Kusama: Infinity

In Cinemas Now

Sundance Grand Jury Prize-nominated documentary on celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, aka the ‘Princess of Polka Dots’.

"Frustrated by Japan’s conservative culture, Kusama moved to New York in 1958. Once there, she gained notoriety with her avant-garde sculptures, installations and performances – but little success. She was stymied by sexism and racism, and other artists adopted her ideas but failed to acknowledge her contribution. Disheartened, she returned to Tokyo in 1970, and voluntarily retired to a mental institution. Nonetheless, she continued to create, habitually visiting her nearby studio to work. Today, Kusama’s polka dot creations draw huge crowds at exhibitions around the world, from America to Australia." (Sydney Film Festival)

Trailers

Directed by

Documentary, Festival & Independent

80mins

Rating: M Artistic nudity

English and Japanese with English subtitles

USA

“I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe and that energy, along with love, flies into the sky” explains Yayoi Kusama as Kusama: Infinity commences. It’s an apt description of the relentlessly creative life and artistic career this documentary goes on to depict over the subsequent 70-something minutes, an economical running time that somehow manages to do justice to the world’s most successful living female artist as it races through her engrossing history.

Kusama’s best known today as the creator of art that sees millions of eager visitors queue for hours to experience, their sensory immersion paired with near-ubiquitous selfie-taking once inside her installations. But as we’ve come to expect from artist narratives, those fortunate to attain fame for their work often do so at quite some personal cost as they struggle to express their creativity. That’s incredibly true of Kusama who, as we see here, had to overcome a deeply unhappy childhood, unsupportive parents and conservative, male-dominated Japan—and that was merely the first chapter in her artistic journey.

Kusama: Infinity follows the frustrated artist to New York and through the non-stop evolution of her performance, sculpture and installation artworks amid the heady 1960s avant-garde art scene. Still, she persisted in the face of barriers—sexism, a lack of recognition of her work’s value, and the indignity of being ripped off by established male artists (Warhol, Oldenberg, Samaras). Fortunately, the film shares work that may have been overlooked at the time, but remains bold and vital to this day.

There’s a wealth of Kusama herself on camera, in contemporary interview footage and also in the many era-specific films and photographs she used to document her work. The film succeeds in making her frustration and depression feel understandable as a product of both external and internal forces, placing the viewer squarely on her side, struggling to comprehend how her genius wasn’t self-evident. That feeling continues as her career stumbles, and Kusama returns to Japan where her Stateside counter-culture happenings (read, nudity) result in her being “treated like a very scandalous presence”.

It’s a gripping story, one that you are already aware will have a redemptive arc, but not without extreme tragedy along the way. Through it all, there’s Kusama’s artwork, much of it astonishing, the product of a thoroughly fascinating personality whose life is shared here with care and diligence, making for an excellent documentary. By the end, it’s easy to see why the pioneering Kusama is still being ripped off today.

Hollywood Reporter

press

Part talent, part hustle, part pathological insistence on her own way of dealing with the world, it's an optimistic narrative with plenty of colorful guest stars, and should have a slightly broader appeal than the usual art-world portrait.

Los Angeles Times

press

A genuinely felt portrait of the artist as a dedicated survivor, ever in service to her vision of the world and fighting for her place in it.

New York Times

press

"Kusama - Infinity," while conventionally structured, provides ample, illuminating access to an artist's way of thinking and working.

The Guardian

press

A respectful and valuable tribute.

Little White Lies

press

A film about the struggles undertaken by a woman making it in a man's world.

The Times (UK)

press

The installation artist, sculptor and world-famous painter of dots, Yayoi Kusama, is poorly served by this achingly pedestrian biographical film.

FilmInk (Australia)

press

...a great introduction to a world famous artist who is likely still a stranger to some.
yuefei

yuefei

user


Typical art documentary with some redeeming aspects

Pretty much your typical doco, but nonetheless a good doco. Stylistically it felt amateur at best, but the substance made for a fulfilling 80 minutes. "Kusama - Infinity" takes a linear, biographical approach to document artist Yayoi Kusama's experiences and makes a somewhat poor attempt at explaining why this may be (and for that I'm kind of glad, the mystery of her character is one of the biggest appeals of the artist). It's honest, and even takes a chance to criticise the art world through Kusama's experiences in New York, where her innovation was stolen by other, more accepted (due to their gender and racial identities) artists.

I believe that critique, the documenting of her times spent in New York, is where this documentary comes above others.

Apart from that, her struggle with mental illness caused by social marginalisation was heart-felt, and the same can be said with the conflict between her and her hometown.

It takes one through the usual emotional states typical of a documentary, beginning with a curious, foreshadowing tone, delving into one that is exciting, which then morphs into depressing, which ends as inspiring.

That's pretty much it, a typical good documentary which doesn't delve too far into the subject (though they did bring in a psychoanalyst, which was only slightly amusing) but instead goes through her life with a shallowness that sometimes gives us interesting, perky little details about the artist, but nothing more.

And honestly, I'm happy with just that.