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Review: Edo Avant Garde

Watched Edo Avant Garde, a fascinating documentary about the innovative byobu (folding screen) art produced during Japan's period of extreme cultural isolation under the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate—with a particular emphasis on how its proto-impressionistic style would eventually influence Western modernism in the twentieth century.

The film is, of course, quite informative and educational, but it is first and foremost a sensual experience. Director Linda Hoaglund utilizes a variety of cinematic techniques in order to immerse the viewer in the featured Sumi ink and watercolor landscapes. For example, she frequently intercuts between recorded images of nature—birds, flowers, trees, rivers, et cetera—and their painted equivalents, juxtaposing objective reality with abstract representation. The movie’s sound design is equally impressive; such auditory delights as the fluttering of a crane’s wings, the whisper of a gentle breeze through grass, and the thunderous crash of ocean waves lend the otherwise static visuals a sense of weight, energy, and movement.

Thus, much like Sotatsu, Okyo, and Shohaku, Edo Avant Garde doesn’t settle for merely depicting its subjects; it transforms them, recontextualizes them, captures their innate "spirit" and elevates it to the level of the divine. It is, in short, absolutely sublime.


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