Art of supernatural Japan

– [Narrator] As night
falls, come into the shadows of the spirit realm to find the wild and mysterious beings
of supernatural Japan. Over centuries, Japanese artists have brought magical animals,
ghosts, and monsters to life. Stories of these creatures and spirits have traveled down
the years with works of art, making this otherwise unseen
world appear before our eyes. So who are these supernatural beings? How have they survived through the ages, and which artists are
responsible for how we see them? The supernatural art boom began in Edo-period Japan, 1606 to 1868. Changes in culture saw a
new focus on entertainment, art and leisure activities, such as Hyaku Monogatari,
or one hundred stories. Scary or strange tales were told by the light of gradually
extinguished lanterns until everyone was left in
an enjoyably eerie darkness. The evolving technology
of woodblock prints also made art more
accessible for everyone, and a focus on fashion meant accessories were required in intriguing styles. Soon the artists of the period were illustrating legends
from Japanese tradition and summoning spine-chilling
spirits into visual form. The Hyakki yagyō, or night
parade of one hundred demons, was a key subject for these artists and featured a procession of
yōkai. Shape-shifting monsters from folklore, yōkai include kitsune, a trickster fox, tanuki, a raccoon-dog with a mischievous sense of humour, and tsukumogami, enchanted objects that have come to life. From 1776, Toriyama Sekien
published illustrated guidebooks to yōkai, becoming the visual standard. Other superstar artists of Edo Japan, Kawanabe Kyōsai, Katsushika Hokusai, and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
also entertained audiences with uncanny scenes. Haunting ghost stories. Legendary figures like the
gruesome Ibaraki witch, and the Hell-Courtesan Jigoku-dayū; and captivating portraits of yūrei, Japanese ghosts fuelled by injustice and a hunger for vengeance. These artworks were
widely admired and copied, cementing their images in
the public imagination. As Japan underwent huge changes at the close of the Edo period, art of the supernatural fell from favour. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the lights truly began to come back on for the oni demons, the Tsuchigumo earth spider, the tengu and the entire fiendish night parade, when manga artists and filmmakers began to explore this rich artistic
heritage through new mediums. The work of these earlier
artists then led to that of contemporary Japanese
creative stars Chiho Aoshima, Miwa Yanagi, and Takashi Murakami, who also drew on the past to reimagine monsters for the present and explore their many fascinating faces. The yōkai and yūrei of Japanese folklore have since come to haunt new forms of technology, video games, animation,
and augmented reality and are enjoyed by today’s audiences just as they were hundreds of years ago. And as the powerful stories of supernatural Japan
evolve into a new era, artists continue to find
ever more inventive ways to make the invisible visible. Ready or not.

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