The Portrait Studio

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Portrait Studio is a short by Takashi Nakamura that chronicles the shared life experiences of a little girl and a photographer. It begins with a young couple visiting the studio for the wife to get her portrait taken. Later they return with their baby daughter who always looks grumpy. The jovial photographer futilely tries to coax a smile out her; he does so again and again every time the little girl returns. As time passes the two of them share important personal moments and witness historical events.

As you watch the film what becomes apparent is the use of visual repetition. Specifically the repeated visual motif of the wide shot of the photographer’s house and the stairs leading up to the house. Also, throughout the short the house and stairs barely change. The lack of change combined with the repetition establishes them as visual constants. By having constants to contrast against it made the changes that occur in the characters and the setting more dramatic and striking.

The visual repetition also helped depict the routineness of the little girl getting her portrait taken. Every time she goes up the same stairs to the same house as she and everything else around her change. It’s a reflection of real life which can be full of repetition and routine but as time passes by things do gradually change around us.

The repeated wide shot of the house remained constant amongst the modernization, urbanization, the earthquake and the destruction brought by World War II. The evolution of transportation from a rickshaw to the modern train was also a nice touch.

Here the constant are the stairs and we see the little girl and her family travel up the same steps throughout the years. The changes here are more personal as we see her grow up to a young woman, become a teacher, and then grow old.

Also, the art and composition of this short are very flat. The camera work was straight forward and neutral. Any shots that would provide a sense of depth were mostly avoided such as angled shots, over the shoulder shots and shallow focus. There were very little perspective lines especially in the beginning. Even as the architecture of the surrounding buildings became more three-dimensional they weren’t organized to together form cohesive vanishing points. This lack of organization maintained the illusion of flatness.  The flatness of course was intentional. The simple and yet elegant visuals fit the subdued and quiet nature of the film.