Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big Man Japan

This just in from my friend Saskia in Kansas via Bad At Sports (browse this too if you haven't before.) Opens this Friday in Chicago at Facets Cinémathèque. Wish I could be there, but I'll have to settle for putting it on my Netflix wait list, or driving across town to Scarecrow.

From Facets:

“A middle-aged slacker living in a rundown, graffiti-ridden slum, Daisato’s job involves being shocked by bolts of electricity that transform him into a stocky, stick-wielding giant several stories high who is entrusted with defending Japan from a host of bizarre monsters. But while his predecessors were national heroes, he is a pariah among the citizens he protects, who bitterly complain about the noise and destruction of property he causes. And Daisato has his own problems – an agent insistent on branding him with sponsor advertisements, an Alzheimer-afflicted grandfather who transforms into a giant in dirty underwear, and a family who is embarrassed by his often cowardly exploits. A wickedly deadpan spin on the giant Japanese superhero, Big Man Japan is an outrageous portrait of a pathetic but truly unique hero. Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan, 2007, 35mm, 113 mins. In Japanese with English subtitles.”

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Making their Mark: Japanese Prints by sosaku hanga artists, 1930-80

Through July 18th, I am showcasing a group of 25 woodblock prints and print folios by a group of 18 artists who were part of the modern Japanese print movement known as sosaku hanga, or the 'creative print' movement. The sosaku hanga movement started in the very early years of the 20th century. Sosaku hanga artists rejected the techniques and prescribed content of traditional ukiyo-e prints. They were interested in exploring their own individual artistic expression rather than following in the footsteps of a teacher, or catering to the commercial motivations ukiyo-e publishers. These artists instead, looked around, and took subjects from their surroundings: a view out a kitchen window, a pet cat, or these peaches.

These artists also believed that everyone could be a printmaker - and in the beginning years, it seemed everyone was. Encouraged by each other, or a bona fide artist-friend (often a painter-turned-printmaker), or even by the general wave of interest in 'individualism' sweeping through Japanese society at the time, hundreds of neophyte printmakers tried their hand at carving and printing. Some produced only a handful of images. For others it was the beginning of decades-long printmaking careers.

This period, particularly sosaku hanga produced before WWII, I am finding to be one of my favorite periods and styles. I like it because of its emphasis on urban life, and the glimpse it gives into an emerging Japanese modern graphic style. I also love the challenge of tracking down some of these obscure artists, or finding early work by artists who are better known for their later prints. Truth be told, there are some bad sosaku hanga; when everyone thinks that they are an artist, there are bound to be some dogs in the final heap. But there are also so many fine prints that emerged from this period. I've enjoyed pulling together what I hope you will think is a good group. You can see the whole show here.

prints illustrated top to bottom: Peaches, 1925, by Tomoo Inagaki (1902-1980); Mars, 1968 &
Morning of New Year's Day, Ginza, 1958, both by Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995)