A Japanese House (1955) | MoMA FILM VAULT SUMMER CAMP

A Japanese House is a film MoMA produced in 1955 to document the installation of an actual, full-scale 17th-century Japanese house, designed by Junzō Yoshimura and named Shofuso (or “Pine Breeze Villa”), in our Sculpture Garden. The third house that MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design constructed in the garden, Shofuso was chosen for its unique, traditional Japanese design characteristics, including post-and-lintel frame construction, flexible layout, purposeful relationships between indoor and outdoor spaces, and the decorative qualities of the structural system itself. With more than 1,000 visitors per day, the exhibition was so successful that the Museum extended its run multiple times.

The film is in many ways a traditional documentary, detailing a specific event at a certain moment, with explanatory narration. However, it is also a beautiful film, with many quiet, contemplative moments, careful camerawork, and artfully composed frames. Japanese in its execution, the film explores traditional elements of Zen and Shinto design, such as kukan/supesu (“space is not empty”). Long, lingering takes invite the viewer to ruminate on reflections in water or the shape of a doorframe, as if they were experiencing the house themselves. This film is the closest you can get to visiting Shofuso without actually being there. The house still exists, now reassembled in a park in Philadelphia.

Learn more at Film Vault Summer Camp

Watch this week’s other film

Chapman Home Movies (1934–43) – Limited streaming through September 3, 2020

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The comments and opinions expressed in this video are those of the speaker alone, and do not represent the views of The Museum of Modern Art, its personnel, or any artist. 

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