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Sou is perhaps one of the most concisely direct photo journals concerning family life and death that exists. To lay it bare, Sou begins as Takiguchi’s mother-in-law is dying of cancer, and very quickly we are introduced her husband whose health and sanity begins to crumble shortly after her death. We then witness a euphoria of love and romance--resulting in the conception and birth of Takiguchi’s son. His beloved cat Ponta dies, followed by a rapid and harrowing decline of his father-in-law’s health and subsequent final passing.
Throughout, Takaguchi inserts vintage images of his parents-in-law, himself and his wife at different stages of their life. By this adherence to showing things out of progressional order, Sou deftly avoids a relentless and punishing pursuit, while still addressing the brevity of human life. To address the cyclical nature of existence, we see vintage photographs his in-laws in at his age, and then images of himself and his partner at the same age as his newly born son. When his mother-in-law passes away, the last image we see of her reflects not a frail state, but an old photograph of stronger, younger, and happier times. Throughout, these images from the past are laid directly on dried pressed flowers, a fitting metaphor as once verdant and lush, they are now desiccated, but still redolent and beautiful.
Through this intelligent arrangement, Takiguchi has permitted the viewer a catharsis of sorts, by unflinchingly recording both his own harrowing and euphoric experiences, and deftly delivering a document of profound grace and depth. Sou delivers refutation to Barthes’ statement that “every photograph is [a] catastrophe,” as Sou suggests that collective life itself is not only to end in the catastrophe, but to also begin in wonder. The past, present and future are in accordance, bittersweet, but an ultimately harmonious coexistence.
The book concludes with infant Takiguchi’s son pointing to the shadows—in some was a literal acknowledgment of the coexistence of both dark and light in equal measure. Seen, though, in more spiritual terms, there exists an awareness that in the shadows of our forebears, they’re no longer with us, but no longer without us either.