Film Review: KUSAMA: INFINITY (USA 2018) ***

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Artist Yayoi Kusama and experts discuss her life and work, from her modest beginnings in Japan to becoming an internationally renowned artist.


Heather Lenz


Heather LenzKeita Ideno (co-writer)


When I was a kid reading conic books, one of my favourites was a character from the Harvey Comics Richie Rich Group called Little Dot.  Little Dot was a little girl completely obsessed with dots.  Not only was her name dot, but she always wears a polka dot dress and goes around doing everything related to dots.  Who would think that there is actually such a real life character in the world.  And in the art world, too.  This dot obsessed person is dot artist Yayoi Kusama.  In her own words in this eye-opening film: “My life is a dot among millions of dots in the Universe.”  Kusama is also revealed to be a bit dotty, spending a fair portion of her life in a mental institution in Japan.

A rival of Warhol in the ‘60s, Kusama battled sexism and racism in America while her hallucinations of polka dots eventually led her to the Tokyo mental institution.

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese born painter who made it big and famous in America.  Her work is characterized by thousands of dots in an infinity of nets, thus requiring a tremendous amount of work.  One of her most influential painting is called “Pacific Ocean” where the ocean waves are looked upon an as unending pattern of nets.

Like many documentaries on artists, director Lenz devotes screen time showing the artist at work as well as her displayed work (including the best ones like “Green Death” and “PaciFic Ocean”) exhibited at the galleries.  Compared to other artist documentaries especially LEANING INTO THE WIND which was released also the same time as KUSAMA, more time is devoted to the artist’s life.  Lenz follows Kusama from her childhood (not a pleasant one with a domineering mother prohibiting her to paint and her womanizing father) to the present.  Kusama is still alive (now in her 80’s) and speaks to the camera about her work and aspirations.  The film also contains photos of her during her younger days, when she was protesting the Vietnam War with the hippies in America.  Her nakedness caught on and news of her bashfulness reached Japan, causing quite the stir and her rejection by the Japanese people.

If there is anything to learn about Kusama, it is her determination that led to her success in the art world.  She made her way to America on the heels of WWII. There, without connections and speaking only broken English, she devoted herself to her one true love, making art.  On her first day in New York, Kusama has stated that she climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, looked down upon the city below, and made a decision to stand out from everyone she saw below and become a star.  She shows that despite all odds, she finally climbed fame and respect.  Another message that could be learnt is that all the fame and money cannot replace loneliness and happiness.  She has spent 30 year living in a mental institution in Japan.

Despite the grim nature of the artist, Lenz’s documentary is bright and upbeat with music and colours flowing freely through her doc.  KUSAMA INFINITY turns out to be as fierce a film as Kusama’s fierce determination to become a world-renowned artist.



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