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KUO Liang-yin and FUJITA Shuhei’s Wansei Painter: Tetsuomi Tateishi: Searching for A Person, His Paintings and History

Through the eye of the painter TATEISHI Tetsuomi and his uncommon identity as a Wansei (Japanese born in Taiwan during the colonial period), Wansei Painter - Tetsuomi Tateishi by KUO Liang-yin and FUJITA Shuhei presents Taiwan’s cultural and artistic history around the Japanese colonial period. The film was nominated for both Asian Vision Competition and Taiwanese Competition of the 10th TIDF.

TATEISHI Tetsuomi was born in Taiwan in 1905. He was a son of TATEISHI Yoshio, an official at the Finance Bureau, Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan. He was trained in Japanese painting and Western fine detail drawing when he was young and worked in various art forms including woodblock printing, illustration, and book design. Regarded as a talented artist, he was invited to join the Taiyan Art Association as one of the founding members. During the period of Japanisation when Taiwan’s local culture was suppressed, TATEISHI detailed Taiwan’s folk culture and people’s daily lives with his paintbrush in the magazine Folklore Taiwan. His work remains influential until today.

Through TATEISHI’s story, Wansei Painter - Tetsuomi Tateishi leads the audience to closely examine the history, culture and art history of Taiwan from a different perspective. Below is an interview with director KUO Liang-yin.

Q: Your work has been focusing on the historical connection between Taiwan and Japan, which expands to varied reflections on the relations between Taiwanese and Japanese. Does such perspective have any special meaning?

All the fiction and documentary films I made with FUJITA Shuhei span across the pre-war and post-war periods of Taiwan. Each of our film and quest seemed to follow the same path, yet we learned something new each time. Through exploring different ethnicities and dimensions, the axes of boundaries, time and space interweave, and the folding fan of history gradually opens. Although it is impossible to get the complete picture, it is a destiny shaped by the complexity of the Taiwanese society, history and ethnicities. We pick up the pieces and patch them up. And through reviewing the past over and over again, history will eventually reveal its various looks to us.

Q: What was the starting point of this documentary on the Taiwan-born painter TATEISHI Tetsuomi?

Back in 2000, when FUJITA and I were both film students at the University of Southern California, he travelled from the US to Taiwan to assist me with the filming of my family history, about how my grandfather made aluminium pots of Japanese military aircrafts left in Taiwan after the war. While assisting in historical research and interviews in Japanese, FUJITA got to know about Taiwan’s history and developed an interest in the diverse ethnic and societal cultures of Taiwan. After that, he began the preparation of a fiction film, Quiet Summer, in Hualien, Taiwan and I was his producer.

While doing field research in Hualien, we discovered there was a Japanese immigrant village in Hualien and learnt about the historical background of Wansei. While shooting the fiction film, we filmed oral interviews with Wanseis. Chance encounters led us to the works of Japanese painter TATEISHI Tetsuomi about Taiwanese folklore. We realised that he shared similar fates with other Wanseis, yet he lived through the war, was forced to leave Taiwan after the war and lost most of his paintings; then he resumed his artistic career after his repatriation to Japan—these experiences were however unique.

After the war, upon recollection of his time in Taiwan, he painted the Taiwan Picture Book. One of the paintings depicts Taiwanese people seeing off their Japanese friends at Keelung Harbour. It was titled I Love Taiwan, and the last words of the article were ‘I Love Taiwan. I Love Taiwan.’ The sentence was not only repeated twice, but was also highlighted with red dots. As a Taiwanese, I was profoundly moved when I first read it. When FUJITA and I looked at TATEISHI’s oil paintings together, we could feel, through the paintings, his intense passion before the war and the cold abstraction after the war. The stark difference raised our curiosity. So we began our quest to find out how the local customs of Taiwan had influenced TATEISHI. This is the starting point of this documentary.

What’s more, after making the documentary Shonenko in 2006, there was a documentary series project about preceding Taiwanese painters. Director HUANG Ming-chuan invited me to produce the part about TATEISHI Tetsuomi. Although the series didn’t eventually include TATEISHI, FUJITA and I decided to finish the film on our own.

The Taiwanese translator for Shonenko, Miss WANG Chao-hua happened to be the editor of the book Wansei, Landscapes, Tateishi Tetsuomi published by Lion Art. She introduced me to the author Miss CHIU Han-ni, and I invited the two of them to be the consultants for the film.

Q: Why does the voice of TATEISHI’s granddaughter appear in the documentary without her physical appearance?

At the early stage of the production, we already began discussing about who the narrator should be. During a shoot at the TATEISHI’s, we met Ayako, the granddaughter of TATEISHI Tetsuomi, for the first time. She told us about how the filming of this documentary had offered an opportunity for her to better know her grandfather, whom she had never met, especially his time in Taiwan. Like the younger generation, Ayako‘s impression of TATEISHI Tetsuomi was both familiar and strange. She was not a professional voice actress, but her voice was calm and warm. It left a deep impression on me, so I thought of asking her to do the narration.

As TATEISHI Tetsuomi has already passed away, if someone from his family narrates the film, it would have more meaning and have much more warmth than a professional voice actor. As a representative of the younger generation, she does not physically appear in the film, but her voice introduces the audience to TATEISHI Tetsuomi. At the end of the film, she tells the story from her personal perspective as the granddaughter, bringing the younger generation closer to TATEISHI Tetsuomi.

Q: How long does the production of Wansei Painter - Tetsuomi Tateishi take? Has there been any difficulty?

From the planning stage, it took nearly ten years to finish the film. Our first shoot was interviewing TATEISHI Tetsuomi’s wife, Sumi. She was then in her nineties. The biggest difficulty was the reality that TATEISHI Tetsuomi has passed away, and it was difficult to find the major works he left in Taiwan; not even himself or his family had any idea where the paintings were. Although we have contacted many art collectors and archives, the results were not fruitful.

For more in formation about Wansei Painter - Tetsuomi Tateishi, please click here.

(Translated by TAN Chen-chih)

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