Journey among ghosts and spirits of Japan with Benjamin Lacombe

Until January 15th in the Tenoha space in Milan, Japanese folklore is the protagonist thanks to the works of the Parisian illustrator Benjamin Lacombe.

There immersive exhibition “Ghosts and spirits of Japan”open until January 15 in the Tenoha space of Milan, is the testimony of great fascination that the Japanese imagery continues to arouse in the West.

A visual story full of multisensory suggestions that transports the audience beyond the red bridge, which unites the mortal world with the otherworldly.

In Europe we have fairy tales like “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats”, “Hansel and Gretel” and many others. They are stories of the oral tradition, fixed in books by the Grimm brothers, two scholars of the German language and culture. In Japan this work of reconstruction and transcription of the oral tradition was done by Lafcadio Hearn: an Irish writer, in love with Japanese culture.

Space Tenoha Souls and Ghosts

A long journey through the Japanese provinces leads him to collect the stories of ghosts and legends, handed down from generation to generation. He’s a journey to discover yokai, supernatural creatures that can take on the most diverse shapes and characters, from the kappa who lives in wetlands to the faceless woman, from kitsune-foxes to the tree spirits, the kodama. Are they monsters? Are they ghosts? Often in the West they are defined in this way. In reality there are many possible manifestations of a vital energy that transcends any single definition. A representation of the Japanese animistic system.

The yōkai are the gateway to Japanese culture for Benjamin Lacombe, French author and illustrator, known worldwide for his works inspired by the world of fairy tales and the classics of literature. The artist tells in one video-interview made on the occasion of the Milanese exhibition: My first encounter with Japanese culture happened through Anime. For me it was a totally new culture, a new way of telling stories, with incredible characters. There was also this folklore character, a strange monster called yōkai, who fascinated me as soon as I discovered him. I tried to find out more, the first name I came across is Lafcadio Hearn.

Lacombe illustrates Hearn’s fairy tales in two books published for L’Ippocampo Edizioni, “Ghost Stories of Japan” and “Spirits and Creatures of Japan”. The books inspire the creation of the exhibition, leading the public to discover Japanese folklore through the Parisian artist’s elegant, poetic and at the same time colorful and pop trait. Illustrations, 3D animations, scenography, pencil sketches find space in the 1,100 square meters of the exhibition, merging tradition and technology.

Space Tenoha Souls and Ghosts

A visual story full of multisensory suggestions which transports visitors beyond the red bridge, which unites the mortal world with the otherworldly, in the arms of Yuki-Onna, the snow woman, a ghostly creature who instills terror in wayfarers caught in the woods by a snowstorm.

If some characters and themes present in the more than ten thematic rooms seem to refer to one culture to another, from East to West, the overall meaning obtained is different. The red bridge is like the Styx, a tangible element of transition from the realm of the living to that of the dead. The enigmatic appeal of the fox from Japanese kitsune reaches Phaedrus and beyond. The ghostly beauty of the ghost bride also returns in the animated film “Corpse Bride”, signed by Tim Burton. However, the subtle common thread of the stories told in the exhibition has a clear oriental imprint: the coexistence and interpenetration between natural and supernatural, the harmonious and continuous dialogue between human beings and nature.

A perfect example of the Japanese desire to be one with the natural elements is the story of Jiu-Roku Zakura, the cherry tree that blooms on the sixteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, a delicate and melancholy story in six tables. The cherry tree, a samurai’s lifelong companion, dries up and dies during a particularly hot summer. The samurai is saddened by it, he does not find his smile even after receiving a new young cherry tree as a gift from his neighbors. On the sixteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, the samurai bends down in front of the cherry tree and begs: “Now deign, I beg you, to blossom once again, because I will die in your place”. After performing the extreme gesture of harakiri, the ghost of the man enters the tree, which immediately returns to bloom. And so it continues each year in the snow season, the sixteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar.

In addition to treasures from the Rising Sun present in Italian museumsuntil mid-January some interesting discoveries about Japanese culture can also be made thanks to the Tenoha exhibition in via Vigevano.

Journey among ghosts and spirits of Japan with Benjamin Lacombe