Thursday, 4 October 2012



Many of our customers may already be familiar with the French Impressionist painter Jean Pierre Dubord as a selection of his works are offered for sale on the Japanese Tex-style website.

Born in Rouen in 1949, he has lived all his life in Normandy. Whilst very well known in France he has also made successful inroads into the American and Japanese art markets. Japan has had a particular influence on his life from his very first visit. Prior to this Jean Pierre knew little about this country and it's rich heritage. Of course he was aware of the influence of Japanese culture and woodblock prints on the early French Impressionists. Claude Monet was a collector, he painted Camille Monet in Japanese Costume (La Japonaise) in 1876. Edgar Degas and Eduard Manet also had a fascination with this oriental style.

Jean Pierre's first trip to Japan was in July and August 1996 when he was invited to attend three exhibitions of his own works and those of other French artists. The first was in Nara ( The House of Exhibitions) and then to Kyushu with shows in Nobeoka and Akata. These exhibitions were very successful and led to over thirty more shows in the following years. He travelled extensively to Kobe, Osaka and Tokyo. There were two shows in Sapporo and one in Otaru. Here in Hokkaido his translator was asked by many Japanese people if he was Russian which he found very amusing.


With shows in Hiroshima, at the university, he visited the Peace Museum and the famous Miyajima Torii gate which is often captured in his paintings. The gate is situated close to the famous Itsukushima shrine (a Shinto shrine residing on the island of Itsukushima popularly known as Miyajima in the city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima prefecture)

The view of the gate in front of the island's mount Misen is classified as one of the three famous views of Japan (the other two being Matsushima bay in Miyagi prefecture and Amanohashidate, a sandbar located in Kyoto) all three have been depicted by Hiroshige in his famous views of the sixty provinces.

The gate is made of painted camphor wood which is decay resistant. Whilst it only appears to be floating at high tide, when the tide is low, it is approachable by foot. It is common practice for visitors to place coins in the cracks of the legs and to make a wish. It is ideally suited for impressionist paintings since the vivid reds reflect in the water and a free standing architectural structure of this kind is quite unusual.  


During his trips Jean Pierre discovered Japanese history and the helpful staff at the Enatsu Gallery explained the stories of Yoshitsune, the 47 Ronin and the Soga Brothers. He found the spirit and the arts of the samurai very interesting, although it was difficult reading and his Japanese at this time was rudimentary, now sixteen years on, it would be more than satisfactory. I think in talking with him, the Tale of the 47 Ronin (Chushingura) is his favourite. He has many books and woodblock prints on this subject. Jean Pierre is an avid collector of Japanese prints, illustrated books, Japanese art, swords, helmets and armour. He is particularly interested in antique Japanese dolls and also kimono, obi and jinbaori. Japanese furniture (from the shops in Kyoto) and even a large stone lantern have made their way by boat to his home in Normandy. On his trips to Japan he has had the opportunity to paint, one of his favourite places in Kyoto is the famous Kiyomizu temple, often featured in his work.

Jean Pierre tells me, this summer in Brittany there have been many exhibitions about Japanese woodblock prints and their influence on French Impressionists, for example Henri Riviere and Mathurin Meheut. One gallery in Paimpol is interested in showcasing Jean Pierre's work including those inspired by his various travels around Japan.


News just in : "Dreams of Japan" two exhibitions showing simultaneously on two sites in the Pinacotheque de Paris comparing the work of Vincent Van Gogh to that of Hiroshige, 3rd of Oct 2012 - 17th March 2013

"I envy the Japanese for the enormous clarity that pervades their work. It is never dull and never seems  to have been made in haste. Their work is as simple as breathing and they draw a figure with a few chosen lines with the same ease, as effortless as buttoning up one's waistcoat"    Vincent Van Gogh


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Lone Wolf and Cub Film Rights

Kamala films have bought the rights to Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's celebrated samurai manga: Lone Wolf and Cub. Director Justin Lin (helmer of the last three Fast and Furious movies and the vastly underrated Christopher Guest style mockumentary Finishing The Game, about a film company looking for the next Bruce Lee after his untimely death, the film pokes fun at Asian stereotypes and Bruceploitation movies featuring such characters as Breeze Loo and a Caucasian Lee wannabe)

So will the film makers deliver a homage to Tomisaburo Wakayama? If so it's going to be a short list - Brendan Gleeson, Ray Stevenson, er Gerard Depardieu? (a long shot) In the manga Ogami Itto is quite a tall and slender chap. Wakayama brought his incredible swordplay skills into play despite his burliness. It really humanizes the character in a way. His world weary and depressed facial features didn't hurt either. Lord Retsudo will be easier to cast. After his role in Thor I present Sir Anthony Hopkins...

What else do we know about the project? David and Janet Peoples have been hired to write the script. Both were responsible for Twelve Monkeys and David wrote or rather rewrote Hampton Fancher's Blade Runner script as well as Unforgiven so it looks as though this could be a high profile, big budget movie. It's interesting that Peoples can handle science fiction but was nominated for an Oscar for Unforgiven. Does this tell us that Lone Wolf and Cub will be a post apocalyptic western? There has been a "remixed" comic book version of Lone Wolf and Cub 2100 by Mike Kennedy. In that version little Daigoro became Daisy Ogami - daughter of a renowned scientist and Itto was her father's bodyguard and subsequent protector who must attempt an escape from the Cygnat Owari Corporation's schemes.  We've also had the Road To Perdition graphic novel (and film) whose author Max Allan Collins declared "an unabashed homage to Lone Wolf and Cub" I can't help but agree with J Hoberman's review of the film version when he describes it as "grim but sappy" something you could never accuse the six 1970's film versions of LW and C.
The story has a transgressive nature - little Daigoro must witness numerous acts of carnage because it is the violence of the nation in uncensored form. Every time Daigoro picks up a puppy or tries to play with other children events usually spiral out of control, reminding him that his innocence has gone and he must face the reality of the situation. There's nothing sappy about it. There's no internal monologue explaining his inner thoughts and feelings (Re: Shogun Assassin) it's just the way things are - unspoken, elegiac, poetic. I hope the Peoples are able to keep some of the cinemagic in this new incarnation of a great archetypal story.

Meanwhile you can watch the whole LW and C TV series (with Eng subtitles) on you tube courtesy of japaneseclassics' channel. It is a faithful adaptation of the manga starring Kinnosuke Yorozuya.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Last week I visited a local gallery in Uehonmachi, Osaka. The Soho Gallery usually holds exhibitions of paintings and photographs by foreign and local artists but on this occassion it housed an Ainu textile delight. Mamiya-San is part of a group who has been awarded a grant, by the Japanese goverment, to keep Ainu culture alive, teaching not only Japanese people but to a worldwide audience. My mother and I are fascinated by this dying culture for a number of reasons. The Ainu people were very similar historically to Native North American Indians, both were hunter gatherers and had a great respect for their environment, adapting to difficult climates with ingenuity. Both utilised these skills to produce everyday essentials and more complex handicrafts associated with their beliefs.

I learnt today that each Ainu family has a specific symbology used to decorate their clothing and household textiles. The designs and their meaning have been past on orally through the generations. The areas on the garments which are heavily decorated are to protect important parts of the body, such as the lungs, thigh and back. Cuffs are for the protection of the hands and headbands for the head.

The pointed aspects of the design are to repel evil spirits, the curved spiral- like designs are labyrinths where evil loses its way. Most of these swirls occur at points on the human body where the lymph nodes lie. I found this particularly interesting considering there were no scientists to enlighten them in those times. Intially garments were made of woven plant fibres but as soon as the Ainu started trading with Japanese from Northern Honshu, cotton was most often used. The examples exhibited today at the Soho Gallery are modern as most of the orginals or antiques belong to Russia or are housed in one of the museums in Hokkaido and need a special environment to preserve them. One coat took about six months to create if it was worked on full-time but usually it was twelve months as there were other jobs to do. Only women made the garments, their men would hunt, note that the designs on their clothing were in areas perhaps prone to injury whilst hunting. The samurai, a very different creature had a long elegant bow, however the Ainu had a small compact bow to manoeuvre quickly and easily.

Unfortunately, as with most indigenous peoples, the story of the Ainu is rather sad. With the annexation of Hokkaido, by the Japanese government, in the mid nineteenth century, the Ainu were forced to give up their culture and be Japanese. When Mamiya-san was asked what is a typical Ainu name, she said we were told not to use our Ainu names and take a Japanese one. But the Ainu language still exists although it is rarely spoken as there are only about 100 pure blood Ainu today. Ainu parents encouraged their children to marry Japanese so their life would not be as harsh. Finally in 1997 the law pertaining to the banning of Ainu culture was rescinded and the Ainu were encouraged to enjoy their culture and traditions once more.

I found the hours spent at the exhibition most enjoyable and my favourite items were the shin protectors and headbands and of course watching Mamiya-san's deft fingers as she produced a magical design. One of the things my mother and I do have in common is we like to rescue items from the past, give them a future. The human race seems to spend most of the time destroying things then later spending a great deal of energy trying to preserve them. Textiles are fragile, but full of stories, meaning, history and beauty and we will carry on the battle to save them.

Louise Kate Young

Osaka, Japan

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Day 3 was a larger job but with too many things going on, we left one team to rip up the floor and dig out the mud. We moved onto an old ladies house,here the chest of drawers were still full of sludgy and wet clothes, mold was growing on the backs of pieces of furniture. She wanted the floor taken out, the mud removed, the floor relayed and then all the wet stuff put back where it was. The team left the job that night talking about her needing some kind of counselling. Luckily we returned the next morning to find the husband had been galvanized by our presence and put his foot down; all the wet stuff had to go and the team was more than happy to oblige, we had gained her trust as we cleaned the immaculate porch steps. Last jobs were a vegetable patch and mud at the back of a house that unfortunately we couldn't finish.

So why is it important to to get rid of the sludge? Well for one thing it smells and this is starting to have a psychological effect on residents. One lady we met who lives with her mother had bought her own crowbar and was in the process of ripping up the tatami floor when we arrived (This is unheard of in Japan where D.I.Y is a relatively new concept that has only been embraced by working class men, most handyman jobs about the house are left to paid specialists) Also the sludge isn't drying out properly in the under floor spaces and at almost two months after the tsunami it doesn't have much prospect of doing so before the rainy season in June when the temperature and humidity will shoot up and remains so until September. Once this happens the small patches of mold that we were already seeing will quickly become a runaway health issue that if left unchecked will also eventually affect the integrity of the building.



The meteorological conditions we experienced over the four days were appropiately extreme and odd. Day one, cloud changing to rain. Day two, a spate of medium sized earthquakes offshore that we didn't feel. Day three, gale force winds that kept us awake most of the small hours, and then pelted us with dust all day long. Day four rainbow and sunburn. There were some sore muscles, blisters, headaches and one hammer injury, we also had one guy feeling sick, so I made everyone wear masks with the mud as I had seen some mold. Steel boots or insoles a must, lots of nails!

Most nights were spent driving back to the area where  we were staying and yes I did see the devastation, it will haunt me forever but it was a good reality check and a remainder as to why we were doing what we were doing and that what I felt was irrelevant, they had lived it, there is no comparison. You could feel their loss but they didn't want to talk about it so we didn't ask, just smiled, worked and kept it real.

At the camp ground we exchanged stories, had a fire going on the last 2 nights, a well deserved beer and some laughs, until we could try and get some sleep on the hardest tatami I have ever slept on. We worked for 4 days. It was long enough to get the to know the area well and be effective and productive. It was short enough that we maintained momentum and didn't start to get on each other's nerves too much.

Over the 4 days there had been many tearful moments on the part of the householders but on the last day as we were leaving the main co-ordinator spoke to Toshi, one of our Japanese volunteers. With tears in his eyes he told how the owners of the houses we had cleaned had praised our kindness and how we had worked hard with smiles and a positive energy which they now felt too.

In general terms there are of course cultural differences in the national character, expectation and abilities of Japanese people and Westerners. The Japanese world is very structured with many preconceived ideas of how things should be, often leading to prioritizing form over substance, where as Westerners tend to focus on substance over form and are comfortable ad libbing. I have to say that in the post-disaster Japan where there is little or no convention about what or how things have to be done, with the right communication and assessment of needs, the Western way of focusing on the net result and making it up as we go along came into it's own in a way that I had  not even dared dream of. There is now a small neighbourhood in a small town in northern east Japan where we have won the hearts and under floor spaces of the local residents.

On the 16 hour drive back to our captain's tour, we drove through the mountains and stopped at the lake, it's famous, the edge of the walkways had sunk 1m into the ground due to the earthquake but the cherry blossom were still out and people were enjoying the holiday. It was beautiful. I would love to go back north it still has beautiful places to visit, please continue to be a friend to Japan and visit sometime, you are most welcome.

by Louise Kate Young.









Friday, 27 May 2011


Japan has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old, thanks to my parents I can't imagine my life without Japan in it. My father was my Judo sensei and I shared my mother's passion for Japanese textiles, especially kimono design. I clearly remembered the red sun as I landed at Kansai, it has been over 5 years now and fortunately I was able to witness the same red sun going down over Miyagi last week.

March 11th I felt dizzy and my mansion shook, even in Osaka I knew something terrible had happened. I watched the reports and the biblical tsunami live from my computer. You all know about the overwhelming loss of life and the devastation that the earthquake and the tsunami caused, so I would like to dedicate this blog to the positivity that is being created from such bad times. I have finally had the chance to give something back to a country that had given me so much in my life. It was a small effort and a step in the right direction for those affected.

'The Golden Week Tsunami Clean Up' was organized by a great guy who made our volunteering possible with 'Tsunami Lists, Protocols and Info' to communicate all the details including : Schedule & Route, Personal Questionaire, Cost List, Protocols, Kit List, Website List, Bank Details and Volunteer Insurance. This is so important if you want to volunteer as some centres were inundated with people, wanting to help, but they couldn't accommodate them.

There were 30 of us from all the world including 3 Japanese, 7 Americans, 6 Canadians, 6 Brits , 2 Kiwis, an Italian , a Turk, an Irishman, a Frenchman, an Australian and a Romanian. Including the native speakers a third were fluent in Japanese. We were a motley crew including a cosmetic salesman, an artist, a marine corp captain, a retiree, a farmer, a couple of graduates, a sound engineer, a chef, and of course every ilk of langauge teacher you can imagine. Most importantly eighteen of us have building experience.




Friday the 29th of April: The Beginning of Golden Week

We travelled in 7 cars and rented a 1.5 tonne truck, 2 drivers to each vehicle, we had already purchased the important tools for the job  before we set off. It took 13 hours to get there and we stayed in 2 6 berth and 2 10 berth  cabins. The accommadation was cheap, 800 yen a night for simple tatami mats and light only. Of course I was apprehensive about the work we would be doing and hoped nobody got seriously injured.

I woke early the first morning to be greeted by a vista of sakura cherry blossom backed by snow covered peaks. We left our vehicles at the Volunteer Centre which was located at the Japan Agriculture Office in Higashi Matshushima situated in the Miyagi prefecture. We were escorted into our first clean up locations. In this area the tsunami had been a meter or so deep, cars floated away and every house was flooded.

My team's first job was the removal of mud from a car park, moving an abandoned car - how many foreigners does it take to move a car? 8 I think, then we limed it but everyone was getting carried away with lime powder, so masks back on and goggles. Our next job was a bit of a shock actually, it was much more challenging and set a benchmark for how far we were prepared to go. We arrived at  the job to find the owner and two university students in the under floor crawslspace ferrying out the semi-dried sludge on two plastic sleds. The team zipped up, masked up and went in. I went in as I am small but didn't have the man power for what needed to be dug out and felt uncomfortable with only one way in and out. I pulled out and the boys went in. Our organizer arrived to check how we were getting on, I found it reminiscent of a scene from The Great Escape with half a dozen of them under the house and the rest unloading the sleds and bagging the sludge outside.

We were supposed to finish the job at 3.30pm but it was already 4 pm we said we wanted to finish it especially as we were almost done and mudded up to the neck, the co-coordinator of the VC agreed and beamed with a smile that went from ear to ear the whole time we were there. The dad was pretty pleased that it was done as it would have taken him another day or two.

Day 2 required us to work on 4 rental suites, rip up a floor, dig out the mud, wash the bathrooms and kitchen floors, clear the garden and paths and yes move another car. You could still see the water marks on the side of the houses and the slimy mud that was still inside the wet car. The son and owner and wife had the odd joke with us, as he fell to the floor as we pushed the car, the big boys were stronger than he thought, and we laughed. The son helped even though the shovel was too big for him, he joined the team photo and got shouted at by his mum for not studying English enough.



Wednesday, 11 May 2011


Big news for Takashi Miike this week as his latest film Hara-Kiri : Death Of A Samurai  (3D) is in competition for the prestigious Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes film festival. It is the first time a 3D film has ever been nominated for such a prize and I'm sure it's raised a few eyebrows in the process. Ostensibly a remake of the brooding samurai film from Masaki Kobayashi made in 1962 and featuring a stunning performance by Tatsuya Nakadai, bad boy japanese actor Ebizu Ichikawa takes the lead in a more mainstream Miike film than hardcore fans are probably used to:

"Seeking an honourable end, poverty stricken samurai Hanshiro requests to commit hara- kiri in the courtyard of feudal lord Kageyu's estate. Trying to dismiss Hanshiro's wife to save face, Kageyu recounts the tragic story of a similiar plea years ago from young ronin Motome, but the arrogant lord is unaware of vengeful Hanshiro's bond with Motome..."

Only a 30 second teaser trailer is available at the moment and I can't tell you how the 3D has been used, perhaps in a more subtle manner than big budget Hollywood fare. It might be a simple case of enhancing swordfights with actors and swords close to the camera so that the duelling blades protude toward us. Even Quentin Tarantino confesses if he had known 3D would have made a comeback he may have shot Kill Bill as a 3D film - it certainly would have worked well with the "Master of the Flying Guiilotine" inspired weapon that Go Go Yubari wields against the bride at the end of Kill Bill part 1 (as well as the Crazy 88 fight scene of course) Arthouse directors are now utilising 3D in unexpected ways - Werner Herzog has shot a cave painting movie in 3D and Wim Wenders recently released a 3D film about dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. So the stigma of 3D might be over in the same way talkies were considered a gimmick back in the early days of cinema.

Does Miike have a chance of winning? well look who he is up against - Pedro Almodovar, Lars Von Trier, Nicholas Winding Refn, Paolo Sorrentino, The Dardenne Brothers, Nanni Morreti, Aki Kaurismaki, Lynne Ramsey and Terence Malick (with only the fifth movie of his career) and a whole bunch of less well known directors : Bertrand Bonello, Alain Cavelier, Joseph Cedar, Michel Hazanavicius, Julia Leigh, Maiwenn, Radu Mihaileanu, Markus Schleinzer and Naomi Kawase (the other Japanese director in competition) that's a lot of arthouse muscle. If there is more of a political dimension to Hara-Kiri than some of the other films then it's possible the cinema gods may shine their light upon Mr Miike. If it's existential angst that will clinch it, it may still have a chance though if Terence Malick's Tree of Life is the new 2001 then perhaps not.

Should it have taken this long  for Takashi Miike to be universally acknowledged in this way? Should his 1999 film Audition been nominated? that certainly would have raised a few eyebrows even though in it's own way it's as feminist a film as anything made by Claire Denis or Catherine Breillat.
I guess post Hara-Kiri and 13 Assassins (made in 2010, check the five star review on Timeout's film review page and the 8.0 score on IMDB and the 94% score on Rotten Miike could concentrate on chanbara films and just make one film a year or  become even more prolific if he wanted to (84 titles and counting according to IMDB) whatever happens it's great that he's got a bigger audience now thanks to these "traditional" swordplay movies hopefully coming soon to a cinema near you.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


When visiting Japan, one of my favourite walks from my daughter's mansion on Tanimachi Sugi, is to Osaka's largest temple Shitennoji, especially of course on the 21st of the month when they hold the temple market. But on the way is another favorite, Kisshoji Temple, with huge red wooden doors, large Mon known to most Westerners and black and white zigzag pattern, painted walls, it stands out as a memorial to Lord Asano and the 47 Ronin (Chushingura Tale). In fact, as the doors are usually ajar, one can see the kneeling stone statue of Lord Asano with tanto, preparing to commit 'seppuku'.

The temple walls are lined, on the inside, with large cherry trees which makes cherry blossom season the perfect time to visit this memorial. There are 47 stone statues each representing one of the 47 Ronin and Oishi Yuranosuke can be easily recognised beating his drum thus starting the attack on Kira's castle. The original statues were carved from wood but these were destroyed during WW11 In 2002 it was decided to rebuild the statues in stone and on 14th December there is a celebration at the temple and 47 small boys dress-up as the famous 47. 

The graves of Lord Asano and his loyal Ronin lie in Sengaku-ji temple in Tokyo (Edo) but it is thought that the hair and nails were buried here. The reason, Lord Asano was the friend of the Head Buddhist Monk of Kisshoji temple and he often visited on his way home from the court at Edo. After the revenge attack by the 47 on Lord Kira and his castle, these loyal samurai were ordered by the emperor to commit 'seppuku' and afterwards the Monk asked if some part of the bodies could be buried at his temple as a memorial, it is thought his wish was granted. 

There have been many Kabuki plays, Japanese films and TV productions about the  tale of the 47 Ronin known in Japan as Chushingura each with it's own version of events and with such an interest from the West, Hollywood has turned it's attention to the tale. The 47 Ronin (in 3D) is being filmed at the moment, due for release in November 2012 and starring Keanu Reeves. I'm sure it will have it's own slant on the famous story with some fantasy elements.