A few years ago here on Open Culture, we featured a re-creation of The Great Wave off Kanazawa made entirely out of LEGO by a serious enthusiast named Jumpei Mitsui. Though the work’s depth does come across to some extent in still photos, it bears repeating that Mitsui assembled not just a two-dimensional image, but a complete three-dimensional scene that, when viewed straight on, looks just like Hokusai’s famous woodblock print. All told, the project required 50,000 LEGO bricks, all of which you can now watch Mitsui lay down in the ten-minute time-lapse video above.
By presenting the whole construction process from a variety of angles, the video allows us to better appreciate not just the painstaking manual labor involved, but the amount of creative and technical work necessary to conceptualize the Great Wave — perhaps the foremost example of the vividly flat ukiyo-e woodblock print style — in physical reality.
Viewers who’ve never tried their hand at large-scale LEGO building will also be surprised by the way in which Mitsui goes about building the grid-like sub-structure that undergirds what looks, in the finished product, like a sold sea of bricks.
It’s natural that Mitsui (now a “LEGO Certified Professional”) has shared the details of how he built his best-known LEGO creation on Youtube, given that it was on the same platform that he gained some of the knowledge necessary to execute it in the first place. “The brick artist observed waves on Youtube for hours, and read academic papers on waves to better understand their forms and energy,” notes The Kid Should See This, underscoring the intensity of preparation required even for what may, at first, look like a novelty project. And if the still-young Mitsui is anything like his nineteenth-century countryman, he’ll be tempted to build the Great Wave again, and even better, a few more times in the decades to come.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.