Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara

5.0 out of 5 stars Enter Yoshitomo’s World

I first became aware of artist Yoshitomo Nara (The Lonesome Puppy, Oh! My God! I Miss You) with his CD cover Shonen Knife CD Happy Hour. From there, it seemed any book on contemporary Japanese art, from Plastic Culture to Warriors of Art contained a reference to the popular Pop Artist. Thus I was excited to see this documentary, “Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara,” and hopefully to gain a little more insight into an artist whose work I admire.

The first in a series of documentaries by Viz Pictures covering contemporary Japanese artists, “Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara” is exactly what the title says it is. Rather than being a documentary on the artist and his works, it is more like a camera being allowed to tag along as Yoshitomo leaves Japan for overseas exhibitions in places like Korea, Thailand and the United States.

The trips are a challenge for Yoshitomo, who is an introverted and shy individual uncomfortable with being treated like a pop star celebrity. He is confronted with women calling him “handsome” and asking him why he isn’t married, and heavily pierced New York hipsters trying to make an impression when all Yoshitomo wants to do is crawl into a small, comfortable space where he can live in his head.

Each location takes him out of his element, forcing him to talk about his artwork and his ideas, and brings to him a bigger challenge when he wants to create small houses in each gallery into which he can put his art. The building of the houses forces Yoshitomo to work with a crew, and as he says himself he slowly comes to understand the values of shared experience and accomplishment. The latter part of the documentary focuses on Yoshitomo’s desire to build an entire village of his little houses, the “A-Z Village,” meaning he must assemble the largest crew he has ever worked with, and to challenge himself on a personal level in order to achieve his vision.

I really liked the style of “Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara,” and the way it allowed you to see the artist as a human being in his own natural environment, instead of trying to be a lesson on contemporary Japanese art. The documentary definitely comes from the stand-point that the viewer is already familiar with Yoshiitomo, and does not go into great detail about his style, history or place in contemporary Japanese art. It is more of a video portrait of the person.

I enjoyed this documentary even more than I thought I would, and I will definitely keep my eye out for the rest in this Viz Pictures “New People Artist Series, ” including Yayoi Kusama: I Love Me and Daido Moriyama: Stray Dog of Tokyo.

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