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Book Review: Neko yo Sayonara


Book Review Neko yo Sayonara By Mayayuki Nakaya Reviewed by Karen Jenkins For over ten years, Masayuki Nakaya has been keeping an eye on certain inhabitants of the Tokyo streets, first following and moving in, later pulling back and staking out their particular perches and likely paths. His subjects aren’t always easy to spot. They like an edge, a boundary.
Neko yo SayonaraBy Mayayuki NakayaZen Foto Gallery, 2015.
 
Neko yo Sayonara
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

Neko yo Sayonara (Farewell, Cats)
Photographs by Mayayuki Nakaya.
Zen Foto Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, 2015. Unpaged, 14¼x10".


For over ten years, Masayuki Nakaya has been keeping an eye on certain inhabitants of the Tokyo streets, first following and moving in, later pulling back and staking out their particular perches and likely paths. His subjects aren’t always easy to spot. They like an edge, a boundary. On sidewalk, sill, wall and balcony, they’re depicted on the prowl or pivot, or as a stop-still anchor to a cluttered scene. Individually, they may not be up to much and are often unremarkable vehicles of action or end game. But taken together, these gatekeepers and graveyard shifters, tramps and layabouts — these cats — yield a somewhat surprising collective punch. “Through the creation of this book of photographs I look forward to a release from my enchantment with cats,” Masayuki writes, offering the only editorial comment to be found on the theme of his new publication, Neko yo Sayonara (Farewell, Cats). While I’m not what you would call a cat person, there’s an undeniable charm in Masayuki’s thesis and his Where’s Waldo-esque challenge to ferret out the protagonists in each scene and consider the meaning of their presence.

Neko yo SayonaraBy Mayayuki NakayaZen Foto Gallery, 2015.
Neko yo SayonaraBy Mayayuki NakayaZen Foto Gallery, 2015.

Masayuki’s first book, Nekopathy, published in 2011, was a domestic love note to a life with cats, in photographs of his wife and four felines at home in their Tokyo apartment. He’s been under their sway for some time and of course in Japan, he’s not alone. The most famous Japanese cats are well-known to Westerners, from Hello Kitty to the talismanic “manek neko” that beckon from shop fronts and offer good luck. Yet Masayuki’s cats in Neko yo Sayonara have more in common with the inhabitants of Japan’s “cat islands.” Here felines outnumber humans, and as bearers of protective qualities and good fortune, are well cared for and revered, but undomesticated, and left to their own devices. With a few exceptions, cats alone populate Masayuki’s cityscape photographs. They often seem as if sole survivors in an abandoned metropolis, lending their most banal behaviors and the scene itself a certain sense of gravity, or at least, intrigue. Like a buzzard circling a fresh kill, or the crows slowly assembling at the schoolyard in Hitchcock’s The Birds, just showing up is portentous.

Neko yo SayonaraBy Mayayuki NakayaZen Foto Gallery, 2015.
Neko yo SayonaraBy Mayayuki NakayaZen Foto Gallery, 2015.

And then Masayuki enters the picture. He’s enchanted, can’t get enough. At first he prompted a run-in, a mutual reckoning, and reactions from his subjects range from blithe indifference to a kind of paparazzi-induced offense. Over the years, with a dawning sense of the inevitability of the feline encounters, Masayuki began to relax, keep his distance. He identified likely points of intersection with the cats’ trajectories, settled in and waited; less gumshoe detective on the move and more patient hunter in his blind. He set the stage, laid out his scene and waited for his actors to appear. While decidedly light on the type of devotion Masayuki confesses here, my consideration of the meet-up between human and cat is loaded with preconceptions, some culturally resonant, others deeply my own. A (black) cat crosses my path and the good fortune offered by the manek neko is turned on its head. Eye contact can be unsettling, breaking the anonymity and invisibility of the cat’s solitude and mine, as we move through the city. And yet, the cats I see, ducking down an alley, skirting under a parked car or dashing through a gap in a fence in my own city are in another way reassuring. They belong here, complete the urban landscape. All is as it should be. I’ll see you around.—KAREN JENKINS

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KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.


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