Giri Chit Ginza by Simon Tarr is a fragment from a longer work-in-progress titled Home Movies of Global Capital, a piece originally conceived (and later partially abandoned) as a comedic experimental animation about the global financial meltdown. For Tarr, his original concept lacked attention to the role of class structure in the economic crisis, such that the premise of his project began to melt down, so to speak, following the global financial market. The current installment of this larger piece emerged as an accidental aside during a recent trip to Tokyo, along with two other Japanese segments from the trip.
These details offer a possible conceptual entry point into the video's actual focus, which works from a kind of Arago phenomenon, grasping its subject by glancing to the side of it. In the piece, we barely even glimpse the major architectural landmark that is the film's location: the magisterial structure of the Tokyo International Forum, a colossal ship-shaped glass and steel exhibition hall and conference center designed by Rafael Viñoly and hailed as an icon of the Japanese economic miracle (before that economy's miraculous collapse). Tarr's piece takes place in the plaza beside the grand structure. Although taking photographs inside the Forum may be prohibited, the sideways glance of the video's focus becomes nonetheless expressive.
Ginza of course refers to the famous commercial region of Tokyo where the International Forum lives. (It is interesting to note, in terms of the Japanese economic miracle, that during the year of the architectural competition bidding for the Forum's contract, choice real estate in Ginza fetched as much as $93,000 per square foot.) As for Giri, Tarr succinctly notes, "Giri translates as 'duty' in Japanese, but the concept is in fact far more complicated and runs very deep culturally. Giri is a sort of interpersonal political capital that informs careers, family relations, and much more. Its presence and flow is palpable in Japan." A giri chit then may refer to a voucher for giri (while jokingly alluding to a detail in a Thomas Pynchon novel). In any event, the full phrase Giri Chit Ginza hints at the ought (owed) of exchange in Japanese cultural currency.
The video shows people suited for white-collar work passing, waiting, and preparing, while a worker (literally in blue collar) driving a mobile sweeper cleans in hypnotic circles the surface of this already immaculate environment. The beautiful shot compositions, color palette, and pacing, built musically from picture (mostly in slow motion) and location-sound (electronic bells, the sweeper, footsteps, a bike bell), reveal a scene that is strangely both tranquil and anonymous—open, meditative, and fresh, yet somehow claustrophobic and suffocating. Things move with grace while everything seems utterly static: The match-cuts sew together the timeless motion of the sweeper that crosses the frame right to left, left to right, around and around, while figures pass and pass, almost all of them solitary. "Routine" and "ritual" don't describe what we're seeing. It is probably better understood as a portrait of giri staged as/ by capital.
Finally, a man sitting with notes and cell phone is startled by nothing in particular, although the sweeper behind him has just made yet another pass. The sitting man turns abruptly in that direction, the only abrupt movement in the entire sequence. A continuity cut pulls back to a broad high-angle shot of the scene, the man still looking, at what we can't quite tell but [End Page 61] in the direction of the sweeper. As the sweeper leaves the frame, a bicyclist glides between them, ringing his bell when crossing exactly at the sitting man's line of sight. Cut to black and credits.
Is this final punctuated moment of looking, this prolonged glance from white to blue collar, from capital to labor, pointing somehow to the class structure missing from Home Movies of Global Capital? Certainly it's no monumental revelation. Is it a subtle trace of irreconcilable worlds? Is class structure and...