See Classic Japanese Woodblocks Brought Surreally to Life as Animated GIFs

Much of the image we have of life in Japan in the 17th through the 19th cen­tu­ry, we have because of wood­block prints, or specif­i­cal­ly ukiyo‑e, or “pic­tures of the float­ing world,” which vivid­ly cap­ture a great vari­ety of scenes and the peo­ple who inhab­it­ed them. The once-closed-off Japan has changed a great deal since that era, on most lev­els even more so than oth­er coun­tries, and the artis­tic por­tray­als of Japan­ese life have also mul­ti­plied enor­mous­ly. Yet even in the 21st cen­tu­ry, ukiyo‑e con­tin­ue to pro­vide a com­pelling image of Japan in its essence.

But that does­n’t mean that ukiyo‑e prints can’t be updat­ed to reflect the present day. Film­mak­er and ani­ma­tor Atsu­ki Segawa, writes Spoon & Tam­ago’s John­ny Wald­man, “takes tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Ukiyo‑e wood­block prints and sets them into motion through dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion. He began his col­lec­tion of ‘mov­ing ukiyo‑e’ in 2015 and has been slow­ly adding to his col­lec­tion.” At those two linked Spoon & Tam­a­go posts you can see a selec­tion of ten of Segawa’s cre­ations, which hybridize not just art forms but eras.

Here you can see Segawa’s take on, from top to bot­tom, Kiy­ochi­ka Kobayashi’s Fire­work Show at Ryo­goku, Kat­sushi­ka Hoku­sai’s Yoshi­da at Tōkaidō, Toshu­sai Sharaku’s Naka­mu­ra Kono­zo and Naka­ji­ma Wadayemon (“If any­one has ever eat­en oden you’ll know how this man feels,” adds Wald­man), Hokusai’s Ejiri in Suru­ga Province, Hokusai’s Great Wave, and Uta­gawa Hiroshige’s Fujikawa. Keep your eye on that last and you’ll notice Doc Brown and Mar­ty McFly cruis­ing through the scene, only the most obvi­ous of the anachro­nis­tic touch­es (though as time trav­el­ers, what real­ly counts as anachro­nism?) Segawa has added to these clas­sic ukiyo‑e and set into motion.

Segawa’s oth­er “mov­ing ukiyo” intro­duce fly­ing drones into an Osa­ka mar­ket­place, the mul­ti­col­ored lights of speed­ing cars down a qui­et sea­side road, a Shinkansen bul­let train pass­ing a rest­ing place full of weary foot trav­el­ers, and vio­lent motion to the waves and boats in Hoku­sai’s Great Wave off Kanaza­wa, quite pos­si­bly the most famous ukiyo‑e print of them all.

Sheer incon­gruity — incon­gruity between the times of the ele­ments depict­ed and ref­er­enced, between the aes­thet­ics of the past and the aes­thet­ics of the present, and between the tech­nolo­gies used to cre­ate and dis­play the orig­i­nals and these light-heart­ed revi­sions — has much to do with the appeal of these images, but some­how it all makes them feel much more, not less, like Japan itself.

via Spoon and Tam­a­go

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

The Evo­lu­tion of The Great Wave off Kanaza­wa: See Four Ver­sions That Hoku­sai Paint­ed Over Near­ly 40 Years

Down­load Hun­dreds of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters of the Tra­di­tion

What Hap­pens When a Japan­ese Wood­block Artist Depicts Life in Lon­don in 1866, Despite Nev­er Hav­ing Set Foot There

Mes­mer­iz­ing GIFs Illus­trate the Art of Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Wood Join­ery — All Done With­out Screws, Nails, or Glue

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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