up. As Mako Idemitsu skilfully shows, the patriarchal lessons are paradoxically handed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter. To complete the family triangle, Harumi's father encourages the mother/child conflict. Mako Idemitsu deals with the role of the father as a simple echo, whose presence may appear inconsistent, even if he represents the patriarchy of Japanese society. The videographic mise en abyme that is established is a driving force of the story's continuity, insofar as the representational space of the monitor comes to complete and sustain the action. This is how the ambivalence of their relationship is expressed on the monitor in a “dramatic” way – in the images of Harumi as she tries either to escape from her mother's arms, or trapped in a symbiotic embrace with her.

The second part of the trilogy, Great Mother (YUMIKO), describes the relationship of a young “contemporary” woman under the permanent influence of the maternal figure. Yumiko, a rebellious young woman from an influential and intellectual family, attempts to elicit the maternal interest of a cold and distant mother, by running away with a dubious man that she is pregnant to and whom she marries. The young couple's marriage seems to be deteriorating. During a sequence in which they are arguing, we can see a giant image of the face of Yumiko's mother on a television monitor. Remaining very calm and watching Yumiko's behaviour, she seems to be indicating the “right gestures”, the “proper conduct” to her, while accepting her daughter's choices in a detached manner: “This is what you have decided.” Here, the monitor serves as a tool to highlight the family discord. As we observe the deterioration of Yumiko's marriage, sequences from the mother's everyday life are juxtaposed to it: she appears to be more communicative in her professional life, despite showing herself to be extremely cold towards her daughter. Back at the house, Yumiko and her mother reproduce the same schema of interaction that they seem to be irretrievably caught up in.

Finally, the third domestic melodrama of this trilogy, Great Mother (SACHIKO), while evoking the mother-daughter relationship, exposes the loss of individuality on the part of the child with respect to her parents, by presenting a conjugal relationship that fails owing to the mother and daughter's inseparable relationship. Caught between a possessive, infantilising mother who seeks youthfulness [1], and an abusive husband, Sachiko's daily life is a trial. Her mother is seen as omniscient and omnipresent at her daughter's side. Once again, the TV set adopts the role of an overbearing metaphorical presence, and accentuates the dramatic character of the narration: a materialised subconscious, the mother does her er's hair and make-up, cooks with her, or watches Sachiko's husband make love to her, as she lies there detached and indifferent. Shachiko is her mother's object, her doll: both are the source of frustration of a troubled husband, who seeks refuge in alcohol for his powerlessness in this situation. Mako Idemitsu's description of the psychological family circuit is both poignant and ironic: the incredible intimacy of a mother-daughter relationship, which excludes and alienates the husband, becomes a refuge against the latter's abuse (while simultaneously provoking it).

Different characters recur in Mako Idemitsu's videos, like the mothers here who meddle excessively in their daughter's lives, or intolerant and reclusive husbands. The series is based on a Jungian concept [2]: in Jung's thought, the expression Great Mother archetype refers to the archetypal image of the mother. [3] With her eyes riveted on domestic life, Mako Idemitsu provides us here with a glimpse of Japan and its familial and matriarchal values within a patriarchal society. In this kind of context, a woman who occupies the role of a “wife” or “daughter” suffers from an inability to speak out. The three mother-daughter relationships depicted here are different, but fundamentally deal with the relationship between the Self of the mother and the extension of herself in the form of her daughter. In this sense, while based on her personal experience, these videos by Mako Idemitsu also reflect the reality of many other women of her generation, and emerging generations through the experience of a divided self, grappling with these multiple identities as daughter-woman-mother-wife. This feeling of division is very clearly stressed in the video structure of Mako Idemitsu's work. The recurrent conceptual framework of the television monitor in the video creates a second and larger screen-within-the-screen, materialising a very symbolic view of this fractioning off between the real and spiritual worlds, and between interior and exterior. She presents the backstage of the drama, what goes unseen.
“The images that are projected on the television monitors straightforwardly express the fact that our interior world has been constructed from the 'self-image' that we have received by unconsciously being fed pre-existing value systems and models for living that have been forced on us by figures of authority like our parents and society.” [4]

Louise Coquet
Translated by Anna Knight

[1] The mother: “I'd love to live for a long time and stay with you, Sachiko”; “It helps me to keep me young”; Sachiko: “I'm so happy I'm living with you Mam. I can't do anything by myself.”
[2]Looking Back -Chronologically- at the Work of Idemitsu Mako, Morishita Akihiko, in Idemitsu Mako Exhibition: “I create Myself”, exhibition catalogue, Osaka, 2000.
[3]Jung developed a concept whereby the influence of the mother on the child does not only stem from the real mother, but also from the archetype of the Great Mother, meaning a universal image or symbol of the mother. For Carl Gustav Jung, the archetype is a founding mental process in human thought, common to all cultures, in which the human tendency would be to have the same “form of representation” that structures the psyche in relation to a given theme. This concept is a consequence of the concept of a “collective subconscious”.
[4] In Visual Artist: Idemitsu Mako, text by Saito Ayako from the exhibition catalogue Idemitsu Mako Exhibition: “I create Myself”.