June 29, 2006
A 2002 addition to the National Film Registry and one of Robert Breer's longest duration, rotoscope animation films, Fuji transforms a seemingly mundane state of transience - a tourist's eye view from a window seat of a train passing through an area overlooking Mount Fuji - into an imaginative, transfixing, and lyrical free-association of everyday objects and structural geometries into metamorphic, kinetic art. A bookending live action footage of a smiling, bespectacled (presumably) Western tourist set against the familiar cadence of an accelerating train revving up as it leaves the station sets the mesmerizing tone for the film's abstract panoramic survey of an Ozu-esque Japanese landscape of electrical power lines, passing trains, railroad tracks, and the gentle slope of obliquely peaked, uniform rooflines as Breer distills the essential geometry of Mount Fuji into a collage of acute angles and converging (and bifurcating) lines that, through the interlacing of images, seemingly propels the static into motion and morphs the iconic Japanese landmark (and familiar art subject) into equally identifiable representations of contemporary Japanese culture: a series of alternating V-shapes form the fluttering of wings, a triangle framed against two poles transform into an architectural pagoda, a rotation of coincident lines through the vertex mimic the steady, precise sweep of windmills and clock hands, and even a right angle L-shape (perhaps a prefiguration of LMNO) traces the outline of factory buildings that intermittently dot the industrial landscape (where the smokestacks, in turn, evoke the image of a burning cigarette) or demarcates the floor of an art exhibition gallery room. This abstraction of figures into essential outlines is also illustrated in the rotoscoped images of human figures, where the actions of an observer is visually repeated in the interlaced images of the train conductor - turning the head, leaning over, pulling away, and advancing toward the foreground - with the observer, in turn, alternately transfigured as a man in a suit, in uniform, in traditional kimono, and even subsequently, as a woman: the fluidity of movement created by the continuity of the amorphous figure's corresponding gestures and mannerisms. As in Breer's earlier Form Phases series (in particular, the ingeniously crafted Form Phases IV), Breer organically transforms linear geometries into dimensional shapes, while alternately collapsing forms into singularity to create a kind of moving art that integrates both practical aesthetics of traditional canvas painting and kinetic sculpture. In continually redefining the notion of space and substance, motion and stasis, object and art, Fuji wryly diverges from the hackneyed, exoticized sightseeing travelogue and instead converges towards a transformative and infinitely more fascinating journey of the imagination.