Kusama - Infinity

 

starstarstarstarstar

 


A film about an artist whose sometimes immersive work looks great on the big screen.

 
Kusama - Infinity
 

Heather Lenz has made a splendid film about the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It's a documentary that has been described as conventional but in its highly professional and unforced way Lenz's movie gets everything right as it deals with the life and work of a woman whose career has been extraordinary. Lenz tells the story in a manner that clearly reflects her own rapport with Kusama's work. Indeed her desire to make this film predates the recent acclaim that has resulted in Kusama becoming the top-selling female artist alive today.

 

I came to this film having very limited knowledge of Kusama and was surprised therefore to learn of the scope of her work which ranges from watercolours and drawings to sculptures, poems and installations. Not everything is covered here (I gather that she has also written novels but that does not come up in the film). However, we do gather a great deal both from the artist herself (now 89 but still going strong in a way that reminds one of the splendid Agn├Ęs Varda) and from the many interviewees whose contributions are never allowed to outstay their welcome.

 

Kusama may count as an avant-garde artist having been part of the New York art scene between 1958 and 1973 but on seeing this film her work, well suited to being seen in this form, does not seem inaccessible and belated popularity seems natural enough. She emerges from Kusama - Infinity as a woman of remarkable strength despite a troubled childhood during which she seems to have been traumatised by her father's infidelities which she witnessed. Striking and innovative as she was during her subsequent years in America, that was a period when no one would stage a one-woman exhibition and she was sidelined even as more famous male artists were influenced by her work. Her support of the anti-Vietnam war demonstrators and her involvement in happenings often incorporating nudity led to her being regarded back home in Japan as a scandalous figure. When she returned to her own country, she went unappreciated for two decades. These many travails brought on depression and she attempted suicide more than once, while her sense of loneliness was all the greater due to that childhood trauma having left her with a fear of sex.

 

Her later years have seen her as a voluntary inmate in a hospital near Tokyo for the mentally ill, yet she has her own studio nearby and continues to work daily undaunted. Her artistic vision reaching out to the universe and embracing it, making recurrent use of polka dots and net motifs and increasingly growing brighter in tone may well be born of her problems and the need to overcome them rather than existing despite them. What is beyond doubt is that this is an uplifting film. Viewing it scene by scene one does not feel that one is being bowled over by a masterpiece of cinema, yet in its own way Kusama - Infinity is indeed masterly. As it draws to a close, one is taken aback to realise that the film, lasting almost 80 minutes, is over because one has been so absorbed: rarely does a film hold one so strongly that it leaves one surprised when its time is up.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Yayoi Kusama, Judith E. Vida, Frances Morris, Midori Yoshimoto, Carolee Schneemann, Frank Stella, Helaine Posner, Hanford Yang, Lynn Zelevansky.

 

Dir Heather Lenz, Pro Heather Lenz, Karen Johnson, David Koh and Dan Braun, Screenplay Heather Lenz and Keita Ideno, Ph Hart Perry and Hideaki Itaya, Ed Keita Ideno, Shinpei Takeda, Heather Lenz and others, Music Allyson Newman.

 

Tokyo Lee Productions, Inc./Goodmovies Entertainment/Parco/Submarine Entertainment/Dogwoof-Dogwoof.
76 mins. USA/UK. 2018. Rel: 5 October 2018. Cert. 12A.