I'd never heard of mokuhanzome before seeing this film, but it turns out that in this case the artisan didn't learn the craft as an apprentice to other artisans to whom it had been passed from generation to generation. While studying Edo komon stencil dyeing technique, Fujimoto encountered an ancient piece of fabric with a woodblock printed pattern, rediscovering and perhaps even reinventing a technique that had been all but abandoned in the Edo period with the rise of stencil printing.
Ishii-san's documentary film goes a step beyond describing and documenting the artisan's technique and process and delves into the spirit of what it means to be an artisan and what it means to create for the love of creation in our modern world. I was honored to be asked to facilitate her post-screening director's talk, so had the extra good fortune to to be able to speak with her a bit in private before the screening.
The film not only tells the story of the work and lifestyle of the artisan, but is also a very personal account of the director's encounter with the artist and the impact it had on her own outlook on life. The artisan remarks at one point in the film that he never once felt tired making mokuhanzome because it was so much fun. Ishii-san jokingly remarked that she hadn't quite achieved that level of oneness with her work--she was absolutely exhausted at the end of each day of filming! :)
But the result is a mesmerizing one. Even the brief preview gives you a sense of the dream-like feel of the film. I ended up watching it a few times as I prepared for the interview, but the simple piano melody running throughout and the impossibly perfectly captured plunk and squish (?) of the block stamp being impressed on then lifted from the silk still haunt me. Ishii-san described the vision she had for the film as being as a fairy tale--a story of a single person and his approach to life that is symbolic of a larger story, one that could just has easily have been told about some other person. It just happened that Fujimoto-san was the right person at the time.
Would I really have thought that closely about the structure of the film if I hadn't been asked to lead a discussion with the director? If I had been interviewing the artisan, I'm sure I would have experienced the film very differently. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to watch the film not once but a few times, to see and hear some of the "behind-the-scenes" stories, and to get to know the charming director.
I was so engrossed in talking with her that I even forgot to take a photo of her in her beautiful furisode kimono!!
In any case, for those who have the chance, I highly recommend the film!
For those interested specifically in the mokuhanzome technique and unable to see the "Chain of Life" film, the below is not the same film, but gives a more practical overview of the work of the same artist.