Japanese artist channels memories of war to paint Zelenskyy Japanese artist channels memories of war to paint Zelenskyy
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Japanese artist channels memories of war to paint Zelenskyy

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Japanese artist Fujishiro Seiji has unveiled a special new work inspired by the ongoing suffering in Ukraine. His portrait depicts the country's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy holding sunflowers.

    Sunflowers turning toward the sun — they are a symbol of light and peace, the 98-year-old told NHK in an interview in Tokyo.

    Fujishiro says the images from Russia's invasion of Ukraine have triggered his own difficult memories from World War Two. He decided to pick up his brushes to capture his thoughts and emotions.

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    Fujishiro Seiji’s new painting depicts Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy holding sunflowers.

    He admires Zelenskyy, describing him as a strong leader. For the portrait, Fujishiro drew upon a 1970 Italian movie classic "I Girasoli", or "Sunflower" in English, that tells the story of people torn apart by war.

    "I hope the people of Ukraine can live well, like sunflowers," says Fujishiro. "I want them to feel the joy of living — not the pain of military invasion. I hope for them to look up, positively, like in this picture."

    Fujishiro Seiji
    Fujishiro Seiji, 98-year-old, says images from Ukraine have triggered his painful memories of World War II.

    Memories of war

    Fujishiro is a pioneer of the genre known as shadow painting. His works are filled with colors and often depict a dream world. Some of the themes he explores include light, even in difficult times.

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    Fujishiro Seiji says he wanted to brighten up people's lives after World War II with his fantasy shadow paintings.

    The artist lived through World War Two and served in the now-defunct Imperial Navy. He wasn't sent into combat, but was ordered to produce Molotov cocktails with other young servicemen. Some people he knew, including his best friend, were sent to their deaths on kamikaze suicide missions – and he still struggles with their loss.

    Fujishiro in Imperial Navy uniform
    Fujishiro Seiji in Naval academy’s uniform, circa 1942. He made Molotov cocktails during the war.

    "The same tragedy is being repeated now," says Fujishiro. He says the images from Ukraine summon his memories of Tokyo, bombed to rubble during the war. "People's lives are the most important thing. I am so angry to see the Russians invade."

    Tokyo in ruins after Allied B-29 air raids in 1945.
    Tokyo in ruins
    Completely destroyed buildings after shelling in Borodianka of Kyiv province, Ukraine on April 8, 2022.

    In recent years, Fujishiro has created works that reflect on World War Two. They feature the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

    Even though he survived the war, he never used it as subject matter before 2005. He says he only started doing so to prevent memories of the war from fading.

    "It's wrong to develop weapons that kill people and to possess a lot of them. I want people to think more about peace as the whole world is connected."

    Fujishiro’s works depicting the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima
    Fujishiro’s works depicting the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima
    Fujishiro’s works depicting the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.
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