In terms of the visuality of the Chinese character which Japanese also uses (as which it calls “Kanji”), it has been said that these figures are ideographic. But it is my view that it is not the visuality of the characters but the structure of Japanese which makes it a unique communication system. We say in Japanese “I YOU see” (Watashi wa ANATA o miru) so far as the order of the words is concerned; in English we say “I see YOU”. The difference in the position of the object indicates the priority in communication: in Japanese, the object “you”; in English, the verb “see”.
I have studies the structural relationships of language and video using English as the base. Video is a unique system for applying this study. It is capable of recording image and sound simultaneously. And in the closed-circuit system (which is self referrential), a camera (observer) is fed back my the monitor (observed) so that the image is not only refers to the object which is shot but is also able to refer back to the subject – the observer who is shooting. This constitutes a sentence-like structure. In language too what I am concerned with is not a word as object, but a sentence and its structure (as in my example above).
What I have tried to do in video in terms of the relation of image to language is to include the observer “I” (the subject) as an integral part of the system and the sentence. It is the structure of “seeing” involved for both the observer and the observed which is posited by the closed-circuit system of video. The relation of the observer and the observed is taken on the language level as “I” and “You” as in the quoted sentence “I see you”. The very sentence is adapted into a closed-circuit system in which a camera and monitor mediate between “I” and “You”. And the one with the camera is not only the “I” who observes, but also the “You” who is observed.
While I was recording the sound in English of the videotape, I could not avoid to compairing English with Japanese. What interested me most was that in Japanese the object comes immediately after the subject. When I direct a camera toward the observed “You”, what I am looking at through the viewfinder is “You”. If I verbalize the situation it approximates the “I YOU see” of Japanese more closely than it does the English “I see you.” It is in Japanese that the object has to be confirmed first before the appearance of the predicate. In other words, the structure of Japanese is closer to the camera-eye than that of English, so that one may say that Japanese is a language oriented to visual objectivity.
Furthermore, it is common practice in informal Japanese – written as well as spoken – to omit the subject. That is even closer to the camera-eye: the eye which never indicates who is the subject. When we say “(I) YOU see” – (Watashi wa) ANATA o miru – omitting the subject, it is obvious who is the subject in certain cases, but there is also the implication of ambiguous possibilities concerning the identity of the subject. This appears very much like a camera-eye/image which is realized with no subject.
In 1975 and in 1976, the videotapes: OBSERVER/OBSERVED and OBSERVER/OBSERVED/OBSERVER, are made out of the basic pattern of “I see you (who is) shooting me” and “I see myself (who is) shooting you.”
These compound sentences are set up by two facing cameras and monitors which are fed back by each other; therefore exact transfer of sentences is made possible, and sentences are made switchable according to the image of who is shooting whom. The works are composed in advance with the program diagrammed and then taped.
(Excerpted from “Visuality in the Structure of the Japanese Language”, Art & Cinema, December, 1978, New York)