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On Level Five by Whiteny Mallet


On Level Five

nplusone magazine
21 august 2014

THE FIRST IRAQ WAR earned the nickname “the video game war.” During the conflict, night-vision green footage of desert bombing campaigns was broadcast on the evening news: when the war was made visible, it was made visible digitally. But even those images looked worlds away from the first-person shooter games little boys from Berkeley to Baghdad were playing on their X-Box consoles by the time the second Iraq War rolled around. Instead, that grainy aerial footage from the first Gulf War was closer to what a drone operator sees from his desk in New Mexico: the figures indistinct, the details blurred. As real life war becomes more like video games and video games look more like real life, screens have become mediators of history and our collective efforts to remember it. There are increasingly better graphics, but no less alienation. It is worth noting that a drone operator has a higher risk of PTSD than his counterparts who fly planes.

Around the time video games were to coming to define the memory of Operation Desert Storm, Chris Marker made a movie about a video game that depicted a forgotten battle of a well-remembered war. The heroine in Marker’s 1997 film Level Five is working on a Macintosh, writing a game to reconstruct the Battle of Okinawa, at the tail end of World War II. The Battle of Okinawa was dizzying in its loss of human life, but in the West today, hardly anyone knows it happened. In Level Five, Marker’s subject is as much the conflict as our technologies of remembering it. The focus might be predictable from the experimental filmmaker, who is best-known for his meditations on memory in La Jetée and Sans Soleil—though Level Five is structured more like the latter, an essay film that challenges easy categorization as either fiction or non-fiction. Nearly two decades after the film was made and two years after Marker’s death, Level Five is having its first theatrical release at a moment when wars are not just being remembered in digital arenas, but are increasingly being fought in them too.

In Level Five’s fictional frame, Laura, played by Catherine Belkhodja, is making a video game to tell the true story of the U.S. Army’s invasion into the Japanese island and of the subsequent mass suicide that claimed a huge portion of civilian life. Together with the casualties of war, 150,000 men, women, and children died in the battle, roughly a third of the island’s entire population. Before killing themselves, many of them killed loved ones who were too weak to take their own lives. The tragedy meant husbands killed wives. Parents killed children. Sons killed mothers. Marker’s film includes docu-style interviews and vérité footage, sandwiched within the game-writer protagonist Laura’s monologues. The juxtaposition suggests that shared histories are impossible to parse from subjective, lived experience. Laura has chatroom run-ins; survivors describe the violence they witnessed in unforgettable and specific detail.

Shigeaki Kinjo, an aging survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, gives a first-hand account of the tragedy, explaining how the Japanese army persuaded civilians it was better to die than to be taken prisoner by the Americans: “We were told if US troops captured us, they’d cut off our noses and ears, cut off our fingers. They would drive tanks over our bodies, and rape our women.” The army even distributed grenades to assist civilians in their self-annihilation, but there weren’t enough to go around. Kinjo watched a village elder snap off a tree-branch and “beat the life out of his wife and children whom he loved.” Together with his brother, Kinjo followed the example and beat his mother, younger brother, and sister to death. “All of us thought this was the thing to do.” He was 17.

To have the memory of the mass suicide preserved in the national consciousness is complicated. Memorials, for one, are always imperfect. Marker’s intimate camcorder footage shows a local museum, the Himeyuri Peace Museum, on the island, where a diorama attempts to recreate the horrors of the caves where many hid and died. But the site of the memorial, a former girls college, is controversial. “Was too much made of girls from Okinawa elite when others were forgotten? As if there were privileged martyrs,” Marker asks in his narration. But beyond this competition for memory, there’s a complicated relationship between Okinawa and the rest of Japan. Okinawa was its own independent kingdom until Japan annexed it in the late 19th century. The disposability of Okinawans to the imperial government, and the degree to which their loss of life is or isn’t remembered in Japanese schoolbooks today, dredges up the island’s lesser-than status as a colonized territory. “The islanders weren’t true Japanese but were Japanese enough to die,” explains Marker. In 2008, there was even an effort to revise textbooks and excise that the mass suicide had been coerced by the Japanese military.

In part, the Japanese military had hoped that Okinawa might have been a sacrifice that prevented even more loss of life. “If the price was high enough, the US would shrink from invading Japan’s main island and peace could made,” says Marker, explaining their logic. But the casualties during the battle only gave the U.S. a humanitarian justification for using the Atom Bomb. President Truman claimed he was saving lives, preventing “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.” In the film, Marker waxes poetic on the battle’s ghostly presence in our collective and individual narratives. “Without Okinawa’s resistance,” he hypothesizes, “Hiroshima would not have been, and the century would’ve been different.”

Marker questions the ethics of representation, and he is wary of memorializing bleeding into objectification. Level Five is horrifying without becoming cheap disaster porn; it is moving without becoming manipulative. Marker reminds us that as images are circulated, people can too easily be reduced to symbols. The little girl waving a white flag from the Battle of Okinawa became an emblem, like the marines raising the American flag over Iwo Jima. The film also stresses that images have a complicated relationship with the truth. That iconic photo of the marines raising the flag was a fake, re-staged after the original flag-planting soldiers perished in combat. Marker knows his fakes. There’s a video from the Vietnam War of a man burning alive, but part at the end where he gets up is typically cut out. “[The burning man] testifies against war, you cannot weaken his testimony for the sake of a few frames,” explains Marker, probing, “Truth? . . . The truth is, most didn’t get up. So what’s so special about this one? The ethics of imagery?”

Marker’s digressions weave in and out of this meditation on artistic ethics. More questions are asked than answered. Along the way, he suggests that the truth of an image is manipulated by viewership itself. He slows down video footage from the Marines’ invasion of Saipan, the year before the Battle of Okinawa, where thousands jumped from cliffs to avoid being taken prisoner. Slowed down, you can see one woman turn back and see the camera before she leaps to her death. “Do we know she would have jumped if at the last minute she hadn’t known she was watched?” asks Marker. “The woman in Saipan saw the lens and knew that foreign devils would show the world she hadn’t had the guts to jump. So she jumps.” Marker is caustic and quick to jump to conclusions, which would be irritating if they weren’t usually the right ones. Marker’s sentimentality, too, is partially redeemed by the director’s rigorous self-awareness. Marker knows that images lack. “The smell of battle is missing,” he notes, ceding Level Five’s own limitations as a memorializing project. “Until we get smellies, like talkies, war films don’t exist.”

Laura, a surrogate for Marker, feels a futility of her own as she grapples with the impossibility of properly representing the Battle of Okinawa in a video game. “Did you really believe a player would be capable to spend his nights watching history repeating itself, and convincing himself that his own history would also just have a single way to be played?” For all Marker’s talk of the ethics of images, there is little lip service given to the difference between gamifying history and presenting it as a linear slideshow. “Strategy games are made to win back lost battles, aren’t they?” Laura asks in a rare moment where we get some attention paid to the unique character of games and their ability to make multiple endings possible. Because the resolution of Laura’s video game is not necessarily regimented by history, it can operate less like memory than like dreams, creating an arena where what is done can be undone, what is lost can be retrieved, and players are liberated from the need to let go of what’s gone.

Video games, after all, do not just have viewers: they have players who are actively positioned within the story evolving on screen. But the real potential in this never seems to be fully explored. Laura never suggests the perspective from which her Okinawa game will be played. To win, will you have to beat your mother to death with a tree branch? Instead Marker concludes, “Laura saw the Game couldn’t change history. It would repeat it, in a loop, with an obstinacy that was as respectable as it was futile.” There is something to be said for Marker’s meandering, self-conscious exploration of the way that memory becomes it’s own art form. But the most interesting questions asked in Level Five about representation could just as easily be raised in a film about making a film.

Which is unfortunate, because if there is anything that has been necessitated by the nearly two decades since the release of Level Five, it’s a more imaginatively critical engagement with the way that video games shape our wars. Today, most commercial war video games are reductive and ethically problematic. In the popular WWII video games like Wolfenstein and Medal of Honor, the goal is just to slaughter any German-speaking person. The Gulf and Iraq War games are mostly the same, except with Arabs between the crosshairs. There are, however, select independent games that are doing something more. Unmanned for example, by Molleindustria, is self-referential in its meditation on games and the gamification of war. You play a drone operator who pilots an unmanned aircraft all day long, then you drive home from work, then you play video games with your autistic son because that’s the only way to connect with him. Games can be smart. They make meaning in different ways than linear films, but they have a lot of potential to make us think about war, especially as it becomes more and more mediated and alienating. In Level Five, Chris Marker says, “Storing the past in order not to revive it was so 20th century.” The same could be said of the film’s approach.

Level Five Trailer

A woman (Laura), a computer, an invisible interlocutor: such is the setup on which LEVEL FIVE is built. She “inherits” a task: to finish writing a video game centered on the Battle of Okinawa – a tragedy practically unknown in the West, but whose development played a decisive role in the way World War II ended, as well as in postwar times and even our present.

A strange game, in fact. Contrary to classical strategy games whose purpose is to turn back the tide of history, this one seems willing only to reproduce history as it happened. While working on Okinawa and meeting through a rather unusual network – parallel to Internet – informants and even eye-witnesses to the battle (including film director Nagisa Oshima), Laura gathers pieces of the tragedy, until they start to interfere with her own life.

As in any self-respecting video game, this one proceeds by “levels”. Laura and her interlocutor, intoxicated by their enterprise, use this as a metaphor for life itself, and gladly attribute levels to everything around them. Will she attain LEVEL FIVE?

“A mesmerizing fusion of fact and (science) fiction!” —Toronto Star

“A cinematic gem!” —National Post

“A passionate and cerebral science-fiction adventure…there is nothing else in theaters now that feels quite as new.” —The New York Times

“A fascinating glimpse of a historical event that’s still little known in the West.” —Variety

“Its digressive, elliptic, self-referential approach to depicting the atrocities of war feels like the only true response to such unimaginable horrors. At one point the narrator refers to ‘the ethics of imagery’, and few filmmakers have probed this field with such acuity and sensitivity as Marker has.” —Time Out London

“Too complicated for words – yet unforgettable – Chris Marker signs a masterful historic-fantastic thriller, a vital reflection on death and image… A film on memory and the refusal to forget. An unforgettable film.” —Pierre Murat, Telerama

“An exceptional film!” —Jean-Michel Frodon, Le Monde

“A film full of intelligence and generosity.” —Gerard Lefort, Liberation

“A bit in the same way as Resnais’ HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR, LEVEL FIVE unwinds the three entangled threads of a ball of yarn: transmission of History, reflection on image and film matter, intimate dialogue.” —Serge Kaganski, Les Inrockuptibles

“Should rightly take its place among the late director’s best work.” —LA Times

“This is a fin de siècle masterpiece crafted with life-worn hope for the new millennium just around the corner and a rueful awareness that the world remains as evanescent as ever.” —Mubi Notebook
Icarus Films

Chris Marker Level Five English DVD Booklet by Christophe Chazalon

Level Five

Chris Marker: In Search of Lost Memory

Christophe Chazalon,

In February 1997, Level Five was selected to represent France at the Berlin Festival, a few days before it premiered in French theaters. Its critical success was practically unanimous. Yet for the public, it was a flop. A single reason seems to have caused its failure: visual minimalism.

Level Five tells the story of Laura, a woman who must finish off a video-game on the Battle of Okinawa, following the death of its creator, who was the man she loved. A dual story of mourning and memory thus become intertwined. To tell them, Chris Marker chooses simplicity1. Level Five, made with very little means, was filmed by two people. Laura, played by Catherine Belkhodja, is the film’s only protagonist, an exception in the history of cinema. Marker’s love-muse2 plays a role. She is not the privileged witness or narrator of a historical reenactment. In this sense, we are indeed in a fictional world, which is incidentally not the director’s preferred realm. The only fictional stories in his repertoire are the shorts La Jetée (1962) and L’Ambassade (1973).

In Search of Switzerland

In addition to the portion of the film that is dedicated to Laura’s story, Marker adds a part on the Battle of Okinawa in the purest documentary style, which mixes images from archives and personal accounts, and is far from minimalist. The video game is the link between the two. We could speak here of “documented fiction,” as documentary seems to be used as the basis for Laura’s story.

Level Five was born from an encounter. During one of his trips to Japan, Chris Marker met Ju’nishi Ushiyama, founder of the documentary Cinematheque in Tokyo. Ushiyama not only introduced him to the documentaries of Nagisa Oshima3, but even invited him to go the island of Okinawa. Moreover, it was when he made A.K., in 1985, that Marker conceived of Level Five, as he explained in an interview with Le Monde: “the first images of Okinawa were shot in 16mm with cameraman Gérard de Battista in 1985, even then in view of Level Five. I took several other trips to the island after Sans Soleil (a personal fascination,) and I returned there alone with my video camera on several occasions, always thinking of Level Five4.” Marker moreover noted that the images filmed by chief cameraman Yves Angelo “came from an entirely different universe: I had hired Yves Angelo to film a video clip with a British group5. I employed the unused shots when I felt it was necessary to show Laura at least once in another context than the studio, even though I did not want there to be any identifiable reference to place or time.”

If critics went to the trouble of delving into the film, it seemed that viewers were turned off by the part that was devoted to the heroine. In effect, Marker and Belkhodja chose to tell the story in the form of a video journal, like we can do today with a webcam. Laura is only filmed close-up, at a slightly high angle, in the same individual confined space of a tight apartment, between a desk, a computer and a shelf, with just one exception6. It is thus difficult for the viewer, who is used to the camera’s increasingly present movements and the growing trend of editing films, to follow the storyline and identify with the only character, who is only counterbalanced by the director’s voiceover. Yet that’s the opposite effect of what Marker wanted. In a fictitious interview with Dolorès Walfisch, which was written from scratch for the press packet, Marker explains his intention: “as I imagine it is easier for the viewer to see himself in Laura’s suffering than in that of a man who killed his entire family, I’m counting on this recognition to enable viewers to attain the level of compassion that Laura herself achieves by delving into the tragedy of Okinawa.” The film’s failure with the public hinges on this detail: it was too difficult to identify, not because of Catherine Belkhodja’s acting, since it would be difficult to reproach her for anything, given the tough task she was assigned, but due to an aesthetic bias – that it was unglamorous, cold, and far too bare.


Level Five falls within an important period of transition for humanity: the digital era, in which Marker saw prodigious possibilities, along with terrifying dangers, and which subsequently became one of the main subjects of his research.

Everything began in the late 1970s when Marker turned away from the collective cinema he had introduced in 1967 with the creation of the SLON and the making of Far from Vietnam [Loin du Vietnam], Information technology, then in its infancy, drew him in like a lover with all of its related promises.

Marker was no longer just a filmmaker. He is a filmmaker, video maker, artist, programmer, computer engineer, photographer, etc., dividing his life between the real and the virtual. This was how in 1978 he came to make his first video installation. Quand Le siècle a pris forme: guerre et revolution [Mhen the Century Took Shape: Mar and Revolution], at the same time as the 1900-1933 Paris-Berlin Exposition held at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. It was a montage of period film sequences which had been carefully selected from cinematographic archives, and processed using information technology. The final short was projected onto several screens more or less simultaneously.

Through this project. Marker was already trying to modify images, something he would describe nearly four years later in Sans Soleil, a film-balance sheet which marks a turning point in his work. “My friend Hayao Yamaneko found a solution: if the images of the present don’t change, change the images of the past… He showed me the fights from the Sixties processed by his synthesizer. Images that lied less, he said with the conviction of fanatics like the ones you see on television. At least they present themselves as what they are, images, not the transportable and compact form of a reality that is already inaccessible.”7 Yet Hayao Yamaneko was none other than Chris Marker, just like Sandor Krasna, the film’s protagonist or Michel Krasna, his “brother,” in charge of the “electroacoustical soundtrack.” All of Marker’s future installations, from Zapping Zone (1990-1994) to Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollou Men (2005), not to mention Silent Movie (1995) or Immemory (1997: CD-ROM and installation)8, directly process the image, the content, just as much as the container, because the digital era is definitively one of entirely azimuth information, which is conveyed by the image first and foremost. Nevertheless, images never say what they are, but always claim to be what they are not. Image is a fiction, a future recreation of a present moment which was real, but which is no longer nor will it ever be, and this is due to the mere fact of its differed interpretation, its semantic position (be it a film, a book, an exposition…), which is guided by our own cultural baggage and our experiences. Yet, in our modern society, image is the main element of our memory. Due to its concentration of information, its rapidity for reading, its facility for circulation, it is privileged above all other forms of transmission (writing, language, etc.). The main element does not mean the best element, but the one that is most used, because it is the easiest, the most immediate.

Within this framework, the video game is presented as a metaphor for documentary film. In one of his first films. Lettre de Sibérie, Marker had already proposed three different commentaries for a single sequence, just like an exercise in the style of Queneau. All three could be valid, yet ultimately none were. In Level Five, he questions the viewer about images, and their accompanying truth. To do so, he takes three examples, which Laurent Roth describes as follows: “there is this Japanese newsreel where the women of Okinawa are rushing around the top of a cliff. One of them hesitates, yet sees she is being filmed and jumps… There is this American sergeant, decorated as a war hero for having planted the star-spangled banner on Okinawan soil during a staging and under the lens of photographers. He’d been forbidden from revealing the deception, became crazy, committed suicide… There is lastly this death by fire which we find in all cuts on the conflicts in the Pacific. In a drop from the shot (not used in the cut,)Laura shows us that death reveals itself, preferring to live off-camera rather than die sacrificed in the shot…”9.

Marker says nothing but this: that a documentary film is a montage of images which from the time they are taken to their assembly retranscribe a multitude of truths, but never reality. That is moreover why he always refused the term cinema-reality for his film The Lovely Month of May, preferring that of “direct cinema,” invented by Mario Ruspoli. Once people understood that, they could move on to memory and its inscription. Yet in I960, in America as Seen by a Frenchman, François Reichenbach was already emphasizing this strange attitude of modern man.10 “In each American, the commentary said, there is a photographer. And in each photographer, there is always a tourist. If you meet one, don’t be surprised if you see them running through the world without looking. Their roll of film is their memory. Once they’ve returned, to their armchair, the album on their lap, they’ll relax, start loving the world, they’ll begin to travel.” Marker too had photos for memory. In Sans Soleil, he noted: “Lost at the edge of the world, on my island of Sal, accompanied by my entirely pretentious dogs, I remember that January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed that lanuary in Tokyo. They have now taken the place of my memory; they are my memory. I ask myself how people who don’t film, who don’t take pictures, who don’t make tapes remember, what humanity did to remember…” Yet once the film debuted he asked himself another question. “He wrote to me: “I would have spent my life questioning the function of memory, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its reverse. We don’t remember, we rewrite memory like we rewrite history. How do we remember thirst? How do we remember? What do we really remember? What is memory?


In Level Five, Marker again tries to respond through the intermediary of Laura-Belkhodja, still confined in her space, in front of her screen, trying to correspond with the dead, to keep alive what has already withered, blurred, disappeared from her mind. It is then that she wonders: “If I was able to forget the smallest detail of the tent, which was so precise the last time I had come, what details about you will I continue to lose, one by one?”

And the game of associations begins. Her first name evokes that of the heroine of an eponymous film by Otto Preminger, made in the midst of World War II, which was as resounding a success as the melody that accompanied it: Laura (1943). It is not by chance that Marker inserted this film into Level Five. In addition to the desired resemblance between the two Lauras, memory is also in question. Laura-Belkhodja remembers having seen this film with the person she loved, in iapan. And moreover, her first name is actually not Laura; it was him, from that day forward, that gave her that “first name.” She remembers that. And then she remembers the topic of the film, but less clearly. The history of the origin of this topic is still in her memory but the notes, the words, are not. Laura needs to take the sheet music back out in order to be able to hum along and regain a semblance of times lost.

Level Five, even though it was not made directly after it, is a sequel to Sans Soleil. And there, another reference becomes clear to anyone who has seen Sans Soleil, a film through which Marker sets off on the tracks of another film that is essential to him: Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo (1958). Yet this film, whose story indeed points to that of Preminger-’s Laura, in turn echoes another key work: In Search of Time Past (1913-1927) by Marcel Proust. The threads are relentlessly intertwined. Indeed anyone who speaks of Proust remembers his famous madeleine, which is also the first name of the heroine in Vertigo. Yet for Proust, what best triggered the mechanism of memory was not the gaze. He wrote: “And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.[TN: Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: Vintage, pp. 48-51 11


It’s here that the video game intervenes and takes on its full meaning. Of course in Sans Soleil, Yamaneko-Marker says that “electronic matter is the only thing that can process feeling, memory and imagination.” Yet there is one fact that is way more important: the computer does not forget, especially since it has no humor. Also, once Laura tries to ask it foolish questions, the answer is always the same – cold and biting. The evidence: to get good answers, you need to ask good questions. The difficulty: to get good answers, you need to ask good questions. Therein lies the entire principle of this game and for Laura, the impossible task, because this video game does not, like the majority of video games, aim to reinvent, to rewrite History, arriving at new aims, but to strictly and correctly rewrite the true history of the Battle of Okinawa. Hence the levels. Level Five is ultimately not Laura’s story. It is firstly the untold history of a massacre, and above all a reflection on Human History. The massacre is one of the most important of the 20th century. Marker provides clues in his press packet. The debut of an American CD-ROM on World War II is one of the film’s points of departure. It concluded, in speaking of the Battle of Okinawa, that there were approximately 100,000 deaths, including numerous civilians, which Marker emphasizes is doubly false. There were indeed 100,000 Japanese soldiers killed, but in addition 12,000 American soldiers, and above all 150,000 Okinawan civilians, that is, a third of the island’s population, the majority of whom committed suicide. And therein lies the drama. Yet this battle was the source of an even bigger drama, since its result led to the Americans dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. Yet not only do Americans make no mention of these Okinawan civilian deaths; even the Japanese keep this fact completely silent. It is a silence which Marker finds shameful, because it ends up eradicating the event from the collective memory. It is for this reason that he decided to highlight it in his film. And to do so, he did not make a fictional film retracing the battle, but went out to look for direct witnesses, who participated in the collective suicides, or indirect ones, who were trying not to forget, and to pay homage to the victims.

Human History and collective memory are ultimately not very different from history and individual memory. They are incomplete, due to the inevitable succession of events, to forgetting, whether voluntary or not, to the multiplicity of entries and points of view. In order to really portray that, at the same time as he was making Level Five, Marker created a CD-ROM which is nothing less than his autobiography, entitled Immemory. Just as the video game has several possible points of entry for arriving at gradually reconstituting the actual Battle of Okinawa, a reader of Immemory has several points of entry for discovering Marker’s life – except for one thing: the data entered into the CD-ROM is mainly the pure invention of the author. That’s the lesson to be drawn from Level Five. In order to reach Level Five, all of the correct data must be entered into the machine. But that’s impossible. So Level Five is unattainable! Nevertheless, it remains the level to achieve to be able to better envision the future – our future.

Christophe Chazalon /

  1. This choice was as much a personal desire as a budgetary constraint.
  2. During this period she was Marker’s muse. We find her in L’Héritage de La chouette (1989) or The Last BoLshevik (1993), in the video clip Getting away with it (1989), the haiku video Owls gets in your eyes (1994) or even in the Zapping Zone (1990-1994/Zone TV) and Silent Movie (1995) installations.
  3. Two films by Nagisa Oshima are listed in the credits: The Sunken Tomb (Ikiteru umi no bohyô) from 1970, which literally translates to “The tomb of the living sea,” and The Dead are Always Young (Shisha wa itsudemo wakai) from 1977.
  4. Chris Marker, “I never ask myself if, why, how…” (interview by Dean-Michel Frodon), Le Monde, February 20, 1997, p. 31. In fact, we find images of Okinawa as early as in Sans Soleil (1982).
  5. This is Getting away with it (1989) by the group Electronic, produced by Michael H. Shamberg.
  6. In La Jetée too, there was an exception to this genre. Comprised of photographs, the film only contained one filmed sequence.
  7. Consequently, in all of his photographic work, Marker would process the images by blurring them or adding in effects, even with his previous series, such as Coréennes (1959) which he reedited in 1989, in Korean, and again exhibited in Arles, in its blurred version, 2011.
  8. The same is true for the series of photographs he did from that from that point forward.
  9. Laurent Roth, “LeveL Five, un film de Chris Marker. Okinawa, l’amour et l’ordinateur” [“LeveL Five, a film by Chris Marker. Okinawa, love and the computer,”] Le Monde diplomatique, February 1st, 1997.
  10. The commentary to this film was written by Chris Marker.
  11. In his autobiography Immemory (in CD-ROM format), Marker debuts the section “Mémoire” with portraits of Proust and Hitchcock, followed by this extract from Swann’s Way.


Level Five Transcript (Beta) by Chris Marker

Catherine Belkhodja (CB):
What can these be but
the playthings of a mad God
who made us to build them for him?
Imagine Neanderthal man
glimpsing with this vision in his head:
a flash of city at night,
all motion and light.
He cannot tell what it means,
he has had a poetic vision,
all motion and light,
A sea of lights,
he cannot unravel the images
that land in his mind,
like birds, swift,
unreachable birds.
Thoughts, memories, visions
are the same to him,
a scary hallucination.Such was William Gibson’s vision
when he wrote Neuromancer
and invented Cyberspace:
He saw a Sargasso Sea,
full of binary algae.
On that image we Neanderthals
grafted our own visions,
our thoughts and memories,
our pitiful scraps of information.
But none of us knows
what a city is.This is the stuff you used to write.
You wrote at night, late,
sitting at the computer,
before you logged out.
I’d find it in the morning
when I logged in.
You had been working at your game,
and I was about to work on my book.
Computer at night, barnow’s delight.
Computer in the morning,
tomcat’s warning.
You said we were two eights,
eight hours for you,
eight hours for me,
eight hours for us both.LEVEL FIVENagisa Oshima (NO):
To tell the truth,
Okinawa was sacrificed!

Why do material objects
display such endless,
willful mockery?

„Die Tücke des Objekts“
the perfidy of inanimate objects

If it could be turned to energy,
the world could do without oil.
Why is it whenever I ask friends
to taste my Tarte Tatin,
my speciality, my triumph,
all the teaspoons dematerialise?
And why at coffee time
do we stir the sugar with forks?
So shaming.
And why does a monkey
steal one of my socks every night,
just one,
to see me scrabble in the morning
and leave with odd socks?
Shame again.

Quite possibly a sock-monkey …

Not to mention the computer.
Bombs everywhere,

< <Application “UNKNOWN”.
System unexpectedly quit.
Type 14 error> >.
Type 13 would be prettier,
but it’s always type 14.

possibly ‘page fault’

Is that what general Ushijima thought
when he saw victory slip away?
When war displayed
the stubborn willfulness
of material objects?
All that strategy,
all that loyalty to the Emperor,
and the malignity of objects
stole an army as neatly
as monkeys steal socks.
I thought the Game would
rectify this malignant fate.
The 9th Division stuck in Formosa?
So I create a “Formosa” sub-program,
I ask for the 9th Division’s intervention.
You’re kidding! “Access denied”.
If I insist,
the sub-program vanishes.
If I insist again,
the system crashes.

The beginning is strange.
Landing April 1st sounds foolish.
It’s Sunday, like Pearl Harbour.
The Americans expect a bloodbath,
like in the other islands.
They land on the beach.
No reaction.
No reception commitee.
They reach the Japanese forts,
find them abandoned,
yet intact: the bombs
didn’t work.
So why did the Japanese leave?
Ushijima, watching
from the Shuri heights,
waits for planes to decimate
those idiot Yanks
trapped on the beaches.
No planes.
For both sides, nothing
goes as planned.

I’ll sort this mess out.
Put the Japanese
back in their bunkers,
bring in planes.
Sounds easier to move symbols
than real planes…
But no. “Request denied”.
And here I am with my codes
that don’t enter,
my access denied,
my type 14 errors…
And my calling on you.
One day I’ll give Chris
all this stuff
for him to try to do something.
A game that won’t work,
a woman going loony…
We’ll see what he can do,
the editing wunderkind.

Chris Marker (CM):
That’s where I came in.
At that point in my life
I was readier for other people’s images
than my own.
Laura’s challenge fired me up.
I began with their trip to Tokyo.
Like them I loved the city.
And the Game offered me
a new way in WWII.

Hence, there were old ways already

I’d become so Japanese I shared
their collective amnesia.
As if the War’d never happened.

Kenji Tokitsu (KT):
I feel the Japanese
have changed a lot.
I feel they want to bury
their whole past,
World War II…
Japanese people
tend to avoid facing that issue.


It’s a tragedy that’s affected
my whole life.
Yet it contains a depth,
a kind of life
so strong and vivid
that today we cannot approach
that kind of intensity.
There’s some kind of madness,
in fact,
about WWII.
It’s not nostalgia,
I’m not nostalgic
about that era.
But those who lived through it
find something missing today.
Some of that was worthwhile.
Which is not to belittle
the atrocities
perpetrated by the Japanese military.
But having to define who one is,
having to fight to the very end,
means facing
something which alters
your whole perception of life
in the face of something crucial.

I want to tease the computer,
like we used to,
fool about with it,
turn its neurons inside out.

In LOGO, for instance,
a noun for a verb.
“Dog” and the computer
is foxed,
It doesn’t know what to answer and
confesses: “I don’t know how to dog”.
It doesn’t know how to sardine,
Or “Cauliflower”:
“I don’t know how to cauliflower”.
So humiliating for a computer
not knowing how to cauliflower.
“I don’t know how to tortoise”.
“Eiffel Tower”…
“I don’t know how to shoe”.

I remember an abandoned shoe,
one night.
It was in a crosswalk,
alone, derelict.
No one had picked it up.
No one had run over it.
Another night,
it was still there.
As if the citizens of Paris
had no interest or found superfluous
to deal with abandoned shoes.
Maybe an unknown woman
left her shoe every night
in the crosswalk.

Synth Voice (OFF)
Welcome to OWL.
Optional World Link.
This terminal will give you access
to all available networks:
Radio, television,
news networks,
whether they exist or not,
present or future.
Bits have replaced savings.
Gold and dollar belong
in the past.
Right here, feel the beating
of the heart of the future.
The Knowledge-standard!

Ah, the Network!
That was
Wladimir Zakrjevski’s contribution,
the genius of the banks. (?)
The Network’s Network, that gave you
a free connection
to databanks worldwide.

In pre-historic times
of the MINITEL
people used pseudonyms.
Here they wore virtual masks.
Laura spent time cyberlooking
for Okinawa witnesses and informants,
but, like in any other network,
she found all sorts of things.

Rumour had it initiates could
plug into other people’s
nervous system. So they said anyway.

Yesterday I had
a strange exchange on OWL.
A guy said:
“Good evening, Michel.
I just took something to sleep.
I won’t wake up.
I feel so calm.
Before dying,
I want to make a gift
of the kind my contemporaries
can appreciate.
One last phone call
before I go.
I am well-known, you see,
very well-known.
Tomorrow my name
will be in all the papers.
And yours too, if you say
you’re the last person
I spoke to before I left.
So I make this gift.
The last words of…
You’ll see tomorrow in the papers,
I’m not fooling, you see?”

I answered:
“I think you’re fooling,
because I know about death,
I know it well,
I know it by heart.
And we could still talk
even if you said
you were dead.
Because the man I loved is dead
and I talk to him every night.
Good night, Michel.”

The next day there was
nothing in the papers.
At first, I thought
that he was fooling,
that he was a nobody.
But there’s a dark space there.
thinking back on it.
Nothing in the press.
But what if the death part
wasn’t fooling,
only the fame part?
What if he’d only lied
when he said
“I am well-known”,
to make me believe before he died
he was someone else,
and I deprived him of that pleasure,
one last joy before dying?
And I thought I’ve never
mentioned you to a stranger before.

He died somewhat mysteriously
after the trip to Okinawa.
For those who love premonition signs,
his last images were shot
in the foreign graveyard of Naha.
He said it’d be good to lie
among the decaying tombs
of the combatants of all the useless wars,
including that of Commodore Perry’s.
Years before MacArthur,
Perry came unasked
to Shuri Castle,
that World War II
would turn to dust,
whilst modernising Japan.
As if this country needed a US soldier
each century to enter a new era.
Beside Perry’s tomb he’d
explained Oshima’s comment,
his: “Okinawa was sacrificed!”.
a term from the game Go:
It means sacrificing a piece
to save a game.

If you cut… the root.
If you cut life at the root.
If you are cut from
the root of life,
you die. If…
In any strategic technique,
you need to consider
saving yourself
and sacrificing
a victory card.
If we speak of Okinawa
with respect to Japan’s main island,
such was the sacrifice.

Shigeaki Kinjo (SK)
The battle was lost in advance,
a battle the Japanese army
had no chance of winning.
It was inscribed
in the context of defeat.
And because that was the context,
the purpose was to fix the aftermath,
and reinforce the “Tennosei”,
the imperial system,
which had to survive
to the military defeat.
Another direct consequence
inscribed in this context of defeat,
was that no effort was made
to protect the civilian population,
so civilian casualties
far outnumbered
military casualties.

It’s true that Okinawa
was a horrendous battle.
Nothing remains, no culture heritage,
no culture from the past.
Everything was destroyed,
utterly destroyed.
I who love so much the past,
in Okinawa I feel a deep despair.

In a way, the people of Okinawa
are resentful, even today.
There is a profound
feeling of injustice
on account of those events.
I think the war isn’t over yet.

In conversation, I still mention
the levels
we used to give to people
when we spoke.
When someone came and said:
“I am Catholic, or Communist,
or Anarchist”,
or any other bigotry,
we would say:
“Level One!”
We’d laugh so much!

When they were funnier,
or wittier,
we’d say: “Level Two!”

But it never went higher.

The Game became
such a standard
that we could do nothing
unless we gave levels
to everything in life.

But nothing ever reached Level 5.
I remember one day I said to you:
“Must one die to get to Level Five?”

She had loved Okinawa.
She had loved the ice in summer.
She had loved Naha, a spiritless
city, apparently,
yet full of ghosts,
and they loved ghosts.
She had loved the jungle figs indoors,
and birdsong at traffic lights
that got the blind across.
It was Japan, yet that Japan
that hadn’t lost its memory.
There were cats too,
for they loved cats.
There were tags,
and owls and karate.
And their cult-film: a ghost story.
Seeing together there
was a sign to them,
and they loved signs.

That’s when you started
calling me Laura.
We loved the film.
We didn’t know about the song yet.

I was amazed you could fall
for an image,
then have a real lady
appear in its stead.

Can one be as lovely as an image?
Can one be as memorable
as a song?

I remember about David Raksin,
commissioned to write a song
over the weekend
for Mr Preminger.
You don’t keep Mr Preminger waiting.

He’d got a letter from his wife
which he couldn’t decipher.
He wasn’t short-sighted,
but something odd inside him
prevented him from being able
to read it.

He used to compose by placing
a sheet of paper
on the piano to focus his attention,
so the music flowed from a void,
not from an idea.
And he took his wife’s letter
that he couldn’t decipher
and put it on the piano.

Then the notes started to flow.
And as they flowed,
as they fell,
he began to decipher the words.
They said his wife was leaving him.
[[ ]]

And me too, when
I decipher your programme,
I don’t understand it fully.
It seems complicated,
I’m afraid I’ll mess it up,
I’m afraid I’ll find
things hidden
that flow out without my noticing.
Like in a storm when there’s a fog
and suddenly the sun pierces through
and truth appears.
I’m afraid of …
discovering that something’s
going to happen there
which I can’t see yet,
something that suddenly
will seem as potent as a song
suddenly not ours anymore,
but everyone’s to share,
just as Laura’s song
has become ours… now.
Can you hear my footsteps?

That summer, a department store
hired dancers from Kyoto,
there in the big island,
the true Japan.
Where, in 1944,
they’d sent
thousands of children for safety.
No one had consulted their parents,
for 4 centuries no one had asked
the Okinawans for any opinion.

The children were put on a ship
and the ship sank.
More than 1000 deaths. Even before
the battle had started,
Okinawa already had its dead,
only they didn’t know.
Survivors were told to send cards
saying everything was fine,
everyone had landed safely.
Ten years later, Oshima
filmed the parents
gathered where the ship sank,
to console the souls,
as the Japanese saying goes,
of their drowned children.

Seen from the sky, Okinawa’s main island
looks like a beast.
Not a green crocodile
like Cuba,
rather a crouched beast,
ready to jump, to unfurl
into who knows what form:
a lizard, a dragon?
As if all History’s fierceness,
was in that island,
where people are so peaceble
they infuriate History
for having something
to do with them.
It’s like Julius Caesar
moving to Bora Bora.
Or Napoleon in the South Pole.
St Helena was no fun anyway.

Strange to think that
the first ever mention of Okinawa
was on account of him.

An English Captain came to him
after going around the Pacific,
and described a strange little island,
wherein “the natives had no weapons”.
“No cannons?”, says the Emperor,
somewhat disgusted.
“No cannons, no pistols,
no muskets,
no weapons at all.”
“How do they wage war?”
“They don’t.
They’re not interested.”
Napoleon, outraged,
concluded that people
who don’t love war
are most “despicable”.

So thought the island,
the big dragon
hidden in the island,
ready to pounce like a cat,
like a tiger
waiting for the proper time.
Travellers enraged him,
travellers of all times,
with tales of Okinawan’s gentleness.
Gentleness! Is history written
with gentleness?
Do you honour gentleness
when you’re a dragon?
So Okinawans hated violence?
They had it coming.
A peaceful isle
out of the world,
out of History, would become the stage
of the bloodiest battle of all time.
A happy, life-loving woman
ended up to be chosen
to encounter death.
I can recognise myself
in that little island,
because my most unique,
my most intimate suffering
is also the most banal,
the easiest to name,
So I can as well give it a name
that sounds like a song,
like a movie,
“Okinawa mon amour…”

Visitor Guide:
The Americans landed
in the Kerama islands.
They bombed Naha from there …

Look, we had a swim
over there yesterday.

Visitor Guide:
I’m sure you’ve read
about it in the papers,
mass suicide in the Kerama islands…

I read page after page on Okinawa
and I feel like crying.
The only place in the world,
the Nazi camps aside, where people
continued to die after the battle.
The islanders weren’t true Japanese,
but were Japanese enough to die.
“No one falls into enemy hands alive,
it is shameful”.

We were imbued with army orders
stating that,
if necessary, meaning
when encountering the enemy,
the first granade was for the enemy
and the second we had to use
for suicide.

Two months later, one of the most famous
images of that battle
showed a little girl
waving a white flag
at the head of a line
of civilians and soldiers.
Okinawa would remember that symbol:
A child survivor of forced suicide
put out to protect an Army in ruins.
See that?

You’ll be on American TV.

And because we were convinced
this was what war was,
that everyone was
doing this to everyone,
because they must not shame,
a superior race,
a model for humanity,
and because they were nice,
and because they were helpful
and wanted to do what
was expected of them,
and wanted to prove
Napoleon wrong,
they killed themselves…
in their thousands, whole families.
With a grenade, if the Army
has supplied grenades,
with sticks if they had no grenades
or by jumping off cliffs,
like the women of Saipan
had done.

I’d seen these images before.
In slow-motion you can see
this woman turn back,
and spot the camera.
Do we know she would have jumped
if at the last minute
she hadn’t known she was watched?

I remember the man in Paris,
in 1900
attempting a mad leap
with a Batman-like parachute
from the Eiffel Tower.
It’s so obvious,
at least it is to me,
that at the last minute,
he knows the contraption
won’t work,
he knows he’ll die,
but the camera is there.
He can’t chicken out,
so he jumps and dies.

The woman in Saipan saw the lens
and knew
that foreign devils
would show the world
she hadn’t had the guts to jump.
So she jumps. The cameraman
aimed at her
like a hunter
through his sights,
and he shot her like a hunter.

This is a little book entitled
“The tragedy of Okinawa”.
The print is odd,
with characters spaced
like in a primer.
It’s very thin,
the lines are double spaced.
It’s like it intends
to teach how to read,
and how not to read.

No book can explain
how a 16 years old boy
kills his mother
because an invisible camera
spies on him,
and he cannot disobey.
The boy’s name was Kinjo,
he lived in Tokashiki Island,
where you used to go whale-watching.
What could he tell us now, Kinjo?
What could we say to him?
Know what?
When I began to choke,
literally choke,
among this horror
where everyone is a persecutor,
I put a flag in the program
that’ll prompt a quote.
Too bad for those who don’t get it.
You know it.

It was in the Keepsake
where I saved sentences for tough times.
Thinking ahead…
It’s Rabbi Huna’s admonition.
Maybe most people won’t understand.
It’s the one that goes:
“God always sides with the persecuted.
If a just man persecutes a just man,
God sides with the persecuted;
if a bad man persecutes
a just man,
God sides with the persecuted;
if a bad man persecutes a bad man,
God sides with the persecuted;
and even if a just man persecutes a bad man,
God sides with the persecuted”.

[n.d.l.t.: Rabbi Huna mentions the name of Rabbi Joseph
in an old rabbinic commentary, the Middrach Rabba about
Leviticus, 27, 5]

These bullfights, like in Mycenae…
In Spain when there’s a bullfight
it’s to challenge death,
you stare at the sun,
stare at death in the face, like
in the fascist anthem “Cara al sol”.

In Okinawa, it’s the opposite:
They say that before death
is a time for playing,
not a time for killing.
– It’s a brave animal.
– But it’s not in shape.
– Can it do better?
– It’s really brave.
– It has no luck.
– It’s a brave beast.

If some future ethnologist
gets to see these images,
he’ll ponder the funeral rites
of the strange tribes
of the late 20th Century.
I’ll be pleased to give details.
Yes, it was customary for such tribes
to address a familiar
and protective spirit
known as a computer
to some of them
and as an electronic calculator
to others.
They’d consult on everything,
it kept their memory.
In fact, they no longer had a memory,
it was their memory.
It was accompanied
by a whole ritual.

A future ethnologist
doesn’t know what escapes him,
by not following me in the morning,
between powering on the computer
and the moment when I
come back to work on it.
But in the future,
he could send a spy camera
and then he will see me
having breakfast with two cups,
hanging out two towels,
placing two toothbrushes
in a glass..
Pardon me, dear ethnologist,
this is not really for you.
It’s for Gloria,
when she comes to clean for me,
and for passing friends.
It re-assures them.
They think : “Laura has got someone
in her life. She plays the mystery girl,
but I know the tell-tale signs”.
If they had any suspicion
about my encounters with you,
they’d be aghast.
In The Girl with the Golden Eyes,
Marsay refers to screen-women,
women you display
to hide the one that matters.
I’ve got a screen-man,
with my cups
and my towels
and my toothbrushes.
Only that he is hidden
and you’re invisible.
You can’t make a better
ménage à trois.
Well. Back to the grind.

Synthetic voice:
The Knowledge-standard…
When you saw the knowledge
available on the net,
you could smile.
But that was exactly their game:
to circulate information
ever further and faster.
In past times, to lend
weight to money,
they sought a dense, rare material
to act as a pledge
inside coffers.
They chose gold.
Now money has become
invisible and volatile,
so the new power needed a pledge
that was invisible and volatile too.
They found Knowledge.
Atoms of knowledge
crossed through our screen,
It was into Knowledge’s black holes
where this century’s dreams
of power fell, this unending century.
Sometimes the screen tore into black
shapes reminiscent of other forms,
those where the century
had made the blueprints
for its own suicide,
engraving images in our minds
images of ruins:
The ruins of Coventry and
Berlin, of Dresden and Stalingrad.
The ruins of Okinawa.

Yesterday I set the puzzle
as the screensaver.
Quite appropriate.
I have the impression that
you left me in a huge puzzle,
and the discouraging thought
that, in the end,
there’d probably be no image.
Now, this would be a pretty
modern idea of a puzzle,
one that would only
depict itself.
Our grandmothers’ puzzles
showed the Mona Lisa,
or the Night Watch.
I imagine the perfect gift
for the century’s end,
that might be
an Yves Klein puzzle.

Strategy games are made
to win back lost battles,
aren’t they?
Did you really believe a player
would be capable to spend his nights
watching history repeating itself,
and convincing himself that
his own history would also
just have a single way
to be played?
I tried the Marienbad game.
After a few moves the computer said:
“I won already,
but we may go on if you like”.
Death could say that.

The south of Okinawa
is an anthill
with thousand of caves and tunnels
fortified by High Command.
The frontline is at Shuri,
where Ushijima’s headquarters were.
With him, General Cho,
a hardline nationalist,
involved in the coup d’etat
in Manchuria in 1931,
the Sino-Japanese prelude
to World War Two.
There is also Colonel Yahara,
a man as reflective
as Cho is loud.
He too plays by the book.
Reading the archives, you find proof
the three of them know:
their mission’s suicidal.
The battle cannot be won.

Yet there were bombastic bulletins
and tracts proclaiming victory.
Doubters received drastic punishment.
In April and May,
Cho launched mad counter-attacks.
Since the battle is lost,
samurai spirit is what counts.
The Japanese soldiers practising
bayonet drill
on live prisoners,
or choking babies in caves
so the enemy don’t hear them,
don’t sound so samurai-like.
But those committing suicide
with grenades
in the subterranean Navy HQ
are truly in the grand tradition.

But Maginot Lines never hold.
Outside, the US attack progresses.
Another famous photo shows
the Tomori lion
surrounded by infantry men.
I wonder what the first GI thought
when he saw that critter.
The lion still guards
its village,
since its mission was to protect it.
Visitors never fail
to leave coins in its mouth,
for good luck.
They chuck coins in the tunnels too.
In a bunker like this,
Yahara writes in his diary
that before the final rout,
he took the time
to destroy all his papers
and rearrange the furniture
“to leave a good impression”.

I found one Kinjo
in one of your listings,
I was obsessed by that boy
who had killed his family
to obey a tacit order
engraved on his child’s mind.
“No one falls into
enemy hands alive”.
The syllables of his name sum it up.
I was disappointed.

That Kinjo is in Yahara’s book,
one of the many boys of Okinawa
drafted under the engaging motto:
“By blood and by iron”.
Not even soldiers,
they’re just trying to help out,
obeying orders.
Yahara describes him
going out by night,
under fire,
to get sugar-cane
for survival.
Then he ran home and
hid under the bed, like a puppy.
And Yahara thinks of his own son
and he starts to have doubts
about the War.
But the other Kinjo,
will I ever get to understand him?
I only know it happened
in the Kerama islands,
where we went on a day
so glorious.
A massacre seemed unimaginable.
The view over the archipelago.
“The fractal islands on Klein blue”,
you said,
simple as ever.
Goddess of Mercy’s temple,
her statue behind glass
that made her appear
in her place,
in the sky.
There was also
a magical Okinawa weaver.
Unavoidably, one calls
on all those myths
the knotted threads of man:
the Parcae, the Norns,
all the figures devised by men to say
life’s thread unravels
and breaks.
Do they spin Kinjo’s life still?
What would Kinjo think before
fractal islands and Klein blue?
Before the Goddess of Mercy?

A few visits to Heiwa Dori,
Naha’s indoors market,
and you become aware:
it is run by women.
All are connected with the War.
They are widows and orphans.
Sometimes survivors.
Most little girls of that age
experienced mobilization, propaganda,
a feeling that they too must fight.
The nurses at Himeyuri-no-to
became a symbol.
An obligatory tourist pilgrimage
in Okinawa.
It starts with a cheerful song,
which was their favourite.
Then the photo sessions.
And faces peering into a hole
that looks like a simple hole
in the ground.
This is the entrance
to the Himeyuri cave,
site of the 3rd surgical unit,
where 46 girls died suffocated
during the final attack,
when the Army disbanded
the Nursing Corps
and left them to their fate,
with orders not to surrender.

In the local museum,
there’s a diorama of the cave
with sound and light effects.
Next comes a “requiem” room
with portraits of the 206 pupils
and teachers of the Himeyuri College,
and eye-witness accounts.
As could be expected,
the choice of site was controversial.
Was too much
made of girls
from the Okinawa elite
when others were forgotten?
As if there were privileged martyrs.

This adds more sadness, this competition
of memory.
My dead are deader than your dead.
We had seen that too.
The Game had kept only the faces.
That was enough.

But to understand what happened,
one must climb down into the caves
with rope and a torch,
then turn out the light
and try to imagine
a teenage girl in the dark,
with rotten corpses and
amputation without anaesthetic.
The sound of maggots in live flesh.
and other sounds,
the shrieks of dying men,
the hungry begging
for amputated limbs
to be cooked.
Try to imagine that.
And also the wait for a resolution.
Most likely, liquidation
with flame-throwers.
Soon, Heiwa Dori will get normal traders
like any other.
Until then, the market
guards Okinawa’s memory.
Its ladies are grave-keepers.

I wish I could bring good news,
but the truth is that
the Network is not
what it was.
You said there is something
irretrievably vulgar about success.
OWL must be a success.
You wonder how some people
plug in.

A few days ago a man
in an Oberon mask asked me
if I was his baby donkey.
I felt a whiff of nostalgia.
I remembered the time when
you were all just weirdos
in Washington DC,
and thought that the only secrecy
left this over-bugged world meant
penetrating the most open network,
however, with passwords
to discourage the morons.
But there’s no discouraging morons.
You were part Robin Hood,
part secret society,
You were on raids for information,
like leaving Sherwood for supplies.
Then you retreated back
to your impenetrable lair.

I have to go out too,
to gather knowledge
about Okinawa,
and I feel like a hunted spy,
I’m afraid they’re after me.
And I wonder if it isn’t true.
Under those pussy-hound masks,
I discern true enemies,
people who want to know too much
or who already know too much.
Rings a bell. Wasn’t there
a strategy game about that?
Written by some peculiar guy?
Remind me his name…”
Sure I’ll give your name!

Now, I don’t mention Okinawa.
I sidestep: the end of
the Pacific campaign,
Ernie Pyle’s death,
as if Okinawa was a lethal word,
an “open, Sesame”. Only I don’t know
what it would open.

How come he knew about the Game?
To whom did you talk?
How stiffing suddenly
these unasked questions.
I get time-ache like headaches.
Here. It spins you inside.
You want to excise it, to get out,
and leave your head to its aches,
you want to go for a stroll.
Time should take care of itself,
leave me to here and now,
talking to cats,
feeling early spring sun
on my skin.
No way. Time drills into me.
I suffer electric shocks,
time neuralgia,
the image of a silent house,
a garden in snow,
a rainy day,
fondling a horse over a gate.
It is in me but not mine,
a migraine of time,
where time is just
pointless pain,
without sentiment or nostalgia,
the sting of time,
the sting of an invisible insect
you can do nothing about.

I was in Vézelay for two days.
I realised I’d forgotten the clue
which distinguishes genuine capitals
from restored ones.
Or was it the other way round?
I had the question, but
where there should have been the answer
there was a blank.

Could an angel scan my memory
and find the clue
which distinguishes
remembrance from oblivion?
An angel, like in the Jewish legend
you used to love so much:
One second before birth,
we know all about everything.
Plato used to say the same.
But, one second later,
an angel gives us a pat
and erases our memory, so man has
the honour of rediscovery,
if he’s up to it.
Does another angel come later
when, willy-nilly, we’ve gathered
our scraps of memory,
like refugees, and erase
the lot pat by pat?

If I forgot the clue
to the capitals,
so vivid last time
I was there,
what clues to you will I lose,
one by one?
The Gershwin song
we loved,
sung by Sarah Vaughan…
No, no they can’t take that away
from me…
The way you this,
the way you that…
They can’t take that away.
But, yes, angels can.
They can take everything
one day.

Here’s a piece Florence wrote.
it’s in her book of short stories,
To Be Read in an Elevator…
It was on an endless tour
in South America
that she bought Cocoloco,
the prettiest of parrots.
Everyday, to exorcise
awful shows,
shabby theaters,
dangerous and dirty hotels,
she devised an act with Cocoloco,
which exhaustion and fever
helped her consider brilliant.
Perhaps it was, after all.
She gathered up scraps
of news from a Europe
she loathed
and now regarded as Paradise Lost.
She conceived comic, poetic scenes,
with political satire…
Cocoloco was very good as Yeltsin…

A zaniness reproduced before
startled Indians,
startled but friendly.
Each night took her closer to home.
Closer, in her delirium,
to a triumphal return, with her
and Cocoloco
as kings of TV.

Too exhausted to take notes,
she rehearsed sketches in her head,
with brilliant repartee…
Yes, that was a blank,
but it would come back,
she knew.

And Cocoloco on her hand
would look so funny in close-up.
Then Cocoloco died of parrott-disease,
and, back in France,
she realised she’d forgotten it all.
You see, Cocoloco?
We’d have been a great act.
You would have spoken
just after me.
You would have said things.
You would have said things.
Things as fun as now.
Things as fun as now.
– Pretty Cocoloco.
– Pretty Cocoloco.
We would have been a hit.
We would have been a hit….
You and me in America.
You and me in America.
– You’re so sweet, Cocoloco.
– You’re so sweet, Cocoloco.
Do you forget stuff too?
Do you ever forget things?
– Do you ever…
– Does the little angel come to you?
Does the little angel…?
– And, with a pat, erase…
– And, with a pat, erase…
– the memory of things?
– the memory of things?
Do you too hover…
between remembrance and oblivion?
Between remembrance and oblivion…
Cocoloco, say something!
Have you forgotten everything too?
You too refuse to speak,
The angel has erased the lot.
You too.
All you remember is your name.

— Houston: Let there be light
This film hasn’t been seen in 35 years.
Demoralising, the army censors said.
More moralising was John Wayne
in The Sands of Iwo Jima,
that got shown in wartime
with unexpected results.
The Star turned up in cowboy garb
at a naval hospital,
and got booed!

An episode in a war of images
that soon coincided with real war.
It started here,
at Iwo Jima,
with that famous scene.
Or with another scene, in Borneo.
Each scene has its tale.

I know where Gustave is from.
You told me his name was Gustave.
I’d seen him a hundred times.
Nobody had ever filmed
a man burning alive so close,
a lulu for war documentaries.
The unknown soldier, in full kit,
holding his own flame.
He was carted around battlefields,
like a war-artist on tour
with a unique act.
Gustave in the Philippines,
Gustave in Okinawa.

I even saw him in a Vietnam movie,
still burning 20 years later.
I viewed so much newsreel
I knew Gustave at birth.
Filmed in Borneo,
by Australians.

The interesting thing is that,
at the end of the original shot,
you can tell he doesn’t die.
He gets up again.
You feel he’ll get over it
like the napalm girl in Saigon.
That ending has always been cut
in all documentaries.
A born symbol doesn’t get out
of it so easily!

He testifies against war,
you cannot weaken his testimony
for the sake of a few frames.
Truth? What is truth?
The truth is, most didn’t get up.
So what’s so special about this one?
The ethics of imagery?
Is napalm ethical?
Are you in favour of napalm?
Whose side are you on, comrade?

Private Ira Hayes knew his side.
He was a US Marine,
brave and disciplined.
He was told to pose, with five pals,
to re-stage the picture. He didn’t waver.
It was for the cause.
Those who had put up the flag
in combat, were gone.
They took six others.
It wasn’t much,
just a set-up,
there’d be more like it,
the original was uninspiring anyway.
Hayes never got over it.
He wasn’t to blame,
he had fought with the best,
but he’d been asked to lie.
Simple soul,
he couldn’t live with that lie.
He couldn’t tell the truth,
the Corps honour was at stake,
so he took to drink,
and died in poverty.
The picture has become an icon.
It was used in Sarajevo
in 1994,
but not to hail the US Marines.

The Army would gladly have done
a replay in Okinawa,
but Marine Corps
Public Relations
was unbeatable.
and Okinawa wasn’t that simple.
Mabuni Museum shows war as chaotic
and hard to represent,
and unpresentable.
But – as in the books and films –
the smell of battle is missing.
Till we get smellies, like talkies,
war films don’t exist. Just as well,
I swear there’d be no audience.

{ ] ]

I remember the fear
and I have really experienced the feeling
of being a part of Japan at war.
That is why I particularly feel,
since my job is film-making,
that Japanese war films are rubbish.
They deal only with themselves,
how they suffered from the war,
how brave and painful it was,
They never show the other side.

Once again, Oshima
pointed the way.

‘Once again’ — as in Sans Soleil:
“As for the students, some massacred each other
in the mountains in the name of revolutionary
purity, while others had studied capitalism so
thoroughly to fight it that they now provide it
with its best executives. Like everywhere else
the movement had its postures and its careerists,
including, and there are some, those who made a
career of martyrdom.”

Laura went on to study
how each side depicted the enemy.
It was none always pleasant.

We were taught that Westerners
were demons. We were told
if US troops captured us
they’d cut off our noses and ears,
cut off our fingers.
They would drive tanks over our bodies,
and rape our women.
We would suffer horribly, then die.
We were so imbued with all this
that it seemed better
to suppress our loved ones,
than leave them to the enemy,
For them, it would be a consolation
to die by the hand of a loved one.
Filled with this thought,
we lamented and, lamenting,
interrupted our mother’s life.

That’s where I recognised him: Kinjo.
The boy from the Keramas.

A village elder, a leader,
was snapping off a tree-branch.
I watched him,
Then, on his very hand,
the stick became a weapon.
As if having a seizure,
he began to beat the life out
of his wife and children,
whom he loved,
using just this piece of wood.
It was terribly shocking,
but telepathically
all of us thought
this was the thing to do
and others began to kill
the people they loved most.
They began with children,
with the weak and the old,
with those who lacked the strength
to take their own lives.
So husbands killed wives,
parents killed children,
brothers killed sisters.
They killed them because
they loved them.
Such was the tragedy
of those mass suicides.
It was a real butchery,
and the waters of the river
where they threw the bodies
became rivers of blood.

As for my own family,
my brother, who was
two years my senior,
and I raised our hand
for the first time
against the mother who had borne us.
At 19, my brother
could not help moaning.
He suffered so much.
My father went off to die.
We also killed our younger
brother and sister.

Afterwards, he sought
a glorious death in war
crossing enemy lines:
He was captured alongside soldiers
who had called capture dishonourable.
Mass suicides accompanied
the advance of US troops.
Together with Japanese executions
and casualities of war,
some 150.000 civilians died in Okinawa,
a third of the population.
No other group suffered so,
except in the Nazi camps.
Europeans, surviving this,
might have turned to Buddhism.
Kinjo found Christianity.
He became a minister.
He offers his memory
to help others decipher theirs.
He wants Japan to acknowledge
its war crimes,
and mass suicides taught
in school books,
not ignored, or called madness.
He wants what nations and men
are least capable of:
that memory be faced,
and forgiveness asked.

If you look in the Bible,
you’ll see confessing your mistakes
and expressing repentance,
cleanses people of their past.
But Japanese mentality,
the way of thought,
considers that errors
committed in the past
remain errors forever.
They cannot be erased.
I decided that
my mission must be
to proclaim the value of human life
to counter the notion,
the ideology of the past,
that held life in such contempt,
for such was the lie they taught.
That was the motivation
for my becoming a missionary,
a Christian minister.

After the retreat from Shuri,
General Buckner
sent Ushijima,
in his Southern bastion,
an offer of honorable surrender.
The Japanese general reacted
with an outburst of laughter.
Was it laughter,
borne on the wind,
that prompted a frontline gunner?
Unknowningly, he aimed
at Buckner,
who was examining the ground,
and Simon Bolivar Buckner,
only US general
to die in combat,
failed to convince his enemies,
and died a few days before them.

It is said that Ushijima prayed
for Buckner when he died.
Then he and Cho
arranged the ending,
the only end they could conceive.

He doesn’t know how to harakiri.
You bet.

Seppuku is not,
in the European sense,
suicide, but the act
of giving oneself death.
The act of living through harshest pain
at the end.
That’s what seppuku is.
So to perform seppuku,
you must be in good health,
very well-balanced,
with enough energy
to make a gift of death.
Pulling a trigger is not enough,
nor is swallowing pills,
nor stepping out into the void.
You must touch yourself
to the end,
with living energy.

What should one make
of the piety
that surrounds
the tombs at Mabuni Hill?
Hard to believe these quiet people,
these quiet girls
born thirty years later,
are nostalgic for imperial times.
Are we to believe
that sacrifice erase everything?

When you say “it happened here”,
something deep inside us
That is why many people come
spontaneously, join hands and pray.
Myself, knowing or learning
the nature of this place,
I’d offer incense and pray.
That’s all I need to know.

One wonders what a Japanese general
has in mind when he offers
his life to the Emperor.
Thanks to Yahara,
we know.
The last thing Cho
tells him is:
“Remember the French film
we saw
in Saigon, in ’41?”
It was Waves of the Danube,
with extras posing as gypsies.
And the music Cho heard
while disembowelling himself,
watching the horizon for the last time,
was Black Eyes.


Am I going mad?
I used to see you
I recognised you from afar,
I went back to the places we loved,
the Jardin des Plantes,
the little farm
at the Bois de Boulogne,
the shore beneath the Golden Gate
where Kim Novak feigns suicide
in Vertigo…

I’d see a man from behind,
looking at parrots,
or sitting among goats,
or leaning against a rail,
and it would be you.
Then I’d come closer,
he’d turn round, be someone else.
I’d wonder how anyone
could replace you so fast.
In my moment of distraction,
not more than a split second…

Now it’s the same in the Network.
Someone calls, it’s you,
I know by tell-tale signs,
a special word only we would use.
Then I’d question him,
and he’d shy away,
not like you anymore.
Then another sign.
Is this a game?
Is it you teasing me?

One day, one woman
knows too much,
too much about you, about me,
about the Game, about everything.
We are plugged into the masks gallery.
I ask her to show me hers
and on the screen I see this.


The end of the battle is written
in the deep, by Okinawa,
where Oshima,
surveyor of memories,
filmed underwater graveyards.

Okinawa was
the Japs’ sute-ishi,
their sacrificial pawn.
If the price was high enough,
the US
would shrink from invading
Japan’s main island
and peace could be made.
The reality was,
it made the case
for the Atom Bomb.
Without Okinawa’s resistance,
Hiroshima would not have been,
and the century would’ve been different.
Which means that in all respects,
our lives were fashioned by events
that took place in that little island,
between the moment
when Kinjo killed his family,
and general Ushijima’s

Now Laura saw
the Game couldn’t change history.
It would repeat it, in a loop,
with an obstinacy that was
as respectable as it was futile.
Storing the past
in order not to revive it
was so 20th Century.
She talked of it
in a detached fashion now,
as if she’d come to a limit;
beyond it, the Game
was not hers any more,
nor was History.

I knew she spent the nights
in conversations with Masks.
I asked what she was looking for.
She responded:
Level Five, of course,
in a tone that made you think
she was cured, that for her
the War was over.
Naturally, I was wrong.


Last night: fun dialog
with a mask.
A Harfang owl mask,
so I listened.
Having some knowledge about Harfang,
in our days,
shows some culture.
Disappointing, as usual.
When he went for a date
I really got him:
“Think of all the time we’ve saved
in just five minutes:
Six months of passion,
two years of jealousy,
four years’ infidelity,
eight of misunderstandings,
reconciliation one spring,
one summer of fighting,
one autumn of breaking up,
one winter of despair,
just work it out.
Bye and thanks
for the time saved”.
He found nothing to say.

And you?
Shall I thank you?
The list I gave him, so as to shine,
did time have it in store for us?
Do I see me, in ten years time,
separated from you,
reading in the paper you’ve died,
a feeling of something
already seen,
already lost,
the faraway echo
of something I don’t know,
— your absence now —
which I wouldn’t have known,
but would have felt within me,
as if my programmer foresaw it all,
what happened, what
might have happened?


Like when you search for a word
that escapes you.
“I had it on the tip of my tongue”.
I’d have your death
on the tip of my memory,
I’d have thought:
“There was a time when…”
But then there was another time,
the time of my list,
from jealousy to deceit,
and that time would mute our time,
mute the echo of our life.
Everything would have been
as though through a wall,
barely audible…
Like when rescuers search
through a wall of rubble,
they always come too late.
And you?
What would you have kept?
One day my image would
begin to blur,
you’d realise the scraps
of words,
scraps of life
filling your memory,
were shifting out of focus.

Must I thank you too?
Thank you for this gift
of a life in which
there wasn’t enough time
for something mediocre to slip in,
neither lies nor cruelty.
So swift that the ordinary gremlins,
that sneak into everyday life,
haven’t had the chance to get to us.
They met a shut door:
“Closed for a death”.
So annoying for them.
Nothing for them in the will.
A life, a body, untouched,
on which there wasn’t
time enough to spot
the first signs
of lovelessness,
or relinquishment.
A real fairy-tale, one of them
falls asleep
and never changes.
There’s no greater gift.
Shall I thank you?
I thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.


I never saw Laura again.

He added the final sentence of the novel,
“He never saw Molly again”, at the last
minute in a deliberate attempt to prevent
himself from ever writing a sequel, but
ended up doing precisely that …

The workshop seemed unchanged,
the machines were on,
as if she had just
stepped out.
Our loyal screensaver cat
kept watch.
and the OWL mail page
was open.
the program had been left open on the
page “Corriedo de Beluel”.
Mechanically, I typed in her name.
(“I dont’t know how to Laura”)
He didn’t know that either.


Guillaume, pourquoi est-ce que toi, un chat, tu guides
les souris dans “Immemory”:


Tu vas longtemps servir de guide imm/’emorial?


Toi que es un chat virtuel, as-tu peur de la
technologie? Le cinema autorise la manipulation
de l’image, mais l’informatique ne rend-elle
pas les choses encore pires?


Peux-tu m’expliquer la diff/’erence entre “Immemory”
et une autobiographie de Chris Marker?


Y a-t-ilune vie apr\`es Immemory?



(2011) ->
(2011) ->,1153715,1158718
(23 Oct, 2001 — note the date, CM’s message was forwarded by Dominique Vieillard)


Annotations { }, links and otaku-style Forschungstechnik:
Dirk Kuhlmann, Technical Research Director,

Entering Level Five

More on this film to come… I am watching it multiple times and seeing what my mind can find to put down in terms of thought, the play of concepts, rumination and the like. I am finally entering Level Five. is also celebrating, if you can call it that, a hosting move – up a level – and not without its ‘game over’ moments. If you have had difficulties reaching the site in recent days, that is why. Things did not go as smoothly as hoped, mostly due to climbing up the rather steep learning curve on the Linux command line, followed by some DNS disturbances in the force. Please, if you have any issues with the site, I would appreciate it if you notified me via the contact form. The site should be much faster in load time and overall performance now, as it is using a solid state drive and the latest LAMP technologies. I have also adjusted some typographic minutiae and added the ‘related posts’ feature you’ll see below, which I’m finding does a commendable job – an A+ algorithm, thanks to developer Adknowledge. The plugin serves to unearth some older material buried in the site’s archives and provide more labyrinthian reading paths, just as Borges would have it.

We will also have more to report soon on Dialector 6, Marker’s Apple II long unknown converse-with-computer project. (Perhaps it was his willingness to tackle that command line that paved the way for me, un- or semi-consciously). To wit, a friend and long-time correspondent has managed to reconstruct a version of the source code, via some ingenious screenscraping and reverse engineering. We hope with his blessing to make this available under a liberal license and let you play directly with Marker’s invention. DK, are your ears getting warm?

I’ll leave you with a quote I just rediscovered, as the result of a bad habit of buying books off Amazon late at night. I believe this quote, while not entirely unproblematic, holds some meaning for Chris Marker’s style of writing, bricolage, and exploration of the caméra stylo aka ‘essay film’:

Properly written texts are like spiders’ webs: tight, concentric, transparent, well-spun and firm. They draw into themselves all the creatures of the air. Metaphors flitting hastily through them become their nourishing prey. Subject matter comes winging towards them. The soundness of a conception can be judged by whether it causes one quotation to summon another. Where thought has opened up one cell of reality, it should, without violence by the subject, penetrate the next. It proves its relation to the object as soon as other objects crystallize around it. In the light that it casts on its chosen substance, others begin to glow.
– T.W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott, 95

Level Five: Filmnotes @ PFA + argos/arte

Pacific Film Archive Notes

A woman, a computer, an invisible contact: this is where Marker’s new film begins. Laura’s job is to design a video game based on the battle of Okinawa, a tragedy little known in the West but which played a determining role in the outcome of World War II, in the postwar period, and even in our own day. But unlike classic strategy games, where the goal is to change the course of history, the aim of this game is to recreate the events of history exactly as they happened. Working on "Okinawa," Laura meets informers and actual witnesses of the battle (among them filmmaker Nagisa Oshima) on a mysterious Internet-like network. She gradually assembles pieces of the puzzle until one day they begin interfering with her life.

Written by Marker. Photographed by Marker, Gérard de Battista. With Catherine Belkhodja, Kenji Tokitsu, Nagisa Oshima. (106 mins)


Argos / Arte VHS Notes

un film de Chris Marker avec Catherine Belkhodja, la participation de Oshima Nagisa, Tokitsu Kenji, Ushiyama Ju’nishi et le témoignage du Révérend Shigeaki Kinjo

Une femme (Laura), un ordinateur, un interlocuteur invisible : tel est le dispositif à partir duquel LEVEL FIVE se construit. Cette femme a “hérité” d’une tâche : terminer l’écriture d’un jeu vidéo consacré à la bataille d’Okinawa – une tragédie pratiquement inconnue en Occident, mais dont le déroulement a joué un rôle décisif dans la façon dont la Deuxième Guerre mondiale s’est achevée, et même, on le verra, dans ce que fut l’après-guerre, dans ce qu’est notre présent.

Singulier jeu en vérité. A l’inverse des jeux de stratégie classiques dont le propos est de renverser le cours de l’Histoire telle qu’elle s’est accomplie. Mais en travaillant sur Okinawa, en rencontrant par l’intermeédiaire d’un mysterieux réseau parallèlle à Internet des informateurs et même des témoins de la bataillle (parmi le cinéaste Nagisa Oshima), Laura accumule les pièces de la tragédie, jusqu’au moment où elles commencent à interférer avec sa propre vie.

Comme tous les jeux vidéo, celui-ci avance par “niveau”. Laura et son interlocuteur, intoxiqués par leur entreprise, ont fini par en faire une métaphore de la vie elle-même, et distribuent des levels à tout ce qui les entoure. Atteindra-t-elle LEVEL FIVE ?

1997 · COULEURS · 106 MIN

For a perceptive essay on Level Five, see Andrew Tracy’s piece on Reverse Shot – Museum of the Moving Image, from which we have gratefully borrowed the image used above.
«“I’ll have to give these images to my friend Chris one day, see if he can make any sense of them,” says Laura (Catherine Belkhodja), the protagonist of Level Five; “Chris, the editing wunderkind,” she slyly adds.»

See also the Beta Transcript for Level Five here: chris-marker/level-five-transcript-beta.