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[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Sea of Itami Jun"

2019/09/28 | Permalink

Itami Jun was a Japanese architect. Curiously enough, the place where his work is best known is South Korea, or at least, that's where you're most likely to find examples of his work. "The Sea of Itami Jun" is a documentary that goes over why that is. Even though Itami Jun was a bit of an eccentric, going so far as get a South Korean passport when he's not even fluent in the local language, director Jung Da-woon does not look at his life through a nationalist lens, but rather an architectural one.

Now, I don't know all that much about architecture. And intriguingly enough director Jung Da-woon doesn't really explain it either. Most of what she does is put it in context. I don't mean historical context or even the context of Itami Jun's life, but physical context. Imagine a building, in the middle of nowhere that offers shade and protection from the rain only on the rims of the building. In the middle is a giant reflecting pool surrounding by stones. What happens when it rains?

The result is the sensation of being in the midst of a rainstorm, with all the sight and sounds implied by that, without having to go through the annoyance of being physically wet and dashing for shelter. That's the Water Museum in Jeju. The Wind Museum in Jeju follows a similar pattern. It's a simple little shack where you can feel and hear the wind without really being bothered by it, because the slits in the wall are perfectly designed to maintain stability while maximizing the ambience.

For Itami Jun's buildings to work just a sense of proper architectural design isn't good enough. They have to be perfectly acclimated to the local geography. The Water Museum and Wind Museum only work the way they do because of their physical location. Different designs would be necessary were they to be placed anywhere else. This aspect of the design process is gone over via interview with Itami Jun's first client, who wanted something built in a specific Jeju location that would take in a full view of the local town.

But Itami Jun's work wasn't just designed around artistic principles. He was also surprisingly adept at developing highly practical designs. His daughter describes him sitting in the yard at a very specific location and just focusing. When we see a house obviously designed to take advantage of sunlight and shade to produce striped patterns, we can see that same pattern at work of maintaining harmony with the environment.

There's a subtle brilliance to Itami Jun's work that makes him difficult to classify- interviews with Japanese show he can't really be defined as part of the Japanese school of architectural thought, which goes some of the way to explaining his close connection to South Korea. Ultimately "The Sea of Itami Jun" posits that Itami Jun liked to think of himself as South Korean because he just liked being there. South Korea, like so much of his work, was just the natural confluence that allowed he, and not necessarily anyone else, to feel artistic calm.

Review by William Schwartz

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"The Sea of Itami Jun" is directed by Jung Da-woon. Release date in Korea: 2019/08/15.

 

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