Yukichi Watabe

Yukichi Watabe is mainly known in the West for A Criminal Investigation, a photo report that retraces the investigation into the terrible “case of the severed body”. His work is strongly marked by the aesthetic of film noir, through his framing and the narrative aspect of his images. He reveals a Japan that is marked by all of the transformations that began after the defeat of 1945, caught between traumatisms from the war, tradition and Westernised modernity.

Born in 1924 in the north of Japan, Watabe learned photography in 1943 at a well-known publishing house, Tokyo Koga-sha. In 1946, he published his first photographic series Repatriate Train, in the Sun Photo News, which showed the return of Japanese war veterans and refugees in his hometown, Sakata. Before becoming a freelance photographer, he spent another three years as an assistant to the famous photographer Tamura Shigeru.

The 1950s marked the apogee of his career. During this period, he covered most of the major historic and political events of Tokyo. Many of his photos appeared in specialised magazines such as Gendai, Bungei Shunju and Chuo Koron. In 1958, he obtained authorisation to follow the police in one of their investigations, which led to the production of the film A Criminal Investigation. In this film, he follows the movements of a policeman from the capital, wearing Western clothes as he visits traditional working-class neighbourhoods.

In 1989, he obtained the Higashikawa Prize, the most prestigious Japanese award for a photographer. He died in 1993.


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