Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara (Viz Pictures, NR)

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yoshitomonara-header.jpgAlthough it shows the artist at work and interviews him about his life, to its everlasting credit the film doesn’t try to explain Nara's creative process.





Yoshitomo Nara is a cult figure in Japan and he's pretty well-known in the West as well: he had a show right here in St. Louis at the Contemporary Art Museum in 2004-2005. If you follow Japanese pop art at all you're probably familiar with his work—enigmatic little girls with huge heads and solemn expressions, smooth white dogs which seem to have been constructed out of cigarettes—and the combination of playfulness, menace, and mystery which characterizes it. You can see some examples at this web site:

Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara is a documentary which follows the artist for a year as he installs exhibitions and makes public appearances around the world, culminating in the massive exhibition AtoZ in his hometown of Hirosaki, Japan. Installing a Nara exhibition involves more than just hanging paintings on the walls and placing sculptures on pedestals: it requires construction of a "little house" within the gallery. The viewer must enter the house, sometimes climbing stairs or looking through peepholes in the wall, to see the works which are displayed within separate rooms.

Click for a larger image.Although it shows the artist at work and interviews him about his life, to its everlasting credit the film doesn't try to explain Nara's creative process. Instead, it is left as a mystery similar to that experienced by viewing his work. Documentary footage is intercut with narration by Aoi Miyazaki which sounds like a child's fairy tale, beginning with: "This is a story from an age not so long past. There was an artist who always worked alone. Neither has he been bothered nor has he bothered anyone."

The film begins and ends with the opening of the AtoZ exhibition in summer 2006, in which graf media created a small town of 26 houses (corresponding to the 26 letters of the English alphabet) for Nara's works within a brick warehouse. The film gives you an idea of what it must have been like to visit the exhibit: a total environmental experience in which you left the outside world behind and came to live in Nara's imagined world instead, however briefly. A driving rock soundtrack adds energy to the experience and the film also gives you a sense of how Nara's work connects with people, especially children who seem instinctively drawn to it.

Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara goes on sale September 15 and is the first film in the New People Artist Series by Viz Media which features the works of Japanese pop artists: later films in the series will present artist Yayoi Kusama ("queen of the polka dots"), photographer Daido Moriyama, painter Hisashi Tenmyouya, multi-media artist Makato Aida and sculptor Katsura Funakoshi. Judging by the first film in the series, they represent a real contribution toward making modern Japanese art better known and appreciated worldwide. Further information about the series is available at and the DVDs are available through the Viz Pictures web site The only extras on the disc are previews of other films in the series but the DVD comes with a four-page booklet which includes an essay by the director Koji Sakabe. | Sarah Boslaugh


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