The history of modern Japanese architecture, from the end of World War II to the bursting of the economic bubble in the early 1990s, is as complex as its varied actors, their lives, and their theoretical positions. Sometime during the 1960s and 1970s—the years in which Thomas Daniell's An Anatomy of Influence begins—a breakdown in ideology befell Japanese architecture. Originally driven by postwar reconstruction, the profession's totalizing urban vision dissolved into a sea of individual tenets operating in support of personal obsessions. Architectural meanings collided, conflicted, merged, and diverged, while heterogeneous forms of production emerged.

Writing a history of such a volatile time—an era that Pritzker Prize laureate Arata Isozaki has called the “missing pages of history”—must have been daunting even for so qualified a scholar as Thomas Daniell.1 (Professor of architectural history, theory, and criticism at Kyoto University and resident of Japan for more than two decades, Daniell is the author of five previous books and the translator of many critical Japanese publications.) To complicate matters further, Daniell eschews tracing clear lines of influence in favor of an interrelated history that disinters, dissects, and diagrams crisscrossing influences in twelve significant careers extending across multiple generations. Each of the protagonists here occupies a unique theoretical position, and together the twelve “cumulatively form a zodiac” (10) of the architectural profession in Japan as it evolved from the 1960s onward.

Complex stories notwithstanding, the book's structure is simple: it comprises four chronological/thematic sections—“Ashes,” “Revolutions,” “Outsiders,” and “Aftershocks”—each of which focuses on three architects. Greater weight is given to the first three sections than to the last. “Ashes” covers Kazuo Shinohara, Arata Isozaki, and Hiroshi Hara, the masters of subsequent masters, while “Revolutions” concentrates on Toyo Ito, Itsuko Hasegawa, and Hiromi Fujii. “Outsiders,” arguably the book's most riveting section, considers the atypical practices of Terunobu Fujimori, Osamu Ishiyama, and Shin Takamatsu. The final section, “Aftershocks,” looks at the “bubble-generation architects” of the 1980s and 1990s: Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama, Kengo Kuma, and Kazuyo Sejima.

Daniell opens every section with an introductory essay, followed by his own translation of a previously untranslated essay from one of the architects discussed; these essays help to elucidate the architectural debates in which these figures participated. Daniell's translations preserve the individual writers' idiosyncratic styles, such as Shinohara's formulistic, brash prose and Fujimoto's witty wordplay and blending of scholarly citations with pop culture allusions. Through these texts, the reader becomes acquainted with the architects' unique temperaments. At the same time, Daniell effectively examines his protagonists' respective engagements with issues such Japan-ness, while also situating the architects within international discourses and considering their involvements with a range of broader questions related to history, culture, progress, and power.2

For example, Daniell casts Shinohara as Isozaki's most formidable opponent. He compares their seminal theses—Shinohara's “A House Is a Work of Art” and Isozaki's “City Demolition Industry, Inc.,” both published in 1962—and stresses the importance of the former. In Japan, houses were historically designed and built by carpenters, and therefore not considered architecture (the term architecture was generally used in reference only to public buildings). Rather than fighting over semantics, however, Shinohara declared housing design an art form, and he transformed the traditional Japanese house's function to art for art's sake, as with his iconoclastic Tanikawa House of 1974. The building's sloped, spacious living space, its floor covered with damp earth, contains nothing but a triangular ladder and a long bench, both designed by Shinohara. Daniell relates this space to the doma, the earthen-floored entry room found in a traditional Japanese house. “As an architectural device that is neither inside nor outside,” Daniell writes, “the doma … allows [the natural] ground to invade and defile the house” (31). He quotes the client, who, when asked if the house was difficult to live in, responded indirectly: “I think that a house should have the shape of the dweller's soul” (35). Daniell then traces Shinohara's influence on figures like Toyo Ito and Itsuko Hasegawa, part of the so-called Shinohara school.

The history of Japanese architectural journalism provides another source of interest for Daniell. He traces several alternative, fringe magazines, including Shin Takamatsu's theory journal, Kyoku (Pole). Based in the Kansai region, this publication offered an alternative to the positions represented by Tokyo-based journals of the time. Daniell also identifies authors who were previously known only by pseudonyms. Because Japanese culture has long placed a premium on hierarchy and discretion, criticism was—and still is—considered a dangerous activity. When more progressive architectural journals were established in the postwar period, providing space for critical writing and often agonistic debate, many young writers participated anonymously. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, while publishing scholarly work under his own name, Isozaki also wrote droll, impertinent criticism for Kenchiku Bunka under the pseudonym Hattariya (meaning liar or bluffer).3 Similarly, years later, Kuma wrote no-holds-barred criticism for the journal Space Design under the pseudonym Gruppo Specchio (mirror group). Daniell brings these intriguing clandestine operations out into the light, illuminating the role that youthful ambition played in the covert transformation of Japanese architectural culture.

Daniell's interview subjects appear to have been eager—perhaps too eager at times—to share their stories. Their candid and occasionally scandalous recollections—of incidents such as Takamatsu's insolent (if minor) physical assault on one of his professors during a heated debate and Isozaki's arrest following a rowdy party at his home—sometimes overshadow the book's polemical queries and the author's carefully crafted questions. Yet behind such disclosures are often compelling and important stories. Hasegawa's appalling experience of being threatened by a certain cabal, coerced into rejecting an architectural award because of her gender, reveals a female Japanese architect's recurring struggles with sexism. Likewise, behind Osamu Ishiyama's bizarre anecdotes of the yakuza-like architectural group Basara, which he led and was eventually terrorized by, is the story of a young upstart's desperate search for fame in whatever form it might take, including notoriety. Daniell embraces gossip, canards, and inappropriate remarks, and he shares them all with the permission of the architects. By doing so, he exposes a dark side of the profession as it was practiced in Japan not long ago, one rife with envy, jealousy, guile, and hostility, and rarely known to those outside the profession and the place.

Throughout the book, the buildings that Daniell describes, explains, and theorizes are illustrated by stunning drawings and sketches rather than photographs. Examples include Takamatsu's “proto-steampunk” graphite renderings Origin I (1980–81) and Ark (1981–83), artworks that were famously appropriated as noir backdrops for Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman (Figures 1 and 2). The photographs that are included are generally portraits of the architects themselves, reinforcing the book's role as a history of their lives, thoughts, theories, memories, intentions, and obsessions. More obliquely, by using drawings rather than photos to illustrate the buildings he discusses, Daniell suggests that the realities of construction may have compromised these architects' original visions.

Figure 1

Shin Takamatsu, Ark, 1981–1983 (courtesy Thomas Daniell).

Figure 1

Shin Takamatsu, Ark, 1981–1983 (courtesy Thomas Daniell).

Figure 2

Shin Takamatsu, Origin I, 1980–1981 (courtesy Thomas Daniell).

Figure 2

Shin Takamatsu, Origin I, 1980–1981 (courtesy Thomas Daniell).

An Anatomy of Influence fills a significant lacuna in Japanese architectural history. Through essays and extensive interviews that presage and complement each other, the book weaves personal history with professional discourse. Its essays provide a cogent narrative arc, while the interviews bring critical events to life. Filled with powerful insights and fascinating stories, Daniell's book leaves one hungry for more.

Notes

1.

Isozaki has on many occasions used the metaphor of missing pages. Specifically, in Interviews with Arata Isozaki in Asia (Tokyo: Japan Architect, 2008), he refers to the years spanning 1968–89 as “a suspended period of ‘missing pages of history’” and a time “in a lull of minor happenings” (186). Then, in the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in the same year, a paradigm shift emerged (187).

2.

Building on architect Sutemi Horiguchi's thought on Japan, Arata Isozaki uses the term Japan-ness to denote an awareness of and search for a Japanese identity to alleviate the anxiety of modernity, which is veiled by the country's rising internal cultural clashes. See Arata Isozaki, Japan-ness in Architecture, trans. Sabu Kohso (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006).

3.

These critical essays were later published as a collection: Hattariya, Treatise on the Worthless Works of Modern Architecture (Tokyo: Shokokusha, 1961).