Edo Avant Garde, directed by Linda Hoaglund, reveals how Japanese artists of the Edo period (1603–1868) innovated abstraction, minimalism, stylization, collage, and other techniques, which today are all considered “modern.” Edo artists’ originality is most striking in images of nature depicted against gold leaf backgrounds on large-scale folding screens (byōbu). In interviews with scholars, priests, curators, and collectors, the film traces the artists’ ingenuity to their profound engagement with the natural world and their reverence for the spirits inhabiting it.

To research the film, Hoaglund reviewed more than 30,000 images of Edo art on US museum websites, many of which are featured in the lesson plans available here. Working with Japan’s Academy Award-winning cinematographer Kasamatsu Norimichi, Hoaglund’s team filmed nearly 200 works of Edo art in museum and private collections across the United States and Japan. Edo Avant Garde assembles Edo masterpieces scattered across the globe to reevaluate how the artists’ innovations sparked and shaped the development of the modern art movement in the West.

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Watch the film’s trailer: