Celestial Night

“To see is something you do with your whole body.
People today just uses their eyes.”

– Akiko Nagai, Historian

Japan embodies a unique amalgam where deeply rooted traditions exist alongside the ultra modernity’s incredible and immense rein of images. In the entire human history there is no equivalent to today’s relentless flow of images. Do they make us see – or is it really a sign of poverty? It is not a coincidence that sound, which I have worked intensely with, is now a rising media in the art world: the richness in trusting peoples own imagination has been (re)discovered.

In this film’s perspective Amayonomikoto – which means the “Emperor of the Celestial Night” – is the blind spot in the very self-understanding of present day visual culture – today there is nothing but pictures. Celestial Night will as a documentary on visibility operate disguised as any other documentary on the tv-networks, hopefully showing glimpses of this much larger tale of today’s visuality – of how we use our eyes today as opposed to earlier times.

“Sometimes people feel eased, easy, when they shoot, record – “Okay, I´m recording now, I don´t have to remember” – So, as I said, this hampers people’s memory”.

– Tetsuo Kanno, Assistant Manager, Sony Public Relations Department, Sony HQ, Tokyo


Celestial Night is a film on visibility questioning what it means to see. It is a film about what’s invisible except for the imagination. Celestial Night is a film dealing with a vital power: the ability to envision.

Celestial Night is a search in present day Japan for the mythical Japanese Emperor Amayonomikoto who was blind. It is the story of a time when seeing wasn’t believing. How could a blind rule over seeing?

It is also a story seen through the optics of today’s high visual culture epitomized in Japans world leading position in audiovisual equipment. A film told by a tourist overexposed by a strange place, seen for the first time, yet armed with one of these ever-present HandiCams, which for some – significant – reason is so important for today.

The search brings me – a tourist – and the viewer around Japan and its history, as seen through a kaleidoscope or prism, focusing on vision as suggested by a guidebooks Sights. The search directs me among other persons and places to Sony, asking about their product philosophy on their visual equipment, to Mrs. Akiko Nagai, the foremost cultural historian specialized in this unique and little known story of the blind Emperor in Japans history. And finally to Mr. Hôjun Nagata, the very last monk of the blind monk orders who during the ages has worshipped the blind Emperor as a God. Mr. Hôjun Nagata, who as a blind monk traditionally are credited with special powers and abilities denied to us seeing people. Who is, when push comes to shove, seeing for real?

The film is composed as a string of sequences connected by metaphors and associations. It is a personal attempt by me to both grasp and expose vision. In this sense it is not an objective historical research. It is a questioning hopefully arousing the spectators own gaze.

2003 / 2D
53 min

Director and producer: Michael Madsen, MASSPRODUCTION, Gallery Tusk

Selected Screenings & Awards

Hot Docs, 2003: World premiere, International Showcase
E-phos, Greece
Nordic –Swedish Film Festival, Tokyo, Japan
Jihlava, Czech Republic
Stuttgarter Filmwinter, Germany.
Infinity Festival, Italy.
Fribourg International Film Festival, Switzerland

ARTE by commisioning editor Doris Hepp
YLE by commisioning editor Leena Passanen