Photo Essays

Mesmerizing GIFs of Japan’s Floating World

One of Segawa Atsuki's ukiyo-e GIFs (all GIFs courtesy the artist)
One of Segawa Atsuki’s ukiyo-e GIFs (all GIFs courtesy the artist)

Centuries-old Japanese ukiyo-e have received a delightful update, transformed into animated scenes that sometimes include surprising, modern imagery. Japanese video artist and animator Segawa Atsuki remixed a number of these popular woodblock prints and paintings, drawing mostly from Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series and creating GIFs that turn the static images into mini narratives.

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(click to enlarge)

Some of the GIFs imagine what traditional ukiyo-e scenes would look like if invaded by today’s technology: Atsuki’s version of Hokusai’s “Yoshida at Tokaido” has women in a tea house marveling at one of Japan’s high-speed bullet trains; at another tea house on a wintery morning, a woman shoots a laser beam at an airplane, causing it to explode and tumble into the ocean below — where a wave emerges to swallow it. The subject of Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Kanagawa,” arguably the most famous ukiyo-e of all, finally makes good on its threat, crashing back into the water while causing a long fishing boat to roll along the waves like a roller coaster car.

“Ukiyo-e woodcuts, especially those by Hokusai Katsushika, have a clear line, so it is easy to make them into animations,” Atsuki told Hyperallergic. “I tried to animate realistic Western paintings, but I failed because the lines of those realistic paintings aren’t clear.”

The project is just one of the many creative ways people have revisited these familiar works; others include designers who set video games in the traditional Japanese scenes. Atsuki’s ongoing intervention, though simpler, doesn’t fail to mesmerize. Watch the historic scenes loop over and over again, below.

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