Hot Docs 2017: Ukiyo-e Heroes

A Tokyo-based Canadian craftsman and an American designer team up to make Japanese woodblock prints depicting video game pop culture icons in Ukiyo-e Heroes. Ukiyo-e is the 400 year old art of Japanese woodblock printing. David Bull moved to Japan from Canada in the 1980s to learn this art and now he is one of the only 10 remaining ukiyo-e craftsman remaining in Japan. David is contacted by Utah-based designer/illustrator Jed Henry, who wants to produce ukiyo-e prints based on video game pop culture icons, such as Super Mario and Pokemon. The Ukiyo-e Heroes series ends up being a huge success and breathes some new life into a dying art form.

Traditional Japanese culture meets modern gaming pop culture in Ukiyo-e Heroes. The art of Japanese woodblock printing involves painstakingly hand-crafting designs onto multiple wooden blocks and applying colours like a stamp onto a special handmade Japanese paper. Ukiyo-e Heroes provides both look into the technique of ukiyo-e, while also looking into how David Bull’s partnership with Jed Henry has helped to introduce this art form to a new generation.

Ukiyo-e is 400 year old Japanese art form, which now nearly extinct, as it has been replaced in Japanese culture by more modern printing methods. However, David Bull does make note of the longevity of these woodblock prints and he surmises that the Ukiyo-e Heroes prints he does with Jed Henry might still be around in 200 years. Altogether, Ukiyo-e Heroes features an interesting melding of traditional Japanese culture with gaming pop culture.

8 / 10 stars

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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).