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The British Museum brings the works of Hokusai to the big screen

Under the wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji. Colour woodblock, 1831. Acquisition supported by the Art Fund. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Event preview

ON JUNE 4, 2017, the British Museum will premiere a UK ground-breaking feature documentary: the first film to be made about the celebrated Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

Co-produced with NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), British Museum presents: Hokusai will include the documentary, plus an exclusive private view of the forthcoming exhibition Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave created especially for the cinema audience.

This cinema event will be available at cinemas across the UK and around the world.

Hokusai’s most famous image, known as ‘The Great Wave’, is as widely known and copied as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Constable’s Haywain. The Great Wave, 100 Views of Mount Fuji and other Hokusai works changed modern art, inspiring European artists Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

Hokusai is the only artist with his own emoji, the father of modern manga, and an inspiration to artists today.

Filmed in Japan and the UK, the documentary will spend time with Tim Clark, British Museum exhibition curator, and leading scholars who have devoted themselves to the study of Hokusai’s paintings and prints.

They are now exploiting the potential of digital art history, using the latest technologies and groundbreaking 8K video from Japan, to look at prints and paintings in incredible detail. Building on years of accumulated knowledge, they reveal new interpretations of famous works.

The British Museum exhibition is the first in the UK to focus on the later years of the life and art of Hokusai. Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave, supported by Mitsubishi Corporation, will open at the British Museum on May 25. This film and private view will introduce UK audiences to the breadth of Hokusai’s extraordinary achievement.

Hokusai spent his life studying and celebrating humanity, as well as exploring in detail the natural and spiritual worlds. Born in 1760 in a Japan largely isolated from the rest of the world, he lived and worked mainly in the great city of Edo (modern Tokyo). Early in his career Hokusai trained in the popular Ukiyo-e style – the art of the ‘floating world’, which featured courtesans, poets and kabuki actors. In his later work he focused increasingly on nature and above all on the celebrated volcano Mt Fuji, which for Hokusai represented a sacred source of longevity, even immortality.

His ‘manga’ drawings, his prints and paintings show Hokusai’s generous, all-embracing view of humanity. Comic, dramatic, quotidian, sublime, his works celebrate people from all walks of life. He had his own dramatic range of success and failure. At 60 he was riding high, a leading figure in society, but within years tragedy and disaster had struck. His wife died, he had a stroke, his grandson bankrupted him and he spent his final years living often in poverty with his daughter Oi, who was herself an accomplished artist. But he never stopped working and aiming ceaselessly at a perfection that would only happen, as he famously predicted, when he was 110.

In an age when the average life expectancy was 45, Hokusai lived to 90 and in the last years produced some of his most beautiful and compelling works. In his very last view of Mount Fuji, painted in his final months, a dragon rises exultantly in a dark cloud above the sacred mountain, surely a symbol of the artist’s hopes of immortality.

As we know, he did achieve immortality: discovered, revered and copied by the Impressionists and others, he is now counted as one of the world’s greatest artists today. This film and exhibition are bringing him to audiences across the world who will come to know his fascinating story.

Leading Event Cinema distributor, More2Screen has been appointed by the British Museum to distribute British Museum presents: Hokusai in the UK and internationally. More2Screen distributed Vikings Live, Vikings from the British Museum, Viking Adventures from the British Museum and Pompeii from the British Museum. The screenings of British Museum presents: Hokusai enhance any visit to the exhibition and will also bring the exhibition to a wider audience in the UK and internationally who are not able to see it in London.

Image: Under the wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji. Colour woodblock, 1831. Acquisition supported by the Art Fund. © The Trustees of the British Museum. On display from May 25 to August 13.