Spirited Away

"Spirited Away", Pontocho maiko leaving the theatre after their dance performance. Photograph by Onihide, drawing by me.

“Spirited Away” 2011, Pontocho maiko leaving the theatre after their dance performance. Photograph by Onihide, drawing by me.

Onihide took the photo and I drew the drawing.

Here is a story about friendship; about people I have never met in person yet I count them among my friends.

Sometimes friends leave…

There is a photo-sharing site on the internet called Flickr.  I happened across it by chance several years ago when I was googling photos of maiko and geiko (geisha), whiling away my time.

When I found Flickr, I enjoyed it so much that in 2009 I joined up so that I could upload my Kyoto drawings to share with fellow maiko and geiko obsessives.

I started to comment on people’s photos; they commented on my drawings.  Over time friendships developed.  I checked in often to see what new photos my friends uploaded and what conversations followed.  I still do.

There are a few regular photographers who are really good at their craft.  They have many loyal followers of which I am one.

A wonderful photographer was a Japanese gentleman who was known on Flickr as Onihide.  He took many photos of maiko and geiko (who were his good friends).  He was generous with information, answering questions and giving dates of upcoming events.   He did not only photograph maiko and geiko but all aspects of life.  From his photos one could tell that here was a man who closely observed and valued life.  He noticed the small things.

One day he put up a photo which really grabbed me.  Oh – how I would love to draw that image!  It had a lot of soft-focus making it perfect for pencils.  He had let it be known that he did not mind people using his photos for their personal use as long as they asked first.  (What a generous man he was!)

So after some thought I wrote to him to ask if I could make a drawing of his photo.

Here was his reply:-

“Hi Julie,

It’s ok to use my photo for reference.

I’m expecting your art work.

And I’m glad you like my photos.”

Then he signed off with his real name.

I was delighted.  I thanked Onihide for his kindness.  I made a print and then I put it in my folder.  That was May 2010.  I wasn’t ready to draw it yet so I left it in the folder until I felt the time was right.

I was absent from Flickr during December 2010 as my family and I spent that month in Paris.

Back home again in January 2011, I was looking at Flickr and to my utter shock I found that while I had been away, Onihide had suddenly passed away.  So many people on Flickr were posting messages of great sadness, disbelief and condolence.

Neither Kyoto nor Flickr would be the same from now on.

Several months passed.  From time to time I looked at my print of Onihide’s photo.  At last I decided that the time had come to do the drawing.  I would always consider it to be his work and therefore I couldn’t think of selling it.  However I had somebody in mind who might want it.

I named the work “Spirited Away” to honour both the filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, and the man with the inspired photographs, Onihide.  It seemed to me that Onihide had been, himself, spirited away.

The cover of my "Spirited Away" CD soundtrack.

The cover of my “Spirited Away” CD soundtrack.

Whenever I listen to Joe Hisaishi’s orchestral composition which is the soundtrack of “Spirited Away”, I think of Japan, Onihide, life and the passing of life.

As to the drawing itself, it found a very good home with the person I had hoped would adopt it – a close friend of Onihide – who I have also never met.

Related page:  Subject 2: Geisha

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10 thoughts on “Spirited Away

  1. Camilla Loveridge

    WOW, JULIE….i simply loved your post. It inspires me to know there is grace among a wider audience. You are well connected, and i admire how you link up with a world beyond Perth! Your generosity and sensitivity shine through. Oh…and i also love your drawing “Spirited Away”! xx

  2. claudia woodroffe

    Dear Julie, this may sound a little crazy but this story somehow reminds me of “The Elegance of a Hedgehog”. I remember being profoundly saddened by the ending, and the devastation of opportunities missed…. I am so glad your wonderful picture found the most appropriate home. Onihide would have been very honoured and pleased.
    You are the most generous of souls xxx

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Emily told me about “The Elegance of a Hedgehog”. I loved the book – and then saw the film “Hedgehog” twice. There were elements in the book which felt familiar to me too – and I loved the comparisons between French and Japanese aesthetics.

  3. Anne Mccaughey

    Ahhhhhh Julie , how very moving. As Camilla says what an amazing etheric connection you have and how lovely to honour the spirit of someone else. I just love that blaze of orange in her wotsit(sorry dont know what that article of clothing is called) and the contrast it makes against the subtle blurred blues around it…..beauteous!

  4. susanhillartist

    A lovely article Julie.

    I would love to watch the movie with you sometime. Peter and I saw it at the movies in London and loved it.


    susan x

    08 9335 5847

    Please note that I usually check my email a couple of times a week.

    Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2013 10:04:05 +0000 To: suzhill66@hotmail.com

  5. Cliff

    Hello Julie,

    I think it’s a brilliant metaphor to relate Onihide-san & Spirited Away.
    And the maikos walking towards somewhere else, somehow resembles the journey of life hasn’t ended yet. Interestingly, Joe Hisaishi’s music goes very well with the scene IMO.


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