This latest film as part of the British Museum Presents/strong> series is a fascinating look at the life and times of Katsushika Hokusai , who is often regarded as Japan’s greatest artist , in the exhibition that was in London at the British Museum May 25 – August 13 2017.
It concentrates specifically on the last 30 years of his long life in the great, bustling metropolis of Edo, modern Tokyo .We see both Hokusai’s prints of Edo and today’s Tokyo . Eagerly introduced by arts presenter Andrew Graham-Dixon, the film features interviews with artists David Hockney, Grayson Perry and Maggi Hambling, we learn about his life and influences and the various woodblock techniques used .
The documentary focuses especially on two works – THE GREAT WAVE and RED (PINK) MOUNT FUJI . It concentrates on works he produced in the last 30 years of his life from his 60’s (when he considered life began again) to his death at 90.
Hokusai produced hundreds of impressions of his most famous works in woodblock prints and some prints vary slightly because the woodblock suffers from wear and tear.
The film uses extremely detailed close-ups and pioneering 8K Ultra HD video technology, where Hokusai’s paintings and prints are examined by world experts who are at the forefront of digital art history. Hokusai spent his life studying and celebrating our common humanity ( think of his drawings of various workers) as well as deeply exploring the natural and spiritual worlds, ( frogs, fish , waterfalls, dragons , ghosts , demons and gods etc – eg Shoki and Kohada Koheiji from One Hundred Ghost Tales, ) and how he used the famous volcano Mount Fuji as a protective presence and potential source of immortality ( there is his major work 36 Views of Mount Fuji of which The Great Wave is one) .
We also see his drawings of drunken poetry competitions, of kabuki stars, of courtesans and everyday life in Edo.
Hokusai’s life is set in context with references to ’The Floating World’. We learn how he knew much tragedy, was struck by lightning (which he considered changed his life and enabled him to become a great artist, answering his prayer) and lived for years in poverty, but never gave up his constant striving for perfection in his art. Hokusai in a way created modern art in Japan , is an artist who influenced Monet, Van Gogh , Seurat and other Impressionists, produced illustrated novels , is regarded as the father of manga ( comic books) and is the only painter with his own emoji.
Commissioned by the Dutch East India Company (known as the VOC) in 1822 to produce a series of scenes of everyday Japanese life, he produced a group of innovative paintings striking because of their inclusion of deep European style perspective and simultaneously abstraction as well as the use pf Prussian Blue pigment which made the work more attractive to foreign audiences.
The self-described ‘Old man mad about painting’ was known by at least thirty names during his lifetime and was renowned for his at times eccentric behaviour. He travelled and moved his studio and home regularly, finding inspiration for his unique style through close observations of nature and interactions with ordinary people. We also learn that he was a Nichiren Buddhist, and that there were profound religious reasons for this constant renewal.
Graham-Dixon is extremely enthusiastic in a David Attenborough way and we have interviews with major Hokusai experts and various artists who talk about his influence and also fascinatingly about his daughter Eijo and her struggles to be acknowledged as an artist in her own right.
Most of the screening is an examination of his life and times, placing the artist in context but we also get to see the exhibition – featuring lots of exquisitely hung long scrolls and so on from various galleries and museums around the world in a rare chance to see these works all in one place. We are privileged to see all these as we are reminded that because of the fragility and possibility of light damage mostly the works are kept rolled up away from light for years at a time.
A fascinating exploration of this great artist’s life and times but I would have liked to have seen more of his earlier works as well.
Running time allow 90 minutes no interval.
Hokusai : After the Great Wave screens at selected cinemas from 18 November 2017