Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd. was established in 1934 with the aim of being the first Japanese producer of photographic films. Over the following years, the company produced photographic, motion picture, and X-ray film. In the 1940s, Fuji Photo entered the optical glasses, lens, and equipment markets. After the Second World War, Fuji Photo diversified, penetrating the medical, printing, electronic imaging and magnetic materials fields. In 1962, Fuji Photo and UK-based Rank Xerox Limited (now Xerox Limited) launched Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd. through a joint venture. From the mid-1950s, Fuji Photo accelerated the establishment of overseas sales bases. In the 1980s, Fuji Photo expanded its production and other bases overseas, stepping up the scope of its globalized business model. Meanwhile, Fuji Photo developed digital technologies.
Like its rival Eastman Kodak that dominated in the US, Fuji Photo enjoyed a longtime near-monopoly on camera film in Japan. By becoming one of the title sponsors of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (an opportunity that Kodak passed on), offering cheaper camera film, and establishing a film factory in the US, Fuji gained considerable market share in the states while Kodak had little success in penetrating Japan. In May 1995, Kodak filed a petition with the US Commerce Department under section 301 of the Commerce Act, arguing that its poor performance in the Japanese market was a direct result of unfair practices adopted by Fuji. The complaint was lodged by the US with the World Trade Organization. On January 30, 1998, the WTO announced a “sweeping rejection of Kodak’s complaints” about the film market in Japan.
The beginning of the new millennium witnessed the rapid spread of digital technology in cameras. Demand for photographic films showed a sudden plummet in line with the growing popularity of digital cameras. In response, Fuji Photo implemented management reforms aimed at effecting drastic transformation of its business structures. Even as early as the 1980s, the company had foreseen the switch from film to digital, so “it developed a three-pronged strategy: to squeeze as much money out of the film business as possible, to prepare for the switch to digital, and to develop new business lines.” While both film manufacturers recognized this fundamental change, Fuji Photo adapted to this shift much more successfully than Eastman Kodak (which filed for bankruptcy in 2012). Fuji Photo’s diversification efforts also succeeded while Kodak’s had failed; furthermore Kodak built up a large but barely profitable digital camera business that was undone quickly by smartphone cameras. In 2006, Fujifilm announced plans to establish a holding company, Fujifilm Holdings Corp., of which Fujifilm and Fuji Xerox are subsidiaries. A representative of the company reconfirmed its commitment to film, which accounts for 3% of sales.
Hokusai’s date of birth is not known for certain, but is often said to be the 23rd day of the 9th month of the 10th year of the Hōreki era (in the old calendar, October 31, 1760) to an artisan family, in the Katsushika district of Edo, Japan. His childhood name was Tokitarō. It is believed his father was the mirror-maker Nakajima Ise, who produced mirrors for the shogun. His father never made Hokusai an heir, so it is possible that his mother was a concubine. Hokusai began painting around the age of six, possibly learning the art from his father, whose work on mirrors also included the painting of designs around mirrors.
Hokusai was known by at least 30 names during his lifetime. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the amount of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. Hokusai’s name changes were so frequent and so often related to changes in his artistic production or style that they are useful in breaking his lifetime up into periods.
At the age of 12, he was sent by his father to work in a bookshop and lending library, a popular type of institution in Japanese cities where reading books made from wood-cut blocks was a popular form of entertainment for the middle and upper classes. At 14, he became an apprentice to a wood-carver, where he worked until the age of 18 before being accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e (a style of wood block prints and paintings that Hokusai would master) and head of the so-called Katsukawa school. Ukiyo-e, as practiced by artists like Shunshō, focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki actors popular in Japan’s cities at the time.
After a year, Hokusai’s name changed for the first time, when he was dubbed Shunrō by his master. It was under this name that he published his first prints in 1779, a series of pictures of Kabuki actors. During the decade he worked in Shunshō’s studio, Hokusai married his first wife, about whom very little is known except that she died in the early 1790s. He married again in 1797, although this second wife also died after a short time. He fathered two sons and three daughters with these two wives, and his youngest daughter Sakae, also known as Ōi, eventually became an artist.
Upon the death of Shunshō in 1793, Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. He was soon expelled from the Katsukawa school by Shunkō, the chief disciple of Shunshō, possibly due to studies at the rival Kanō school. This event was, in his own words, inspirational: “What really motivated the development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at Shunkō’s hands.”
Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. This shift was a breakthrough in ukiyo-e and in Hokusai’s career. Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge (1790) dates from this period of Hokusai’s life.
Devon Costello and Justin Lieberman have installed an exhibition referencing the cultural legacy of Japan. Both born in the US, Costello and Lieberman use cameras, hats, ceramics, and paint to synthesize a Japanese American experience. Although neither Costello nor Lieberman have visited Japan, the works on view in this exhibition generate questions about cultural fetishism and the tourist’s perspective or interpretation of a place from an appropriated history.