Infinite Escher: A High-Tech Tribute to M.C. Escher, Featuring Sean Lennon, Nam June Paik & Ryuichi Sakamoto (1990)

When tele­vi­sion appeared in Japan in the 1950s, most peo­ple in that still-poor coun­try could only sat­is­fy their curios­i­ty about it by watch­ing the dis­play mod­els in store win­dows. But by the 1980s, the Japan­ese had become not just aston­ish­ing­ly rich but world lead­ers in tech­nol­o­gy as well. It took some­thing spe­cial to make Toky­oites stop on the streets of Aki­habara, the city’s go-to dis­trict for high tech­nol­o­gy, but stop they did in 1990 when, in the win­dows of Sony Town, appeared Infi­nite Esch­er.

Pro­duced by Sony HDVS Soft Cen­ter as a show­case for the com­pa­ny’s brand new high-def­i­n­i­tion video tech­nol­o­gy, this short film caused passers­by, accord­ing to the video descrip­tion, to “gasp in amaze­ment at the clar­i­ty and sharp crisp focus of the pic­ture.”

Run­ning sev­en and a half min­utes, it tells the sto­ry of a bespec­ta­cled New York City teenag­er (played by a young Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono) who steps off the school bus one after­noon to find M.C. Esch­er-style visu­al motifs in the urban land­scape all around him: a jig­saw puz­zle piece-shaped curb­side pud­dle, a trans­par­ent geo­met­ri­cal­ly pat­terned bas­ket­ball.

When he goes home to sketch a few artis­tic-math­e­mat­i­cal ideas of his own, he looks into an awful­ly famil­iar-look­ing reflect­ing sphere and gets sucked into a com­plete­ly Escher­ian realm. This sequence demon­strates not just the look of Sony’s high-def­i­n­i­tion video, but the then-state-of-the-art tech­niques for drop­ping real-life char­ac­ters into com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed set­tings and vice ver­sa. In addi­tion to the visions of the Dutch graph­ic design­er who not just imag­ined but ren­dered the impos­si­ble, Sony also brought in two of the oth­er pow­er­ful cre­ative minds, Japan­ese musi­cian Ryuichi Sakamo­to to cre­ate the score and Kore­an video artist Nam June Paik to do the art direc­tion.

Watch­ing Infi­nite Esch­er today may first under­score just how far high-def­i­n­i­tion video and com­put­er graph­ics have come over the past 27 years, but it ulti­mate­ly shows anoth­er exam­ple of how Escher’s visions, even after the artist’s death in 1972, have remained so com­pelling that each era — with its own tech­no­log­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and aes­thet­ic trends — pays its own kind of trib­ute to them.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch M.C. Esch­er Make His Final Artis­tic Cre­ation in the 1971 Doc­u­men­tary Adven­tures in Per­cep­tion

Meta­mor­phose: 1999 Doc­u­men­tary Reveals the Life and Work of Artist M.C. Esch­er

Inspi­ra­tions: A Short Film Cel­e­brat­ing the Math­e­mat­i­cal Art of M.C. Esch­er

David Bowie Sings in a Won­der­ful M.C. Esch­er-Inspired Set in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

Good Morn­ing, Mr. Orwell: Nam June Paik’s Avant-Garde New Year’s Cel­e­bra­tion with Lau­rie Ander­son, John Cage, Peter Gabriel & More

62 Psy­che­del­ic Clas­sics: A Free Playlist Cre­at­ed by Sean Lennon

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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