Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Japan drawings reveal little known side of Polish director Andrzej Wajda

Japan drawings reveal little known side of Polish director Andrzej Wajda

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Japanese Notebook exhibition shows more than 100 sketches by late Oscar-winning Polish film and theatre director Andrzej Wajda from his trips to Japan. Wajda was also a lifelong visual artist with a love of Japan. afp

Japan drawings reveal little known side of Polish director Andrzej Wajda

A new exhibition shows a little known side of the late Andrzej Wajda, who was not only an Oscar-winning Polish film and theatre director but also a lifelong visual artist with a love of Japan.

More than 100 sketches from his trips to Japan are on display until March 6 in the southern city of Krakow at the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, which he founded with his wife a quarter century ago.

Wajda, who died in 2016, is known as a Man of Poland for an opus of films inspired by his country’s turbulent history, but he was “first and foremost a person very interested in the world”, his widow Krystyna Zachwatowicz-Wajda, 89, said.

The Japanese Notebook exhibition shows his quick but harmonious drawings of temples, castles, sumo wrestlers, koi fish, kabuki theatre actors, gardens, cherry-blossom trees – all that fascinated him.

He mostly worked in pen but sometimes jazzed up the sketches with watercolour or expressive strokes of vibrant yellow, red and blue crayons. For a signature, he used his red Japanese name stamp.

Art as memory

Wajda’s first love was painting. He said dreaming of art school is what got him through World War II. Once there, he completed several paintings in a surrealist, abstract style.

But he switched gears when he saw a canvas by his good friend Andrzej Wroblewski depicting wartime civilian executions.

“He understood that it was a closed avenue for him, since someone had already painted what he should have,” Zachwatowicz-Wajda said.

He went into film but never stopped drawing, documenting his everyday life with a pen instead of a camera and sketching scenes he wanted to shoot.

“Whenever I don’t draw for several days in a row, I forget everything,” Wajda wrote in a sketchbook.

“I go back to the natural state of stupour which consists of using the faculty of sight only to the extent required to avoid stumbling or banging my head when getting into a car.”

Honour, tradition

He first visited Japan in 1970 to promote Polish culture at the World Exposition, where he noted in a sketchbook that there were “5,000,000 visitors, one pickpocket”.

Wajda identified with the Japanese, saying: “They have all those traits that I have been trying to develop and nurture in myself all my life: seriousness, a sense of responsibility and honour, and also the need for tradition.”

There was a universality to his films that also struck a chord in Japan, where men would don black shades and military jackets to copy the look of the protagonist of Wajda’s 1958 classic Ashes and Diamonds.

Japan identified with the tragic hero, a resistance fighter ordered to assassinate a communist official, because he “is a man of honour and dies for his cause,” according to Zachwatowicz-Wajda.

She cites the true story of the 47 Ronin, a group of samurai who avenge their master’s death before committing ritual suicide.

The couple visited the temple where the group is buried and Wajda drew the graves.

In 1987, he won the Kyoto Prize, often called the Japanese Nobel, and the Wajdas put the funds towards building the Manggha Museum.

Wajda then won an Oscar for his life’s work in 2000.

Eyes wide open

Wajda was well acquainted with Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, which he first saw as a teenager during the war, and that influence is visible in the exhibition in the solid colours and novel use of perspective and composition.

His sketches of the Great Buddha of Kamakura show the giant bronze statue from the back, revealing the windows that filter sunlight into its hollow insides.

“It’s an unexpected take. The Buddha is usually shown straight on in images, but he showed him from a completely different angle,” exhibition co-curator Anna Krol said.

Other scenes feature slanted marks depicting falling rain – smeared in one case by actual raindrops – in the style of the Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai.

The drawings also show Wajda’s “incredibly open eyes”, an acquaintance, painter Jacek Waltos, said.

“That sense of: I look and the world is interesting. That whenever, wherever, I pull out my sketchbook and draw. That the world is worth recording,” said Waltos, 81.


  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Takeo hand-woven silk items provide local high-quality alternative to imports

    After graduating from university and beginning her career as a civil servant at the the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Khieu Sina found time to establish a business that aligns with her true passion – quality hand-woven Khmer goods. Her product line, known as Banteay Srei,

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival draws to close

    Cambodia's 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival wrapped up successfully on November 28 after a four-day run, with the film “Voice of the Night” awarded top prize for 2022. Sum Sithen, the organiser of the short film festival, told The Post that the number of attendees to the