When in Japan, forget about ROYBIV. Colors are a richer, more subtle affair there. Natural dye and textile master artist Fukumi Shimura and her daughter Yoko will explain the “48 hues of browns and the 100 grays” for the benefit of westerners in Goro Ushijima’s short documentary Colors of Life (trailer here), which screens as part of the Shorts: Expressions programming block at this year’s DOC NYC.
The Shimuras use pigments found in nature to dye silk rich, earthy colors. The senior Shimura is a particular expert in madder, while the younger has a passion for Indigo. Just visiting their atelier is a treat. It seems to exist someplace outside of time, surrounded by lush, verdant vegetation.
Although just under fifteen minutes, Colors of Life is visually distinctive and peacefully contemplative to an extent that is truly rare documentary filmmaking. Cinematographers Kim Ch’ung-hwan and Takeyoshi Suzuki capture a vivid sense of the artists’ atelier and its sheltering environs. However, one of the most striking aspects of the film is its holistic, interconnected sense of art. As Fukumi Shimura explains, her conception of art and color (as well as her haiku poetry) are partly influenced by the writings of Goethe and the tenets of Buddhism. Of course, the cycle continues, with her textile art inspiring Ushijima’s film.