I think my need to build diorama comes from my nostalgia for Japan. I miss access to paper craft, 3D puzzle toys, gunpla and of course (Bow Down to) Daiso (Sign). With Krletke series I do recreate that feeling of building up something in a sweaty summer night while having sake to knock you down to sleep. I would call it an aspect of ZaZen, a meditation on mandala, a concentration on something to achieve empty state of mind. I realized, in a way, that I have described my painting process.

I have been avoiding bushi views since I started to see bushido and romantic tales of Edo period as mechanism of nationalism. Let´s face it- shogunate was a military state and that cannot be good. Also, I stopped watching samurai anime and movies if they don´t have any dose of self-criticism. I haven’t been watching westerns and war movies for ages for the same reason.

I have seen this beautiful paper diorama on featuring Benkei and Ushiwakamaru dueling on Gojo Bridge and I wanted to translate that into my diorama on glass and cel with both characters enveloped in sakura-fubuki (cherry blossom snowstorm) the way they do it in anime scenes, frozen in kabuki mie (pose). Unable to find original ukiyo-e omoacha-e (toy print) for this scene I decided to do my own mash up. At this point I want to thank all my friends who took their time to help me identify the scene and Alec W. from UKIYO-E Q & A web board. I was tempted to build upon Yoshitoshi´s Minamoto no Ushiwakamaru battling with Kumasaka Chohan print from the Courageous Warriors series because it really has this powerful clash of the titans’ scene that is a mother to contemporary super heroes’ battle scenes. But I did not. I combined Toyohara Chikanobu´s (Yoshitoshi´s contemporary) Benkei Sneaks up on Ushiwakamaru Playing the Flute on Gojo Bridge print from Heroes and  Heroines in the Tale of Heike – “Gikeiki – The Chronicle of Yoshitsune” series for the bridge setting with Nobukazu Watanabe´s Ushiwakamaru defeats Kumasaka Chohan print from witch I used design of Kumasaka Chohan  for Benkei and Hiroshige´s Part 9: On Gojo Bridge, Ushiwakamaru Defeats Musashibo Benkei print from The Life of Yoshitsune series from where I took Ushiwakamuru design to build upon.

To give you some context to this famous folklore scene, let me tell you a few words about the characters. Minamoto no Yoshitsune (called Ushiwakamaru in his youth) was a historical figure with tragical end. He was one of the main figures of Genpei War (1180–1185), the war between the Taira and Minamoto clans that will lead to the rise of the Kamakura shogunate under his brother Minamoto no Yoritomo. His deeds are documented in Azuma Kagami (Mirror of the East), a Japanese historical chronicle from that period, but with bias toward Minamoto and with the containment of other errors it shouldn´t be considered as reliable historical document. Benkei is mentioned as one of the followers of Yoshitsune without any historical pretext. Minamoto no Yoshitsune, as a part of early stage of shougunate and the rise  of samurai,  will become an important figure in samurai discipline narrative, for his skills as a swordsman in early age and later as an army general.  Benkei, on the other hand, is a blank slate, many legends have been built upon; therefore we can almost certainly  assume that there was a man in Yoshitsune army named Benkei.  All other monogatari, otogi-zoshi and noh plays fallowed later with kabuki and ukiyo-e prints of Benkei and Yoshitsune and they should be observed as a fiction built upon real persons.

For my diorama I picked up a rather insane story about duel of Benkei and Ushiwakamaru at Gojo Bridge. It goes like this- Benkei was set to collect 1000 swords because he believes a man’s wealth is calculated in terms of the thousands valuable objects he owns. So he goes around Kyoto (the capitol at the time) as this quasi sohei (warrior monk) looking like dark mountain ogre that carries 7 weapons on his back (a broad axe – masakari, a rake – kumade, a sickle – nagigama, a wooden mallet – hizuchi, a saw – nokogiri, an iron staff – tetsubo, and a Japanese glaive – naginata, a usual weapon of warrior monks) taking swords from “unworthy” owners. Now he has collected 999 swords (let’s assume that he cut 1/3 of the owners of those swords and we get a number of 333 dead noble men) and he got an eye on shiny gold sword of Ushiwakamaru. Since Ushiwakamaru was at the time teenager he is usually depicted as a beautiful young boy almost girlish and Benkei sees him as a divine person, almost like an illusion or a phantom or tengu – wind spirits. Ushiwaraku is wearing tall geta (Japanese sandals) so he can be taller. It is said that Benkei was 2m tall. Benkei attacks him tearing off a scarf that Ushiwakamaru wears to conceal his identity. Ushiwakamaru jumps on the bridge throwing a fan and disarming Benkei. Benkei surrenders and becomes his apprentice. Osamu Tezuka has done a beautiful animation based on this duel and I recommend taking 3 minutes of your time to watch it.

Based on this story I picked up dark palette with the gold highlights for Benkei and light pastel palette in combination with metallic colors for Ushiwakamaru to achieve silk like shades. To symbolize a light nature of Ushiwakamaru I have drawn a wind patterns on scarf and haori jacket, with lighting patterns on hakama. On diorama I changed lighting patterns to stripes, to avoid involving tengu moment, because there is another story including Benkei and Ushiwakamaru and tengu spirits. I broke a front plane with the handles of katana that Benkei previously collected, so I could have a bigger sense of depth. I avoided depicting Ushiwakamaru in a childish or girlish way and I opted to represent him as a young, skillful and beautifully dressed noble man.

As for the name of the painting and diorama, I guess I was just lucky. As I was painting Morning Mr Magpie that has a name coming from Radiohead´s The King of Limbs album it was hard not to take the name after song named Separator. A dreamscape created with Thom Yorke´s subterranean homesick and drunk alien voice followed with surreal lyrics is just what I needed for this painting/diorama.

Related artwork – Separator (Four Tet remix)

pS. The Text is the same for both artworks.

Technique: acrylic on canvas

Size: 50 x 70 cm

Year: May 2020

Availability: In Private Collection



Paintings done in Japanese style. Mostly variations and fusions of famous Ukiyo-e prints, global pop culture & sakura.