All photos are from the movie and attributed to the makers and the movie poster to Imdb.
Katsushika Hokusai’s ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) are probably one of the most recognisable series of artworks in the world. The Great Wave off Kanagawa is the quintessential visual of Japan. It has been replicated and reproduced in pop-culture and throughout Japan in and on a million different products. It is so iconic it is the only artwork to have it’s own emoji. Hokusai was influential, yet enigmatic and his life remains somewhat of a mystery.
The Japanese Film Festival in Australia is showing the movie, Hokusai, as part of the 2021 line-up. The film is directed by Hajime Hashimoto , and stars Yūya Yagira as a young Hokusai; Min Tanaka as the older Hokusai; and Hiroshi Abe as Jūzoburō Tsutaya. (For anyone having been to Japan, I am wondering if this publisher is the inspiration behind the bookstore’s name?)
The movie is a biopic journey through both the beginning and final periods of Hokusai’s career. As there is much information missing from the actual history, some poetic licence is taken, however, the story is beautifully woven.
Watching the movie is a visual joy. Many of the scenes capture the imagery of Hokusai’s prints, relatively verbatim. The depiction of wild, windy weather, and of this being captured by Hokusai, in situ, with brush and paper are stunning. The landscape shots of Hokusai walking in the country, hugging an enormous sugi (cedar) tree, and of various locations with views of Mt. Fuji are so well orchestrated, the original could well be transposed over the film image, perfectly.
Yūya Yagira captures Hokusai’s purported eccentricity and arrogance. He plays the brooding and moody young man so well, it is, at times, a little uncomfortable to watch. Especially when this behaviour is happening in situations so steeped with etiquette. He is a wonderful actor, and if you like Japanese film, I also highly recommend him in Nobody Knows.
Min Tanaka is a favourite of mine. He has a smile so filled with mischief, it fills the screen and is infectious. He plays the older Hokusai, from the age of about 70. This was when Hokusai produced a lion’s share of his (suspected) 30,000 pieces. His portrayal of the older artist is emotive and his wonderfully expressive face actually looks like Hokusai’s portraits of himself as an elderly man.
Hiroshi Abe’s character of Tsutaya is used brilliantly to paint the picture of how dire the art and publishing scene had become towards the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. There were many oppressive rules about “morally corrupt” paintings and prints, and censorship was rife.
I really enjoyed this movie. I learned that Katsushika Hokusai was predominantly a painter, not a woodblock artist, as I had previously believed. I was fascinated by the cinematography and the beautiful representation of the artworks throughout the movie. It is certainly one to seek out if you are a lover of Japanese art, Japanese history or an admirer of beautiful scenery.