The filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto (1932-2017) was both a pioneer of experimental cinema and video art in Japan and a highly influential theorist, challenging the conventions and exploring the boundaries of documentary art, avant-garde film, and narrative cinema alike. From his collaborations with the collective Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) in the late 1950s, through his expressive “neo-documentarist” and electrifying expanded cinema experiments of the 1960s, to his radical appropriation of emerging video technologies in the 1970s and ’80s, Matsumoto’s efforts to reinvent the moving image at the molecular level resulted in one of the most rigorous and expansive bodies of work in the cinema.

The Weavers of Nishijin
Japan, 1961, 26m
Matsumoto’s sumptuous short film about Kyoto’s traditional textile district combines an almost Vertovian sense of movement and montage with the filmmaker’s own notion of “neo-documentarism”—observational cinema from a foregrounded and highly expressive point of view.

The Song of Stone
Japan, 1963, 24m
Comprising dozens of dynamically animating still photographs, this documentary about the quarries of Shikoku Island brings both the stones and the masons to life with the help of a percussive musique concrète score by Kuniharu Akiyama, made using sounds of chisels striking granite.

Ginrin / Bicycle in Dream
Toshio Matsumoto, Genichiro Higuchi, and Masao Yabe, Japan, 1955, 12m
During Matsumoto’s years as a member of the Jikken KĹŤbĹŤ art collective, he made his directorial debut with this experimental advertisement for the Japanese Bicycle Association. Ginrin kaleidoscopically draws upon a variety of prewar artistic movements—particularly Surrealism and the Bauhaus style—to celebrate the mechanics and leisure of cycling.
Print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan