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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

Film celebrates sculptor Isamu Noguchi's mom

Kyodo News

A film about the younger days of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi through the eyes of his mother has hit theaters across Japan.

"Leonie," directed by Japanese filmmaker Hisako Matsui, depicts the story of Noguchi and his American mother, Leonie Gilmour, a journalist who fell in love with a Japanese poet but went through a heartbreaking separation in the early 20th century.

Matsui was inspired by Noguchi's biography written by Masayo Duus. Matsui describes Gilmour as an educated, open-minded and courageous woman full of curiosity about the world in and outside the United States.

Gilmour met poet Yonejiro Noguchi in New York and started to help publish his poems in English. Through the artistic process, it did not take long before the two started up an international romance, a rarity at the time.

But when Gilmour told Yonejiro she was pregnant, he did not accept it and returned to Japan alone. Gilmour raised young Isamu in California with her own mother, but a few years later she decided to take the boy to meet his father in Japan.

To her huge disappointment, however, she found that Yonejiro was already married to a Japanese in Tokyo and also had a mistress. Gilmour left him and started teaching English to intellectuals and military officers to make ends meet.

The mother and son moved to Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, where her son already started to show his artistic talent when he designed his first work — their house.

While in Japan, she had a second baby with one of her language students, whose identity is not disclosed in the film. She raises this child as a single mother as well.

"There are no boundaries for artists. There are no borders," Gilmour kept telling her son, who felt torn between both sides of the Pacific.

"The art is your weapon and your voice," Gilmour said, in words that critics say show her eternal love for Yonejiro, as it was art that brought them together and can be a message to their son.

But as World War I continued, Gilmour made up her mind to let Isamu return to the United States in 1918 to help him escape Japan's military draft. He first took up medicine at Columbia University in New York but later focused on being a sculptor.

After World War II he became a prolific artist whose works ranged from furniture and theatrical stage sets to stone carvings, monuments and parks in many parts of the world, which critics say reflected his struggles to search for a resting place before he died in 1988.

In Japan, his most noted works include a monument in Hiroshima depicting a bridge for the victims of the atomic bomb.

A huge fountain in Moerenuma Park in Sapporo is another of his masterpieces.

British-born actress Emily Mortimer, whose film credits include "Shutter Island" and "Match Point," plays Gilmour, while kabuki actor Nakamura Shido plays Yonejiro.

The theme music was composed by Polish-born Oscar winner Jan Kaczmarek, while costume designer Kazuko Kurosawa, oldest daughter of the late film giant Akira Kurosawa, contributed by arranging kimono.

The film is being screened at Tokyo's Kadokawa Cinema Shinjuku and other theaters nationwide.

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