Ellie Okamoto’s Drawings and Paintings Inspired by Japanese Folklore

by CaroPosted on

It’s difficult to summarize the visual richness of Ellie Okamoto’s paintings, a maelstrom of imagery teeming with rainbow-colored human figures, animals, and grotesque creatures. Her art is replete with Japanese folklore, tradition, and symbolism, while the influence of modern art and film like Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is also evident- a title she borrowed for her debut solo show in 2010 that depicted children spirited off in the depth of the forest by packs of innumerable animals. For her current solo show at Mizuma Gallery in Tokyo, Okamoto converges characters throughout Japanese history into new paintings that convey her philosophy about life.


“Spirited Away” by Ellie Okamoto

Titled “Troposphere”, Okamoto’s show takes its name from the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere and site of all weather on Earth, a place that she feels represents the constant flowing energy of life. Her paintings reveal clouds swirling through lush forests, carrying the spirit of animals and mythological creatures; the extinct Japanese wolf is a recurring character, once believed to be like a mountain god and the guardian of peasants since they were great hunters in mountain forests.


“The Sacred Portrait of the True God with Big Mouth”, pencil on paper

While she was working on one painting for the show, titled “The Circulation,” the Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear power plant accident hit Japan. “Through the disaster, I changed the construction to focus the endless circulation of air, water and also spirits,” Okamoto shares. The piece depicts a glowing embryonic creature at the “nucleus” of the composition, whose light seems to attract creatures of the Earth of every shape, size and color.


detail, “The Circulation”

“Through them, we can find the spirits to be considerate toward human, creatures, nature and even things we cannot see,” Okamoto writes at her blog. “That is what we’ve lost gradually since we started to chase convenience and also the very thing we should take back to coexist on Earth. I’d like to let people have this planet and its creatures in mind through my work.”


detail, “Book of the Dead”


detail, “Book of the Dead”


“The Circulation”


detail, “The Circulation”


“The Stone Bridge”


“Spirited Trail”

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