/ art

Tomoya Imamura Memorial Exhibition

On Sunday I went to a memorial exhibition for Tomoya Imamura at Enoco. By “Sunday”, I mean “Sunday three weeks ago”. If I were a deity I could have created three Earths by now. Imagine that.

Instead I cranked out this ramble-fest. Glass half full: there are no Russians shooting passenger planes out of the skies in the words below. And no attempt to deny poor people the ability to seek medical help. And no massive ocean waves slapping the shore and sucking humans into the watery depths of the planet.

But someone does die. And a well-loved person at that. And actually, there is tsunami, now that I think about it. Oh my.

In my defense, I didn’t create this planet. This whole thing wasn’t my idea at all.

I first met Tomoya at SoHo Art Gallery in Osaka where he was doing a solo exhibition a couple of years ago. He was an animation and video artist. I was a stalker of animation and video artists at the time.

Two things I remember from that exhibition: first, he had a live camera pointed at SoHo’s glass entrance. Visitors and passers-by would be shown on a screen, and random picture book-style animal heads would be superimposed on the people’s bodies: a woman’s body with the head of a crayon elephant; or a man with a construction paper cat’s head. Or whatever combination you may imagine.

Second, part of the gallery was blocked off with a black sheet. Behind the sheet was a video projected on to the back wall. The video featured Tomoya’s head pasted on the body of a dancing stick-figure ballerina. By the end of the video, there were many copies of the Tomoya-ballerina hybrid dancing on the screen.

Tomoya’s work was quirky, flamboyant, and imperfect. His videos didn’t look to project an arty coolness of any kind. The images he created seemed to broadcast his internal world directly and sincerely; a loudly colorful place full of zoo animals, flying stars, floating crystals, and many copies of Tomoya himself (in one case, a giant Tomoya eating many small Tomoya heads). He was able to inject himself into his work in way that eludes me still.

I suspect that Tomoya’s role as an artist was twofold: externally, to share his internal world with those who wanted to see; internally, to search for his true self lost somewhere within that world. Maybe that’s what all artists do.

Anyways, this is just my guess. It might be complete fiction.

I make no claim to having known Tomoya well. We did work together on a couple of occaisions, but even though we both lived in Osaka, all work communications were done by email. I don’t recall a time that we ever discussed a project in person. We met in the flesh less than ten times.

Nevertheless, we did collaborate twice. Our most recent collaboration was a short video titled Yomogi Ame (Japanese: 蓬雨), animation by Tomoya and music by yours truly.

Tomoya completed this video in the summer of 2013, but I had actually finished the music six months before.

The holdup was this: in the interim Tomoya found out he had late-stage cancer.

Here’s how Tomoya found out he had cancer: he was trying to donate blood.

Cancer is when a human’s cells don’t reproduce at just the right rate. They over-produce. And they try to eat the human they spawned from.

Nobody knows why or what to do about it.

Humans landed on the moon in 1969. That’s 45 years ago as I sit and write this today. Many people have been born and then died since then.

Nobody knows why or what to do about that either.

The first time Tomoya and I worked together was also for a short video. It was a video that Tomoya had quietly dedicated to a friend who had been victimized by the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011, a time when the Earth yawned and sucked thousands of humans into its watery, gravelly jaws.

Tomoya wanted music for a short video that he made for a friend who had lost everything when the Earth shrugged and rolled over.

It was after my first Beat Journey when Tomoya contacted me about the video, and I was sitting on 50-something beat sketches that I had banged out during the bicycle trip from Osaka to Kagoshima. So I tried a few of the beats on Tomoya’s video to see what might be tailored to work.

The one we ultimately chose was a beat that I made towards the end of my Beat Journey, as I sat in the garden of Sengan-en, looking out on Kagoshima’s Kinko Bay and the smoking Sakurajima volcano on the other side. I had a strong connection to this beat that was born at the end of a musical odyssey. I was happy that Tomoya thought it was a good match for the video.

The video was called Re:Reach You. It features Tomoya’s rainbowfied sihouette walking around a tree.

Here is what’s Tomoya wrote in the video:

I want to believe.
My actions are not mistaken.
I want to believe.
The flower must bloom soon.
Reach you.

He really nailed the ending, don’t you think?



That feels pretty good to me so I’m just going to borrow it for a while.


When I walked into the Memorial Exhibition for Tomoya on Sunday three weeks ago, RE:Reach You was being projected onto a wall in the gallery. It was like being punched in the stomach.

This is why there was a Memorial Exhibiton for Tomoya: he died earlier this year.

Tomoya died from cancer 45 years after humans landed on the moon. A lot of people died from cancer in the 45 years that have passed since humans first landed on the moon. Lots before too!


Humans don’t go to the moon any more. I guess there wasn’t much worth seeing there after all.


And while writing this ramble-fest, I came across something new: apparently Tomoya used a different part of the same beat I made for Yomogi Ame in another video clip called Inaho (Japanese: 稲穂).


Tomoya’s early work looked like this:
Still from a Tomoya Imamura video

Tomoya’s later work looked like this:
Still from Inaho by Tomoya Imamura

I guess things change with time and life-threatening illness.


I can only imagine where Tomoya’s work was going, what he would have grown into making in the future. I’m quite sure he was only getting started, but I always pictured him as someone who would someday reach a lot of people.

He certainly had a lot of friends, people who loved him and wanted more than anything for him to get well. Some of these people worked hard to put together a lively exhibition in honor of the spirit of his work and his character.

“Memorial” has a rather downtrodden ring to it; it hangs heavy in the ears. This exhibition was a celebration. I even received a small bouquet of white roses as I left!


I’m just happy to have known Tomoya in some small way. I’m just happy to have put a foot into his world of elephants and deer and paper cranes and flying rolls of toilet paper and clones of Tomoya.

That’s all I know to say.


Tomoya Imamura Memorial Exhibition
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