DV-PAL 8 mins 41 seconds
Spaghetti Western specialist Sergio Leone and film director Akira Kurosawa were locked in a legal dispute over copyright amid actuations that Leone had appropriated one of Kurosawa’s samurai narratives in one of his films. Kurosawa won, with Leone settling out of court, and thereafter Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) was known in Japan simply as Western. Coutts’ video, titled Eastern, recalling Kurosawa’s win, counters Leone’s absorption of a Samurai narrative into his Western with a Japanese take on the Western form as enacted by local participants.
Eastern is set in Zempukuji Park in a suburb of Tokyo. Thirty non-professional actors, who live nearby, re-enact the final scene of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, where a gun duel erupts between the two lead characters Harmonica and Frank. Fifteen of the volunteer actors play the role of Harmonica (Charles Bronson), the other half play Frank (Henry Fonda), with a new actor swapping in every time there is an edit. Although each of the main characters is constructed of many individuals, shot for shot Eastern sticks, as closely as possible, to Leone’s original story of a man wronged and his vengeance on the oppressor.
Coutts used what was to hand for props and wardrobe. Technical equipment, such as the dolly, an essential part of Leone’s cinematography, was made from roller skate wheels and plumbing pipes with knowhow acquired from youtube. Passers by drift continually in and out of shot, the DIY dolly struggles with its task and the actors stumble with their toy guns and velcro sideburns. The effort and contribution of the participants, in makeshift conditions, becomes as prominent as the cross-cultural story they aim to inhabit. Two local musicians provide the soundtrack, improvising Ennio Morricone’s famous score from memory in a local bar.
Eastern was shown in Coutts’s solo exhibition Millions Like Us, Danielle Arnaud Contemporary Art, London (2010), Künstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral, Germany (2010), and Payne Shurvell, London (group show, 2011). It was selected for the Oriel Mostyn Open (2011) and was screened for Videoholica, Varna, Bulgaria (2011). An earlier edit of Eastern was shown at Youkobo Artspace, Tokyo as part of the residency, which included an exhibition and conference titled Art in Parks (2009) – an initiative between Youkobo Artspace, Danielle Arnaud Contemporary Art and Tokyo University, supported by the Daiwa and Sasakawa Foundations.