David Bull: The Great Wave (2015)

A Hello

Now that I am free from posting on IMDB, I can watch films and study alternative film sources that matter. Movies emerged from a context. I understand that context in the West well enough for my purposes. The narrative devices I study are inherited from literary traditions, but I need to spend more time with religious iconography and stained glass.

Japanese film is a special interest, both by itself and the influence the traditions and devices from them and the current mainstream merged.

Here we have double value. This is a ‘film’ in a documentary sense about a tradition that I believe was influential, so I will comment on both the value of this and its context.

This is a series of 16 Youtube videos presented by a Canadian woodblock artist working in Japan. He had a kickstarter campaign to reproduce Hokusai’s famous “Great Wave”. We follow him through the process of selecting a source to copy, then the travails of carving and printing to satisfy his impatient clients.

Youtube is intrinsically short form, or started out that way. What we get here is certifiably long form narrative, with multiple threads. One thread is the intended: he has kickstarter clients and he wants to capture the process of creating the woodblock print he has promised. The source is surely the most famous of Japanese woodblocks. He is late, has many problems and explains in some detail what they are and how they addressed. This alone is worth the time, because it gives us a window into the craft.

In parallel, we have his investigation into which of the many copies we have are original, and when reproductions, which is earlier. A startling bit of information is that indications of rushed craftsmanship are indicators of the original, because when new, it was simply one of an ordinary series. Only later when Western buyers went nuts over it was the cutting improved — at least for some editions. There’s an intriguing bit of detective work, which reminds me greatly of similar studies of Shakespeare’s plays, or even the Gospels as they were invented.

And then we have a bit of autobiography of a fairly interesting man, clearly driven by his art. He is Canadian, living in Japan, adopting one of their most Japanese traditions — possibly the only one that in the modern era can be done in solitary mode. (Though for this project, he subs out the printing to a long-lived family operation.) It is a fascinating study. Each episode ends in him displaying the Tokyo neighbourhoods to us, by way it seems of sharing his own successful transplanting.

Finally, this ‘film’ improves our understanding of Ozu and reactions against that style. The reactions are what we (in the US) know as Japanese filmmaking.

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.

YOUTUBE

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