KENJI YOSHIDA

 

Kenji Yoshida - Artist of the Soul is an in-depth profile of the 83 year-old former Kamikaze pilot and Avant Garde artist, Kenji Yoshida. The first ever film to be made about the artist, it presents a rare interview with him, inter-cut with eloquent analysis and anecdotes by his agent, curators and friends. It also explores the fact that, despite his being the first living artist to be given an exhibition at the British Museum, Yoshida remains relatively unknown in Japan. 

Yoshida moved to France after WWII to expand his understanding of other artforms and cultures, understudying contemporary masters of print making, such as Irishman Stanley Hayter, subsequently receiving a free house and studio from the French government. He later travelled many parts of the world, including Israel, where he worked in a Kibbutz, and also Mexico, where he made throw-away calligraphic scrolls of the local flora and fauna. Saved by his agent, Jose Perez Kuri, the scrolls would become the basis on which the British Museum granted him the unprecedented solo exhibition in 1993.

 Despite his refined and pioneering work, Yoshida only sold his first painting at the age of 53, after working for many years as a waiter and fishmonger in Paris to maintain his art. He speaks little French and an archaic Japanese, which makes him almost language-less to most people, and yet everyone understands him completely, as though he transmits his thoughts rather than words.

Central to this film is Yoshida's profound spirituality and his philosophy on life. Almost all his paintings are titled 'La Vie', Life or the Act of Living. He owes this to his experiences in WWII and what his art teacher had told him before it: "Take up the paintbrush, not the gun." Today Yoshida believes that when his teacher died after the war, he left him the legacy to capture life: "Before the war I thought with his head, but after the war I learned to think with my soul". This underlines his belief that he embodies the spirits of his departed friends and family. 

In recent years, Yoshida has moved on from the perfection of black and white pigments and embraced resplendent metal colours, because he speculates on the colour of God as being gold and silver. The film is marked by delectable tableaux of Yoshida's work through the ages, from prints to his massive, spare canvasses which are known to reduce audiences to tears. 

Kenji Yoshida - Artist of the Soul was shot within the context of Yoshida's third exhibition, Inochi To Heiwa (Life and Peace), 2007, at the October Gallery, London. It features interviews with his agent, Jose Perez Kuri, Lawrence Smith (former Keeper Emeritus of Japanese art at the British Museum, and curator of Yoshida's major exhibition there), Elisabeth Lalouschek (Curator of Inochi To Heiwa), Chili Hawes (Director of the October Gallery), and Joji Hirota (Japanes musician). 

Kenji Yoshida - Artist of the Soul features music composed and performed specially by Joji Hirota at the Yoshida's British Museum exhibition of 1993, and also a live improvisation on flute, titled 'Improvisation pour la Vie' at the Inochi To Heiwa exhibition, 2007. 

Sadly, Yoshida passed away just before the completion of the film. However, he saw an express cut at UNESCO in October 2008. May he rest in Peace.

 

Writer/Producer/Director: Ishmael Annobil | Cinematography: Ishmael Annobil, Abiy Mamo, Anita Keymatlian and Dave Butler | Editing: Dave Butler, Merethe Rosvold, and Francesco Carradonna. Associate Producer: Jose Ferez Kuri | Sound Post: Vanessa Tate and Dominique Devoucoux of Tate Post | Music: Joji Hirota