Gensho Art: Japan’s Only Kakishibu Hand-Drawn Dye Artist

February 28th, 2013By Category: Arts & Entertainment, Culture

Gensho Yamamoto is truly a gift to the world. Meeting and working with him has been life-changing to say the least. Not only is he an internationally renowned professional artist, he also represents life in every way one could imagine. I already knew 2013 would be my Year of the Come-Up but wow, after working with Gensho, I feel even closer to my goals. And it’s only February.

Videographers Notes

I have a lot to say about what it took to complete this project. You may want to grab a snack! Gensho and I connected right off the bat. We agreed on dates to shoot and a week later here it is, my first collaboration with a professional. I already spend hours and hours online soaking up information related to videography of this kind. But nothing, and I mean this more than ever, nothing can replace field time. Get out and shoot!


So, here’s a few things I learned, and even more importantly, here are a few questions (in bold) I have after doing this project. IF YOU CAN HELP ME WITH ANY OF THESE PLEASE DO! 


I had one week to shoot, edit, design and complete 50 DVD’s. I did it though, solo. Yolo. Gensho was leaving to Milan, Italy exactly 1 week after Day 2 of shooting. This was my unmovable deadline. Instead of polishing up the little things I mentioned in this post I think leaving the video as is will be more helpful in the long run as it will represent more accurately what this past week has been like for me. It’ll be a good benchmark to look back on later.

Side note: We agreed that I would shoot and edit a promotional video that highlights his character as an artist rather than making a promotion video for his products. Then, I would burn 50 DVD’s as well as design, print and make the covers and cases. He wanted to sell these DVD’s at his exhibition in Milan. Since he can’t speak much English these DVD’s should help his buyers understand more about who he is, where he’s from, and what his creation process is like.



I did my research. I went through Gensho’s website over and over until I was familiar with all the information provided on it. During our first meeting, we also talked about what we both expected from this project. As a videographer it was my job to present such information in a visually appealing way, to repackage that info so the audience can digest the juicy parts. I showed up on Day 2* with questions. I watched tutorials on how to take interviews. I was ready. But when it was time to take the interview one of Gensho’s friends was there and so she took the role of interviewer, thankfully. Now I could focus entirely on being cameraman. I asked her to stand in a position so that when Gensho talks, he’s not looking directly at the camera, instead just off to the side of it. She did a good job asking questions and letting him speak. I was happy she didn’t respond with ‘uh huh’ ‘oh really?’ and other common conversational courtesies. I caught a few of these moments and cut out her voice.


My Rode shotgun mic is OK. It does the job. I want a lavaleir mic for these kinds of situations/interviews. Still, having the shotgun mic was useful on Day 2 when I showed up in the morning and Gensho suddenly pulled out his harmonica and started playing. I was able to quickly set up my shotgun mic and, albeit sub-par quality, I was able to capture that moment! How well do lavalier mics capture music?


First time I visited Gensho’s workshop I asked to look around – at everything. This was helpful because the next time I showed up I was ready to film and go at it. Know your location. Having lived in this area for almost 5 years now, I was very familiar with the surroundings. I knew what roads to take and approximately how long it would take to get from A to B. I knew where to go to shoot certain landscapes, buildings, animals, etc.


I had no idea it would snow on Day 1. In fact, I was planning for a sunny day, which is to say I was planning for the unplannable. As it turned out the snow was quite the blessing because in the end it all kinda looks nice and establishes the environment. Day 2 was not snowy. In fact, this presented me with a problem in continuity. In other words, since I planned to have point of view shots from outside the studio looking in and vice versa, I couldn’t have snow falling in one shot and then clear skies in the next cut. I had to ditch that plan.

Camera movement

As you may have been able to see, the tracks of my slider were filthy. Moving around in the snow and wind outside means dust, twigs, leaves and grass blowing into the tracks. So many of the slider shots had moments of “unsmoothiness” (is that a word?). Even with the little cleaner things attached at both ends of the slider, I just couldn’t get it clean enough to get the smooth shots I wanted. Plus I was moving around constantly from 8:00 – 16:00. This is something I will have to consider more thoroughly next time I’m shooting outdoors. How long do sliders generally last? What do you use to clean them? What are the best sliders for shooting in nitty-gritty outdoors situations?


All natural lighting. Because I don’t have any production lights! I did my best to use the diffused light available on location. Since part of Gensho’s studio is a showroom for his clothes, I was able to use 2 stand up mirrors to reflect light on the green dress for a few shots (2:54-3:18). By doing this I was able to backlight the dress so that the silhouette wasn’t completely blacked out against the window. Come to think of it, I could’ve used those mirrors to light the subject during the interview as well.

Gear and Mobility

I had more or less the same gear on both days. Shot list*, Panasonic Lumix GH2 (with driftwood settings: Cluster v7 ‘Apocalypse Now – Nebula ’6 GOP), extra battery and battery charger, 14-140 kit lens, 12mm SLR Magic, 17.5 Nokton, ND8 filter, CP-L filter, 34GB SD Memory Card x 2, tripod, monopod, fluid head, ball head, slider, shotgun mic. On Day 2 I brought my steadycam. I didn’t even use the SLR Magic even though I planned to for the steadycam shots. Carrying all of this on my bike was a workout, but it made the whole 2 day + 3rd day of shooting feel more like a mission. In fact, it was a nice warm-up physically and mentally. I say mentally because for the entire 35 minutes (one-way) riding through the cold winter streets in the early morning I knew exactly what I was going to do, I knew exactly where I was going (Figuratively speaking! I say this because I knew this project would be a huge stepping stone for me).


This is a whole different beast in and of itself. Understanding Japanese isn’t enough, it’s that extra step of communicating the meaning in English which gives me the most headaches. A lot of sayings in Japanese have no exact translation in English. A perfect example is the very beginning where Gensho says, 私の座右の銘は「響き合う心、生かされる命」This where I draw the line between translation and interpretation. The translation would be more literal, word-for-word, dictionary-like, wtf does this mean jargon. Something like: My life motto is “heart echoes, life to be alive” Welcome to my life in Japan. Many people here – Japanese and foreigners alike – speak this kind of dictionary slang with hopes to communicate. If you’ve spent more than a couple weeks here you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is why I love interpretation. The language input has a far wider range for output. What’s more, the interpreter takes the input and then adds his/her unique character to the output, thus resulting in teamwork/collaboration. With this view one can surely appreciate the effort required of an author to translate a novel, or a translator to make subtitles for a movie.

‘To live in someone’s shadow.’ ‘Be in the same boat.’ ‘Break a leg.’ Are you going to translate this, or interpret it? You see what I’m saying, right? Or do you read what I’m saying? Can you watch what I’m saying? OK, I’ll stop now, you get the point. At this point, one must stop thinking of words and focus 100% on substance and meaning. After all, words are like flickering candles in a dark room. They can only help you see so much of what’s actually there.


What is the basic standard for captions? All caps? What about punctuation? Timing? Placement? I asked myself these questions and ended up just going with what I felt comfortable with. I will say though, at some points in the video (4:45, 4:48, 5:38, 6:02-6:08) it’s a bit difficult to read the white captions against the light background. I think I’ll play around with the placement a bit more next time, kind of like how I did at 3:34. Also, from 6:18 – 6:26 I think the viewers eyes get a little busy trying to read the captions and watch the images at the same time. Perhaps longer cuts would be better.


Video compression formats for uploading to the web and burning DVD’s are different. Also, depending on the screen and sound system your video will be played on the colours and sound will change. I followed this tutorial for uploading to Vimeo, and scoured the Apple Support Communities to find out how to burn DVD’s.


This is probably the most important part of everything. This is also where I think I have a lot more room for improvement. I knew I would have only 2 days of shooting at the location with the subject. I planned it as follows:

Day 1 Must get shots = Subject in action. Artistic Process. Normal, Human,Eeveryday Side of Work/Life. Products/Goods.

Day 2 Must get shots = Interview of subject. Location in and out. Products/Goods. B-role

Day 3 Must get shots = Nature. Location/Subjects environment

I made a shot list. This turned out to be extremely helpful. When you’re at the location and your subject is going about business it’s very easy to get distracted and want to change gear/lenses to get a certain shot. However, I found out that it is waaaay better to have a shot list that you stick to. There will be no moments of confusion or panic. Just stick to the shot list. Anything else is secondary. If you plan a shot list well enough you will get the shots needed for a good video. Anything else that happens that you’re able to shoot will be extra, and the more good footage you get the more options you have come time to edit in post. But don’t get caught in the moment, chase all kinds of interesting looking shots only to end up with a bunch of random stuff that doesn’t help your story.

Admittedly, I am still guilty of this, but I am working on toning it down! In fact, I spent a whole separate day, Day 3, shooting without a shot list. Basically, my only plan was to hit the road with my gear and capture the essence of the area my subject lives and works in. This turned out to be a great idea! I had so much fun and I got to fully enjoy the thrills and chills of being a videographer out in the Japanese winter. All of the intro and outro shots are from this Day 3 excursion. On Day 1 I didn’t plan on having lunch, let alone be treated to lunch, but when Gensho offered I made sure to bring my camera. I’m glad I did. I ended up using shots from our drive to lunch in the final cut. I think those shots give the audience a better feel of who the subject is by providing an additional reference to how the individual interacts in a different environment. Plus, in-car-shots bring the audience closer to the subject in that everyone can relate to a car ride. Furthermore, Gensho driving shows he is in control, not only of his car. Lastly, I got the only full body shot of him here. I think this shot is the definitive image for the viewer who is still undecided about what exactly Gensho’s condition is.


I played so many roles throughout the entire process – from concept to DVD’s ready for sale. I wore many hats so to speak: director, camera operator, set designer, light guy, sound guy, translator/interpreter, editor, graphic designer, manager, promoter… But it was all worth it. I learned just how necessary having a team is for big productions. When I watch videos/movies I usually watch until the end credits. And now after having this experience, I understand even more just how much cooperation and teamwork is required to make a quality picture.

Author of this article

Kenji DuBois Lee

Kenji DuBois Lee is an enthusiastic videographer with an artistic view of his surroundings. This is his 5th year living in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher. Kenji shares his various experiences through video and blogs you can find at

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