Is he a freak or a great artist?

This work takes you on a non-verbal journey that depicts the anguished inner life of Hokusai.

Scene 1: Prologue

The Satsuma-Biwa player tells The Life of Hokusai. The font used for the English projected on the stage was written by a Hokusai expert as one most likely to have been used by the artist had he written in English.

Scene 2: Hokusai’s Inner conflict

When Hokusai was in his fifties, he exclaimed with enthusiasm “I am the one who connects the heavens and earth, and I am the incarnation of a dragon!” However, when the heavens refused to provide him with their blessing Hokusai suffered great agony.

A drop of ink spreads and the world becomes Black. The surface of the water appears, Hokusai realises there is a black sea within the white world. The black sea undulates, and gradually the white world approaches Hokusai from above like a tentacle. As the tentacle trickles down, he finds a white sea in the black world. The white world and the black world become two sides of the same coin and switch places. White and black need each other, one cannot exist without the other. Black and white are the yin and yang of the two worlds, and everything is created from the chaos of the two. (Hokusai created many of his drawings and expressed yin and yang in the form of art.) He tries to take the ball of ink that was born from the chaos into his body, but it scatters on the floor.

He continues his struggle to get the heavens to accept him, but on the contrary, the heavens torment him by writing “Madness (狂)” in the sky.

Seeing this, Hokusai approaches the word (madness 狂) and looks up at the sky. What seemed to be the complete opposite of each other is connected by the sky, Hokusai has an epiphany and realises his own immaturity.

Scene 3: The Daily Life of a Genius Painter.

A scene from the daily life of Hokusai, wife Koto, daughter Oei. Both Hokusai and Oei immerse themselves in drawing day by day. Koto supports both of them whilst watching over them warmly. Even though she is his wife, Hokusai will not allow Koto to touch his art works. Unintentionally Hokusai treats Koto harshly.

Scene 4: The man mad about art, Hokusai

Hokusai is transformed into a painting madman (the incarnation of a dragon) by the spirits of the Fox and Raccoon in the painting.

Since becoming the incarnation of a Dragon, Hokusai is able to create unusual arts. Though he is unable to listen to people around him, including his family.

Scene 5: Shunga / “Octopus and sea lady”

This is a performance of the Shunga (erotic art) painting “Tako ama (Octopus and Sea Lady)”, one of the works for which Hokusai is known as a genius. One dancer combines the completely different motifs of the octopus and the sea lady to express the common area hidden in the octopus and the sea lady.

Scene 6: Toward the Ultimate in Painting

Koto treats Hokusai with gentle care, but Hokusai cannot accept it obediently. Their feelings are not on the same wavelength.

Hokusai painted a crow with one stroke of his brush creating an image that was almost alive. After voraciously studying various techniques of painting, Hokusai finally arrived at the ultimate painting, “One Stroke”. Layers of crows become one Egret. Hokusai approaches the Egret but as he approaches it flies away to the heavens. He took the Egret’s flight to be a bad omen.
Beyond Hokusai’s sight was a shawl left for him by Koto.

Scene 7: Oei’s conflict

Oei inherited Hokusai’s talent as an artist. Even Hokusai admitted she paints Bijinga (portrait of a beautiful woman) much better than himself. Oei grew frustrated as her painting skills were not recognized by the world, and is overshadowed by her father’s legacy. In “Courtesans Showing Themselves to the Strollers through the Grille”, the central character Oiran (courtesan) is depicted in silhouette, which beautifully represents Oei’s feelings at that time.

In the final painting, “Courtesans Showing Themselves to the Strollers through the Grille”, the silhouette of the Oiran in the centre of the painting is missing, and instead, Oei paints a self-portrait showing her looking back sadly at the world.

Scene 8: The Wind God and The Thunder God

Hokusai manages to go beyond his limits due to the tremendous sound of the Wind God and the Thunder God, but he feels a strange sensation in his hands. He does not stop and continues his response to the sound of the Wind God and The Thunder God. Finally, Hokusai exceeds his limits and collapses. He has suffered a stroke at age of 67.

Scene 9: Hokusai’s revival and eternal farewell with Koto

After suffering a stroke, Hokusai is unable to hold a brush. With the help of a fox, a raccoon, Oei, and Koto, Hokusai is revived. He becomes a painting madman (incarnation of a dragon) again and goes on a rampage.

Thanks to Koto’s wit Hokusai regains his sanity. However, Koto collapses and passes away in Hokusai’s arms. She slowly ascends to the heavens as a ball of light.

Scene 10: The Great Wave

Hokusai suffers from grief over the loss of his beloved one.

However, when he sees a flower bloom, wither and die, and then bloom again as another flower, he realises that the circle of life continues. Hokusai overcomes his sadness and draws a picture.

He tucks up and ties his sleeves with a blue sash Koto used to wear when she was alive as a memento to her. With renewed purpose, he adds blue to the painting of the sea which represents the source of life.

Scene 11: Edo Great Fire

At the age of 80, a fire destroys all of the paintings Hokusai has been working on for the last 70 years. The fire, which was said to be the flower of Edo, is represented by a solo performance by a Japanese Wadaiko Performer.

Scene 12: “The Phoenix”

Hokusai and Oei lost everything in a great fire, but with their indomitable spirit, they bounced back from rock bottom and working together created a huge ceiling painting of the main hall of Gansho-in Temple in Nagano Prefecture.

Scene 13: Fox and Raccoon

Watching Hokusai’s improvement despite faced hardships repeatedly, the fox and the raccoon find out that they have fulfilled their role and return back to the picture.

Scene 14: Hokusai’s Last Work “Dragon Flying over Mount Fuji”

At age of 90, Hokusai paints his last work, “Dragon over Fuji” with everything he has. The dragon in the painting does not have a Cintamani stone (a wish-fulfilling jewel – Note:1). Hokusai looks back on his life. He regrets that he was unable to tell Koto how much he loved and cared for her, before her sudden death. This is the reason why the dragon in the last work, “Dragon over Fuji,” has a gentle face that looks towards the sky. And that’s why even in this masterpiece the dragon doesn’t hold a Cintamani stone.

As soon as the dragon’s eyes are drawn, completing the painting, Hokusai ascends to heaven. Oei grieves with sadness at the loss of her father.

However, Hokusai becomes the dragon he has longed to be and flies through space. Suddenly a ball of light appears. At this moment, Hokusai finally realises that his Cintamani stone is Koto, and he and Koto leave for the farthest reaches of space…

Hokusai painted many pictures with the motif of dragons. However, none of his dragons holds a Cintamani stone: a wish-fulfilling jewel (Note:1). Even the dragon in his last piece, we do not see the stone. This performance, which unlocks this mystery based on historical facts, is depicting Hokusai’s true character and delivers a message to people all over the world about what matters in our lives, which we tend to lose sight of in this chaotic world.

Note:1 A pearl of treasure that is said to make any wish come true if held. Dragons are usually drawn with a jewel (a globe like a crystal ball) in their hands in artworks.

The End
Copyright © 2021 The Life of HOKUSAI.