Jellyfish Eyes and Japan’s Monster Culture

Please enjoy the this guest post on our upcoming screening of Jellyfish Eyes by writer/scholar Zack Davisson.

The Henry is honored to be one of nine host art institutions across the USA to host these screenings the first weekend of May. Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe No Kurage) [still].


Japan loves monsters. They write books about monsters, draw comics about monsters, make movies about monsters, and even name their foods after monsters. Whether it is from the magical menagerie of Japan’s traditional yōkai or the post-war, towering beasts of destruction like Godzilla, Gamera, or Ultraman; or the endless parade of modern Pokemon (which translates into English as Pocket Monster); Japanese children are weaned on monsters. They find these strange beasts as friendly of companions as American children find Snoopy and Yoda. It comes as no surprise that one of Japan’s premier modern artists, Takashi Murakami, loves monsters, too.

Murakami has always included monsters in his artwork. When he was searching for an artistic style free of Western influence—something “uniquely Japanese”—he found was he was looking for in Japan’s monsters. His Superflat* exhibitions summoned all of Japan’s monsters, from the distant Heian period prints to the garish extravaganza of modern pop culture, and smashed them together into an organic style that speaks both of Murakami and Japan.

In his first film Jellyfish Eyes, Murakami again summons monsters. They are monsters of his own creation but with a nod to two fellow Japanese artists in particular—Shigeru Mizuki and Toru Narita. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Murakami states that Jellyfish Eyes is “… inspired by ‘a manga called GeGeGe no Kitaro’ from the 1960s,” a comic that “accidentally formed the basis for the rest of [his] life.” In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he expands, saying “My life is heavily influenced by two television shows – Ultraman [1966-1967] and Ultra Seven [1967-68] – because of the artists behind them, especially the Ultraman series artistic designer Toru Narita.”

Murakami is in good company. These artists—Takashi Murakami, Kitaro-creator Shigeru Mizuki, and Ultraman-designer Toru Narita—are torch-bearers of Japan’s monster culture. Shigeru Mizuki rescued Japan’s folkloric yōkai monsters from the ashes of WWII, recasting them as down-to-earth working class heroes with very human motivations and adventures. Mizuki is a mix of the sacred and the profane, pursuing serious scholarly research into yōkai for his Yōkai Encyclopedias, all the while injecting his comic Kitaro with his own earthy sense of humor—fart jokes and all. Toru Narita dove into the future for his monsters, more inspired by the American Buck Rogers and alien attacks than mythical yōkai. He gave the children of Japan a sense of hope for the future and a much needed escape during a time of social upheaval and transformation.

These three artists are also not content delivering mere entertainment. Mizuki turned his beloved Kitaro characters into history teachers, brutally confronting Japan with its own past in his comic series Showa: A History of Japan. Narita also used his monsters to personify social problems, creating physical manifestations of complex issues for Ultraman to smash. In the same way, Murakami promises that Jellyfish Eyes will use the approachable, familiar, and friendly faces of these cute little monsters to educate the children of Japan about concepts as grim as the inevitability of death and the certainty of periodic failure.

And, I have no doubt, at the same time Murakami will inspire a new generation of Japanese monster-lovers to carry their strange beasts into the future.


See Murakami’s Jellyfish Eyes this weekend at Henry Art Gallery – get tickets here.


*”Superflat” is a term coined by Murakami to describe the way various forms of graphic design, pop culture, and fine arts are compressed or flattened in Japan. Want to learn more? Join us at 6pm on May 2nd, before the 7pm screening of Jellyfish Eyes, for “Collections in Focus: Superflat” with UW Associate Professor James Thurtle for a FREE conversation and viewing of works from our collection. Thurtle will make connections between Murakami’s work, manga, anime, and the ‘flat’ images of 17th, 18th and 19-century Japanese printmakers.


Zack Davisson is a translator, writer, and scholar of Japanese folklore, ghosts, and manga. He is the author of Yurei: The Japanese Ghost and the translator of Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan. He also created the popular Japanese folklore website Hyakumionogatari Kaidankai.

The Week Ahead @ The Henry

All is quiet on campus as fall quarter draws to a close.

Molly’s Cafe will have reduced hours during winter break. Starting this Thursday and through December 22, the cafe will be open from 10 am – 2 pm. From December 23-Jan 1, Molly’s will be closed. Plan your alternative coffee route now!

Closing in Early January

The three exhibitions in our North Galleries close on January 5th. You only have a few more weeks to see the amazing black and white photography featured in The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker. Michael Upchurch of The Seattle Times said of this exhibition, “Metzker has fun throwing curveballs at your eye by shifting a photograph’s focal point to its outer margins or mischievously decontextualizing a subject so that it takes a moment to register what you’re looking at.”

Meztker installation image

Installation image of The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker. Photo credit: Mark Woods.


Brian Miller at the Seattle Weekly says of David Hartt: Stray Light, “The video conveys the anomie of modern office life, coupled with the sadness of a sagging industry. All the archives, file cabinets, and artifacts of traditional publishing are obsolete. Yet there’s a dusty, lingering optimism to the orange sofas and ’70s palette, to the test kitchen and cosmetics counter. Hartt even duplicated the crazy rug pattern—almost like that in The Shining—on the floor of the Henry’s small video gallery.”

Hartt installation image

Installation image of David Hartt: Stray Light. Photo credit: Mark Woods.


Camera Nipponica: Photographs from Japan 1880 – 1930 showcases examples of souvenir albumen prints and delicate glass lantern slides from the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taishō (1912–1926) eras. The exhibition also highlights a larger selection of vernacular portrait photography taken mostly by unknown Japanese photographers during the same time period.

Installation image of Camera Nipponica. Photo credit: Mark Woods.

Installation image of Camera Nipponica. Photo credit: Mark Woods.

We hope to see you soon!

The Week Ahead @ The Henry

You can feel the energy ramping up around us, as the UW campus readies for students to return for a new academic year. The official first day of school is September 25th, and to orient and prepare students for college life, the UW is throwing “Dawg Daze,” ten days of fun and informative events and workshops all over campus.

At the Henry, we are holding our special Dawg Daze event, the Fall Fête, on Friday, September 20th from 6-8 pm. New and returning UW students are invited to the Henry for an evening of live music, dancing, food, and activities inspired by our current exhibitions. Walk through the museum’s galleries, explore the Study Center, and sample delicious food from Molly’s Cafe. It’s FREE and we’re going to have root beer floats (also free).


Hope the good weather continues this week as we are planning to hold Thursday’s Mindfulness Meditation session in the James Turrell Skyspace. You can gaze through the aperture and let your mind take you wherever it wants to go. Please check in at the front desk; the meditation begins at 12:30.

Upcoming Artist Lectures

Besides the David Hartt artist lecture on September 19th, the UW School of Art Faculty Lecture Series begins on September 26th. The two best things about this series (besides the content, of course)? It’s FREE and open to the public! But you have to reserve a seat, so get moving and lock in your ticket for the first lecture by Kristine Matthews, Assistant Professor of Visual Communications Design, now!

Camera Nipponica is open!

Camera Nipponica: Photographs from Japan, 1880–1930 includes examples of souvenir albumen prints and delicate glass lantern slides from the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taishō (1912–1926) eras. The exhibition also highlights a larger selection of vernacular portrait photography taken mostly by unknown Japanese photographers during the same time period. Guest Curator Catherine Roche will be speaking on “Prints and Photographs of Meiji Japan” on December 5th.

Camera Nipponica

Installation view of Camera Nipponica. Image: Henry Art Gallery

What Happened Yesterday at the Henry: ArtVENTURE!

Artist Carolina Silva led a tour through Paul Laffoley: Premonitions of the Bauhauroque and then encourage them to create their own a large scale art piece to celebrates our own personal narrative with the physical world. If you have kids or may sometime need to entertain kids, join us the second Sunday of the month at 2 pm for an ArtVENTURE at the Henry.

Girl at ArtVENTURE

A young guest creates her own art during her ArtVENTURE. Image: Henry Art Gallery.

Faculty Focus: Claire Cowie

Come to the Henry tomorrow for this month’s Focus Tour! The 30 minute tour will be led by UW School of Art faculty and artist Claire Cowie who will guide visitors through Like a Valentine: The Art of Jeffry Mitchell. The tour starts at 12 and will leave you with enough time to grab a sammy at Molly’s all within your lunch hour!

From painting to sculpture to photogravure, the work produced by Seattle-based artist Claire Cowie conjures up a bizarre menagerie, replete with composite creatures and exotic locales. Haunting disembodied figures populate her landscapes; they appear at once otherworldly and familiar as they beckon the eye and the imagination. Her collages, watercolors, and prints recall Chinese and Japanese landscape painting traditions. Using a minimum of strokes she achieves deep spaces, producing dreamlike landscapes that recede into the distance. Claire received her BFA in Drawing and Printmaking from Washington University in St. Louis in 1997, and her MFA in Printmaking from the University of Washington in 1999. She is locally represented by James Harris Gallery.

In summary:
Claire Cowie Faculty Tour of Like a Valentine: The Art of Jeffry Mitchell
wednesday (november 21) at 12:00 – 12:30
Henry Art Gallery

See you there!

The Henry on History Detectives – round #2


In case you missed last Friday’s special screening of History Detectives at the Henry, don’t fret. It’s on again tonight, Tuesday, June 28th, at 8 PM on PBS

In this episode, Wes Cowan visits Seattle’s Museum of Flight and the Henry Art Gallery to decode the message and strategy behind a U.S. World War II propaganda leaflet. The segment is called “The World War II Leaflet.” Parts of it were filmed at the Henry Art Gallery, which holds some of those wartime leaflets — intended to convince the Japanese to end their war effort — in its permanent collections.

What do the violent images on this pamphlet mean? See for yourself tonight and view some of the objects featured in the Henry ReedCollectionStudyCenter.


“Watching the Detectives” – Works from the Henry featured on History Detectives this Friday

Some of the Henry Art Gallery’s permanent collection will make an appearance on an episode of History Detectives to air Friday, June 24th. Join us for a free special screening of the PBS show in the Henry Auditorium at 7-8pm. Host Wes Cowan also visits Seattle’s Museum of Flight in this episode.

The segment is called “The World War II Leaflet.” Parts of it were filmed at the Henry Art Gallery, which holds some of those wartime leaflets – intended to convince the Japanese to end their war effort – in its permanent collections.

The artist in question is Frances Blakemore (1906-1997), who graduated from the UW (after 10 years of study) with a degree in painting, sculpture and design in 1935 and traveled to Japan to teach art and English. Fascinated by Japanese life, she chronicled her experiences in art and writing. She leftJapanas war was coming in 1940 and spent the rest of the war years inHonolulu.

In 1996 the Blakemore Foundation donated more than 300 objects to the Henry, including Japanese prints, textiles, stencils and ceramics as well as some of the propaganda leaflets. Among the donations are 26 Blakemore prints, which are viewable through the Henry’s online collection search

Read more about Blakemore’s collection and career in UW Today.

The Henry is so excited about this upcoming appearance on History Detectives that some of us can’t get a certain Elvis Costello tune out of our heads….and we’ve decided we must share this with all of you. Enjoy!