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The Beauty In Death: A Severed Cinema Interview with Kiyotaka Tsurisaki Print E-mail
Written by Richard Taylor   
Friday, 02 December 2016

 The Beauty In Death: A Severed Cinema Interview with Death Photographer and Filmmaker Kiyotaka Tsurisaki. Written by Richard Taylor.

The worlds morbid curiosities have no limits and death is no exception. We exploit death like we exploit women in pornography or violence in movies. It is no different in various Mondo or real true death shockumentaries but what if through the eyes of one man, a lone photographer on the death trail, views it in a different perspective? Death is certainly a part of life, a crucial part which occurs when all life ends and for every human existing on this planet earth, death is waiting for them, no matter where they go or what they do, you might be able to prolong it but you will never escape it. Kiyotaka Tsurisaki believes death is beautiful and he takes great pride in capturing it whether it means visiting dangerous countries or chasing the police to accident scenes. Controversial work indeed he has documented death in photographs, published books and made movies involving all aspects of it. In this interview we learn about his philosophy on the subject and find out that for Tsurisaki, death is just the beginning.

I have read that you started by working in the pornography business. What type of pornography did you shoot -- was it more BDSM style material or more mainstream "vanilla" style porn offerings? Is it true, you became fascinated by death photography when you took part in a dead body S&M style photo shoot? How did you make the transition from porn shoots to death shoots?

 I directed S&M videos in the early 90ís. At that time in Japan, it was pretty common that S&M or fetish porn makers, like V&R Planning, released gore videos as well and I as a porn director had been close to the gore scene originally, and I dare say I might not make much of the transition. But itís true that I quit porn directing. I hatred of the strict censorship of sexual expression in Japan, though I intend to make a hardcore porn film in the near future as a protest against it.

How did you begin your photography career in general? what first fascinated you about film and photos, even before pornography or death photography came into your life? What career were you in or did you see yourself in before all of this?

I have made films since my high school days, though I started as a still photographer late, from 1994. Then I actually started in gore photography. Death is the essence of art and every artist must pursue it. As for myself, I have squarely pursued it.

I have read that you consider yourself a punk at heart and enjoy punk/metal/hardcore music. I also noticed you use the band Corrupted as a soundtrack to your movie The Wasteland, this musically, definitely goes well with the subject matter. What Japanese punk/hardcore bands do you listen to? I'm currently listening to the Japanese grindcore band Blunt Force Trauma's Vengeance For Nothing, have you heard of them?  They were formed from Jenovavirus, supposedly a well known group. Have you listened to the band G.I.S.M.?

Yes, Iím punk at heart. I love metal/hardcore. My favorites, for example, in Japan are The STALIN, GAUZE, Doom, and G.I.S.M, also of course. Corrupted is a good comrade of mine. The friendship between us has lasted over 20 years. We have deep respect for each other. do you prepare yourself for a death photo shoot? Do you choose countries that are generally violent or have known disasters that occur there? Is there planning and a process, or do you fly to places and do shoots on a whim? I've read you have chased authorities to different crime scenes or accidents to take photographs. I noticed in The Wasteland there was tsunami footage and in both Junk Films and The Wasteland there were different face piercing ritual footage scenes.

I, in spite of being an artist, use the journalist method, especially the Latin American yellow journalist (amarillista) method. I usually ask for cooperation from the local rescue, police or journalists to get death information or accompany them to the crime or accident scenes to shoot the dead in their world. However the situation is getting more and more difficult nowadays. Iím sorry the world has been dully shrinking owing to the fucking globalism.

Have you ever felt danger for your life while shooting any of these death scenes or visiting such dangerous parts of the world like El Cartucho, in The Borgata district of Columbia like you did for Orozco? Do you travel alone or with a crew?

 Colombia in the '90s was exciting, where the situation is similar to recent Mexico. Journalists were the targets of terrorism from the mafia up there. As is common with photographers, we are always given much trouble with the family of the victims, while shooting the dead at the scenes. Besides, I was told the scheme later, but I wasnít aware of danger of abduction from guerrilla forces then. I have many photographer friends who were killed, or threatened and forced to flee to other countries by the outlaw parties concerned with the victims whose photos they shot.

It seems you find beauty in death, all humans dead or alive are beautiful in your work?

Iím sorry, I have to confess not all of them are beautiful, due entirely to my fault. I have to keep devoting myself to my studies.

The front insert of The Wasteland speaks volumes about the different paths or philosophies of life regarding truth and power. The innocent always suffer at the hands of the ignorant who are always in power. This history repeats itself over and over while the innocent are seen as children always suffering at their hands. Very powerful words, do you feel your photography reflects these words?

Thatís a part of the lyric of ďEl Mundo FrioĒ by Corrupted. I deeply sympathize with it and wail in the World's despair for the great epoch dividing decade from 9.11 to 3.11 as The Wasteland, especially dedicated to my motherland seriously and painfully wounded by self-torture. Itís a requiem odyssey, featuring Zapatistas in Chiapas, Osama Bin Laden fanatics in Gaza, the searchers on the death trail in Fukushima and more. The world has been deceived into submission. It was revealed not by Indian ascetics, neither Zapatistas, but the anonymous united front on the net -- or rather by Mexican drug cartel soldiers.

Would you consider your films Shockumentaries, or is this title an insult to your work?

Iím very proud to be a shockumentarist.

 Orozco The Embalmer, for me, is perhaps your most prestigious film. It blurs the line of shockumentary and is more of a passionate and dark documentary of Froilan Orozco and the necessary but outstandingly dark work he does in a violent and dilapidated part of the world. How did you meet Froilan and agree on you shooting him during his daily embalming routine?

I paid him 500 dollars for shooting his jobs at our first meeting. After that, the coverage had continued for 3 years, but he didnít demand any more and left me as I like. Furthermore, as the shooting proceeded, he seemed to become proud of the showing off of his life -- his last 3 years. Froilan Orozco was an obscure man, the same as the other poor people at the furthest edge of the world, but his name still exists.

What kind of a man was Froilan? Was he pleasant to talk to and be around or very serious and caught up in his work? Describe being there with him on a shoot in that room with bodies being eviscerated on the slab, the smells, the sounds. Did you and him go out to lunch after he finished with the bodies any time?

He was violent and smelled of blood, but he was stoic, stubborn as well and loved his job. Then he looked like a sort of martyr.

 It seems in such violent countries as El Cartucho in Columbia, death is a way of life. We see children walking by corpses on the streets, on playgrounds nearby death scenes. The people have lived like this their whole lives and are used to seeing such things?

El Cartucho was too much to believe to be real. It was actually dreamlike. Cartucho doesnít exist now and the place has undergone a metamorphosis to ďThird Millennium Park.Ē

The Wasteland is a dark journey as well but in one scene, among all the crime scenes and disasters, I noticed you added in a group of kids playing kick ball. What was the symbolism in this? To show that amidst all the bad and evil there is still innocence?

After a long journey at the edge of the world, I realized that reality is beautiful. The reality at the furthest edge of the world. The kid's football field is in the territory of Zapatista's autonomy located deep inside the forest in Chiapas, Mexico, called ďLa RealidadĒ (The Reality) indeed. The innocence won bloodily by the exploited and looked surely that of Shangri-la.

Have you ever been confronted by or misunderstood by people who feel your work is simply exploiting people and the bad things that have occurred to them? In some crime scene footage we see people grieving over those who have been killed or have died.

 Always, but I have to accept every conflict at the death scene. Death is a phenomenon usual and special, public and private at the same time for people alive, so the death scene would be composed of various contradictory elements. But death cannot be exploited essentially, because it cannot be consumed, but it would be just gone away. I believe death should not be tabooed, but be an object of expression.

I understand you have six books or so containing your photographs and various work. Can you talk about your books, their titles and what type of material they contain and what they are about in detail?

As regards to my writings, "世界残酷紀行 死体に目が眩んで" (Travelogue of the World's Atrocities BEDAZZLED WITH CORPSES) (2000/Little More), ďファイト批評 (Fight Review), (Film reviews under joint authorship with Takeshi Aikawa. 2005/Yosensha), "死者の書 (The Book of the Dead)", (Photos & essays about the world from 9.11 to 3.11. 2011/Sansai Books), "エメラルド王 (Rey de las Esmeraldas)", Hard-boiled nonfiction novel on the life of Eishi Hayata, the Emerald King in Colombia under joint authorship with Eishi Hayata. 2011/Shinchosha).

 As regards my photographs, "Danse Macabre to the HARDCORE WORKS" (Early works. 1996/NGP), "REVELATIONS" (Anthology of the dead on the street. 2006/Editions IMHO), "REQUIEM DE LA RUE MORGUE" (Anthology of the dead on the inside. 2006/Editions IMHO), "10 stories of DEADLY SPEED" (Original prints of 10 traffic accident scenes and 10 short novels inspired by them under joint authorship with Genshow Ishimaru. 2006/private publication), "DEATH: Photography 1994-2011" (Anthology. 2012/Creation Books).

It says you have photographed something like over 400,000 dead bodies. What are some sights that have truly stuck with you or bothered you and what is the most shocking thing you have seen going to one of these countries?

Actually, I have photographed over 1,000 bodies. The most shocking thing for me in my death trail is not the risks at the death scenes, but the appearance of gore terrorists in the Mid-East and Mid-America utilizing the snuff images executed and provided by themselves massively for free for the successful propaganda in these years, is a grave menace for me. What can I do to transcend them as a gore artist?

I love the quote at the beginning of The Wasteland "For those on the death trail, so am I." Are you still doing death photography today and are you making a living doing this type of work?

Iím still shooting the dead so far. But making a living shooting the dead only, is impossible. I have to earn my living by doing odd jobs. Besides unfortunately, the situation of gore photography has become more and more difficult each time I make a trip abroad. But death photography is my lifework. Iíll never give up searching the dead.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and all the best to you.

Interview with Kiyotaka Tsurisaki was conducted by Severed Cinema writer Richard Taylor.
 His works can be found at

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