September 1, 2006 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Japanese professor Kenji Sugimoto has a long-standing fascination with the brain of Albert Einstein. In the early nineties he travelled to the United States in search of it. This bizarre 1994 documentary (YouTube, multiple parts) by Kevin Hull (UK) chronicles his quest. Fake or real? [more inside]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (12 comments total)
The film is worth it for its absurd premise alone: The bumbling, eccentric Sugimoto is especially endearing, what with his limited English and his punctuating every other sentence with the suppressed-enthousiastic exclamation that quickly brands itself as his catchphrase: "Einsteinbrain!". The occasional presence of an interpreter doesn't seem to help him much.

And the progress of his quest is equally comical: Sugimoto's travels take him through six states and the District in search of a Dr. Harvey, the man who reportedly oversaw the autopsy of Albert Einstein's body upon his death in 1955.


Aside from its entertainment value as a subtly bizarre curiosity, as the film progresses the plot reaches newer and newer levels of strange. After many dead ends, Sugimoto finally locates a now elderly Dr. Harvey in Kansas. After gleefully pouring over a few formaldehyde-filled jars, the protagonist tries his luck and humbly asks Harvey for a piece of Einstein's brain. Harvey complies and dryly fetches a knife and a cutting board from the kitchen, proceeding to unceremoniously select a portion of Einstein's brain stem and cerebellum for the now ecstatic Japanese professor, who is now beside himself ooh-ing and hàw-ing at his newly obtained relic.

This calls for celebration in Japanese style: he attempts to relate his success story - still hardly intelligible - to an audience of half-drunk Kansasites, and proceeds to entertain the bar with a karaoke performance. Later, we see him on the plane home, musing about his hometown Nagasaki, the A-bomb, and Einstein, and how he doesn't blame him for the carnage. Then, the final revelation: the supposed famous neuroanatomist "Dr. Harvey" is shown at his current place of work, as an extruder apprentice at the Lawrence, KS metalworks.


If you've seen the film, it will be easy to imagine how many viewers have raised the question whether it is real or not. Director Kevin Hull apparently maintains that it tells a true story, and at least some of the names and places check out. This reviewer seems to think it is real as well. The IMDb is ambiguous, and Wikipedia mentions the controversy but offers no final word either.

Fittingly, this Dutch source informs me that the first airing of the film by the BBC was in 1994... on April Fools' Day.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:03 AM on September 1, 2006

See also Driving Mr Albert, an excellent book about the quest for Einstein's brain.
posted by Iridic at 10:06 AM on September 1, 2006

Worth reading is Driving Mr. Albert, an account of a roadtrip involving Dr. Harvey, the author and Einstein's brain in a jar.

To further the myth, there's one fellow who wonders if Dr. Harvey might also be Dr. Benway ... a connection that would make the whole matter all the more surreal.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:11 AM on September 1, 2006

I was working in British TV making documentaries at this time and I'm fairly certain it was real. I also don't believe that it first aired on April Fool's day.

No-one would have commissioned a fake documentary of this nature that I can think of.

By the way, you can download the whole thing here:
posted by unSane at 10:24 AM on September 1, 2006

So much for my documentary, I Ate Einstein's Brain.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:25 AM on September 1, 2006

When Hitler's brain hollers "Mach schnell! Mach schnell!," Einstein's (in a jar next to his on the back seat) calmly explains that velocity depends on the observer in a relativistic universe. Hitler, confined to his jar, can do nothing but spew invective.
posted by languagehat at 11:45 AM on September 1, 2006 [2 favorites]

Wasn't it shown in the Horizon slot on the BBC? Hardly the place for hoaxes
posted by A189Nut at 12:37 PM on September 1, 2006

I watched the whole thing, entirely fascinating.
posted by Addiction at 12:40 PM on September 1, 2006

I can't believe the brain's caretaker would cut Einstien's brain unceremoniously . ;)
posted by uni verse at 1:37 PM on September 1, 2006

See also.
posted by kimota at 1:46 PM on September 1, 2006

I wrote about this last year, when Einstein was in the news, as it still fascinated and perplexed me. It really was first shown on April Fool's Day, and just seemed too bizarre to be true, yet didn't have the usual telltale signs of a prank.
posted by malevolent at 7:04 AM on September 2, 2006

my documentary, I Ate Einstein's Brain.

I bet it tasted like Formaldehyde
posted by matteo at 8:04 AM on September 2, 2006

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