Photo exhibition shows unknown sides of novelist Ogai Mori

Courtesy of Bunkyo Ward’s Mori Ogai Memorial Museum
Ogai Mori, right, is seen with his favorite horse in this photo colorized using artificial intelligence to clearly show details ranging from his facial expression to the horse’s glossy coat.

A special exhibition of photos of novelist Ogai Mori (1862-1922), commemorating the 160th anniversary of his birth and the centenary of his death, is currently being held at the Mori Ogai Memorial Museum in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

The title of the exhibition, “Shashin no Naka no Ogai: Jinsei o Kizamu Kao,” roughly translates, as “Ogai in photos: Life engraved on his face.” About 90 photographs of Mori from his young days to his later years shed light on his personal development. Notable are seven photos of Mori colorized by artificial intelligence, in which his face seems to almost pop out like a 3D picture. The colorized photos show a different side of the man known for a stern mien in other portrait photos.

The seven photos feature Mori and his family at their home in Sendagi, Tokyo. The AI made assumptions about the colors of the backgrounds and clothing based on data about the time and suggested a selection of colors, from which a human decision-maker chose the most suitable ones. One photo appeared in the magazine Nikoniko, which ran a special feature on smiles of celebrities. The photo is titled “Aiba to Ogai” (Beloved horse and Ogai), and shows Mori smiling faintly, with the corners of his lips lifted slightly. The colors have made the smile clearer.

Even the sunshine and the contrast in the light and dark colors of the clothing seen in the family photos were recreated with the AI method, making the novelist, who is often viewed as a being from a distant world, feel a little bit closer to visitors.

According to the museum, Mori used to describe his face as having been made by experience. Although the rest of the pictures on display are black-and-white photos, the collection taken on milestone occasions in his life are proof that experience did make his face. At the same time, one can almost read Mori’s feelings from the photos.

Mori entered the preparatory course of the medical school at the University of Tokyo when he was just 11, so he was always surrounded by students who were older than him. Photos from those days show him somewhat ill at ease as he is seen behind classmates or off to the side.

Among other photos are one taken with a descendant of the lord of the Tsuwano domain, which used to control Mori’s birthplace, and a rare image of Mori in a field of flowers wearing a military uniform.

The exhibition will continue through April 17. Some of the photos will be changed during the exhibition period. Admission is ¥500 per person, and is free for children up to junior high school age.