Studio Ghibli films have captured viewers for decades. They have such a beauty to them, and the stories are charming, touching, and peaceful. The stunning imagery can be traced back to Kawase Hasui. A Japanese artist born in 1883, he made incredible contributions to his country’s art scene, influencing not just the craft of his day but inspiring future generations. His work helped inspire the creation of Studio Ghibli’s timeless animation.
Kawase Hasui’s artistry took off during the early 1900s. He joined the Shin-Hanga movement, which means “new prints”. This group wanted to bring Japanese woodblock painting techniques into the modern world by combining them with modern Western painting elements. Kawase’s printed art was full of delightful imagery and craftsmanship, causing him to grow in popularity and become a key figure in this art movement.
And it’s no wonder! A quick look at his tranquil artwork will tell you why he is a legend. He so beautifully captures scenes of Japan. From strolling through ancient streets, standing on a mountaintop, or observing Tokyo in the rain–viewers are transported through his mesmerizing landscape. His choice of colors, from cherry blossom pinks to floral greens are delightful to the eye. Most of his work focused on townscapes or landscapes, which often were crafted via sketching and watercolors. He knew how to survey the various scenes found in Japan and relay them to his audience.
And wow, did he have a profound grasp on how to depict nature! There is such a stillness that comes across in his art–from the serenity of a pond to the vastness of the mountains, he captured Japan’s scenery in an enduring fashion. But not just the grand monuments–unlike most Japanese landscape artists at the time, Kawase didn’t just focus on painting famous places. He depicted ordinary locations, like anonymous fields, rural streets, and unknown forests. The fact that he could portray both iconic locations and everyday scenes shows the breadth of his talent. It’s no wonder that Kawase’s beautiful artwork inspired Studio Ghibli!
The founders of Studio Ghibli turned it into a factory for immersive animated worlds, with rich details and vibrant landscapes. Miyazaki cites Kawase’s work as having a substantial influence on his artistry. And once you’re familiar with Kawase’s work, it’s easy to see the influence on Studio Ghibli! Both sets of craftsmanship draw on a sense of wonder and capture the essence of the natural landscape, as well as the beauty in the ordinary.
Films like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro echo back to Kawase’s breathtaking artistry. It’s such a treat to have these landscapes in moving pictures through animation. The attention to detail, vibrancy of color, and realistic settings all pay homage to the timeless aesthetic that Kawase pioneered.
A year before his death, Kawase was honored by the Japanese Government which designated him as a living national treasure. His remarkable legacy lives on, not only in Studio Ghibli but influencing anime and manga as well. New generations of artists study him and continue to fill the world with peaceful art. In a world of uncertainty, Kawase’s scenes are grounding and display the beauty found all around us.
In the Japanese animation world, few stand as tall as Kawase Hasui. His ability to capture Japan, from big scenes to small, and infuse the landscape with a sense of tranquility and wonder is what leaves such an indelible mark on animators all over the globe. Through Studio Ghibli, people are discovering this amazing artist who paved the way for some of their favorite animated films. As viewers lose themselves in the world of Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo, they can thank Kawase whose spirit lives in the landscapes of these immersive film experiences.
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