This is by far the oddest photo book I own. Published in 1971, “Olele Olala” is a cross between a travel monograph and commercial photoshoot. As per the “Photobook: A History Vol. III” by Parr and Badger: “Kishin Shinoyama is one of Japan’s best-known commercial photographers, probably the country’s most successful commercial photographer, renowned for his celebrity portraits and his female nudes, where he rivals even Nobuyoshi Araki.”
If the funky graphic cover doesn’t give the nature of the book away, the intro does not leave you guessing: “Kishin Shinoyama and his mad crew challenge Brazil. The land of dazzling sex craze at the other end of the globe!! Here!! The human document of his bitter comic struggle for 25 days!” “Olele Olala” was commissioned by Hitachi Corp. to help market their electric shavers, which are featured sporadically throughout the book. It’s this strange juxtaposition that makes this such a startling photo book.
“Olele Olala” starts out with ariel views of “Christ the Redeemer” over looking Rio. The flyover continues over hillside slums crowded with small houses, commercial areas of the city and beaches teaming with people. The next sequence is of lively street carnivals which are melting pots of cultures and races. The shots are dark and underexposed with dashes of colour. Plenty of scantily clad women dressed in sequinned bikini costumes. Certain images of street carnival revelers are repeated and close cropped for effect.
The second half of the book jumps between shots of these street carnivals and pictures of naked women on the beaches and indoors. The washed out colours of the photos make the scenes more strange. Awkwardly, at this point, we are suddenly presented with a glossy full colour foldout advert for Hitachi Electric Shavers. The product is being held by men in bathing suits surrounded by bikini clad women on the beach. There’s no hiding the fact that sex is being used to sell these shavers.
“Olele Olala” is an iconic photo book that encapsulates an era and a specific culture of photography. It openly celebrates photography, the female form and electric shavers in equal measure. Boldy combining Japanese erotic and commercial photography into one package with no hidden agenda.
Just discovered your website. I was the cinematographer who follow Kishin Shinoyama around with my 16mm Beaulieu documenting him for what became a 15-minute commercial documentary, sponsored by Hitachi. “Jelmi in Rio” was mostly in-camera edited, with lots of experimental swoops shooting mostly with my Angenieux 5.9 superwide lens. Brazilians are really narcissistic and love to be photographed, no matter how gross they look.
The Japanese film crew were like an invading army, very organized and tyrannical. Shinoyama would be firing away with his motor drive, screaming “Jumping! Jumping! More! Smile! Smile!” until the “models” (mostly ordinary citizens who got a free shaver for their trouble) were grimacing. I had fun in spite of all but you could see the Japanese were all work and no play. Actually “play” in Japan is no different from “work” in my experience (I’ve been there there on and off since 1962). Except that you don’t get paid for it.
The success of the “Hitachi Jelmi” ad campaign – it really was a shitty little battery-powered shaver we were advertising – gave rise to a second venture, at the Calgary Stampede in western Canada. This time the guy who edited my film, Ohbayashi Nobuhiko, came along for the shoot. He’s almost as famous as Shinoyama as a film director but like practically all contemporary Japanese cinema his work is pretty dreadful.
I had no contact with them after that. Shinoyama dwelt in too rarefied a realm for a poor experimental filmmaker
What a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us
Looking forward to reading more of your adventures.