'He Frames a Shot': Cinematic Vision in Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Smith II, Henry D.

Hiroshige’s landscape prints have been appreciated both as documents of the actual appearance of the “famous places” (meisho) of Edo, the Tōkaidō highway, and the provinces, and for the lyrical effects he conveys as an artist of mist, snow, rain, and moonlight. In this paper, the focus is rather on the relatively neglected topic of his compositional ingenuity, seen in his manipulation of near-far contrasts, of innovative framing, and of the use of a vertical format. This paper explores these effects, noting the importance of the vertical tanzaku format, of the harimaze format with multiple types of frames on a single sheet, and most importantly on what is proposed as kind of “cinematic” vision, whereby the abrupt cropping of the image leads to a sense of stopping a moment in time. It has been suggested that he might have been influenced by photography, but the timing is wrong for such an argument, and in the end Hiroshige’s unique composition must be seen as evolving naturally from with the history of the Japanese landscape print, and from the artist's own fertile imagination.

“‘He Frames a Shot!’: Cinematic Vision in Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.” Orientations, 31:1 (March 2000), pp. 90-96.

This article was written in response to a request from Orientations to submit an article related to an exhibition in 2000 of Hiroshige’s celebrated series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” (Edo meisho hyakkei) at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2000, showing examples from the complete set of the series in that museum. My commentaries on all of the 118 prints in that series, published as Hiroshige, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (Ed. Henry D. Smith II and Amy G. Poster, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1986).


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East Asian Languages and Cultures
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April 10, 2023