I got one of my passports renewed earlier this year. The processes to get each passport are different, but I’d never had a problem until now: it turns out there is a small line no bigger than two millimeters long that I have added to my signature unconsciously over the years. Maybe my hands have grown tired, maybe they’re prone to certain involuntary movements as I’ve gotten older. That minuscule line was not present in the previous passport, so ten years later, I ended up being heavily scolded by a very young government worker for not being able to sign the same way. I was kept signing for 15 minutes, and then was asked to practice for another 15 because he was tired of having to print out the document again and again. But the thing is, if I omitted that line no bigger than two millimeters long, some other part of the signature looked affected, maybe with a longer line here or a bigger loop there. “The initial difference was barely noticeable. The more I am made nervous to get my own signature right, the less it will come out as you expect it to.” The young man finally gave in. “It’s for your safety, that’s all”, he argued. A line less than two millimeters long? Don’t the other traces matter? “Right.”
Today I was watching Wim Wenders’ documentary about Yohji Yamamoto (Notebook on City and Clothes, 1989), and there’s a scene where Yamamoto has to get his signature right on the storefront of one of the shops he is about to reopen. The signature tried to look the same every time Yamamoto signed, but his PR crew, I suppose, just wouldn’t have it. He even had to practice on the ground until he got it right. Yamamoto was smiling, though — a different experience entirely. But I was amused to see the level of identity and authenticity expected from others through something so personally-chosen and self-constructed as is someone’s signature.
I left the government offices wondering why impatient people tend to choose to make a career for themselves in such places, and after watching the documentary, I was left wondering if Yamamoto can still sign the same way he did 33 years ago.