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Praemium Imperiale Theatre/Film Laureates Say Creative Arts Will Survive the Pandemic

JAPAN Forward

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~ This crisis is presenting an opportunity for the relevance of all kinds of culture and art to be better understood; how they reveal the importance of life and happiness, how they widen people’s horizons. (Yoko Morishita, Japan) ~

(Last of 6 parts)

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Part one: Praemium Imperiale International Advisors

Part two: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Painting

Part three: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Sculpture

Part four: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Architecture

Part five: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Music



Among the pleasures of autumn, the annual Praemium Imperiale Awards are among the most highly anticipated in the global world of arts. This year, the 32nd anniversary of the awards ceremonyーinitiated by the Japan Art Association in 1988 to honor the artsーhad to be postponed until October 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

To reaffirm the importance of the arts, the organizers asked previous Praemium Imperiale laureates for their thoughts and reaction to this pandemic. 

Several guide questions were posed: 

  • The impact of the coronavirus on art’s network of social connections, 
  • The  way they view and create art,
  • The role of the arts in these difficult times, and 
  • The important  lessons that they, as artists, have learned from this crisis. 

The wide variety of encouraging messages received from a total of 5 international advisors and 47 laureates in five categories have been compiled into a special issue of the 2020 Praemium Imperiale Yearbook, providing a valuable testimony of this global crisis from the great artists of our time. Their comments are presented in six parts, according to the artist’s form of participation and artistic category. 

Excerpts of the varied and thoughtful comments of the Praemium Imperiale Laureates in Theatre/Film follow:

2009 Tom Stoppard (UK) 

(After overcoming this crisis) I think there will be less freedom and more collectivisation, but individualism will continue to be a wellspring of art.

2010 Sophia Loren (Italy)

In order not to become discouraged and to face this new situation, optimism is certainly a very powerful weapon. I am an optimist, I have always been and I have never stopped thinking and sincerely believing that every problem always has a solution. We must never get lost, never become demoralized, never stop believing. We cannot be isolated in our individuality, but we must help everyone for global well-being. Many have lost a lot, we all know, but we must believe, ‘Courage; a new dawn will always come!’

2011 Judi Dench (UK)

The coronavirus has had a devastating effect on my profession with theatres and cinemas closed and the arts in general unable to continue in any way that we recognize as normal. I think we will all have to adjust to a new way of life, at least for the time being, and try to find other ways to communicate and entertain. For most of us, our whole way of life has changed but the human race is nothing if not adaptable.

2012 Yoko Morishita (Japan) 

The coronavirus has precipitated a huge crisis, but at the same time it has helped us examine many things that we often don’t think about in our daily lives; the value of life and how good it is to be able to go and freely meet other people. I also believe this crisis is presenting an opportunity for the relevance of all kinds of culture and art to be better understood; how they reveal the importance of life and happiness, how they widen people’s horizons. Art and culture are necessary to make our lives better and are also essential for our everyday lives. (Source: The Sankei Shimbun)

2014 Athol Fugard (South Africa) 

I have watched the financial security of many fellow South Africans begin to fall apart. What has come out of all I have witnessed is an awareness that we have never had anything more than a hollow victory in terms of our great science and our conceit that we had conquered nature and all its forces. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Instead, humanity has suffered a rude awakening to the inadequacy of our intellects and our exploitative relationship with the rest of the natural world. We have been humbled by what we thought we had conquered. It is time, now, for humility.

2015 Sylvie Guillem (France) 

As a human being, it is infuriating to realize and to admit that WE created this situation, that we made it possible by our greed, not by ignorance! For many decades the alarms raised by scientists, philosophers, nature and animal lovers and by numerous associations, were totally ignored. Our outrageous and criminal lack of respect for all forms of life created an unbalanced and dangerous world for all. Why did we let it happen then, and why, still today, are we acting and going on like before when we know that it is the wrong way?

2016 Martin Scorsese (USA) 

The crisis has inspired me to imagine a lot of new work. I look forward to the time when I can actually get into the act of creating on film again.

The most important lesson is: things change. We spend a lot of our lives thinking that things and people and circumstances we know and depend on will stay the same forever, when in fact everything changes or comes to an end. We’re all seeing that now, we’re all confronting it, whether we know it or want to admit it or not.

2017 Mikhail Baryshnikov (USA/Latvia)  

As for my personal pursuits, the last few months have been fallow, but now, maybe out of  desperation, I’m looking ahead to possible new or unfinished projects. There may even be one in Japan. Over the decades, I’ve had extraordinary experiences in Japan and it would be a dream to return with a new project and a new perspective post-pandemic. Now we just have to get to when that can happen. I sincerely hope we can enter 2021 with a new found compassion for all people, and that art will continue to inspire and give solace.

2019 Bando Tamasaburo (Japan)   

At this point, we’re thinking of practicing stage activities with social distancing. But I do think that when we no longer need social distancing, we might be able to go back to how we were before the pandemic. Of course, I do think that new art styles might appear as we conquer the pandemic, but I haven’t come to any conclusions about them yet. I don’t think we should panic and rush toward making decisions, based on just data. Data on the net moves much faster than people’s thought processes. People need to talk to other people, face to face, heart to heart, soul to soul, to really understand things. Otherwise, I am afraid that people will think they understand something just because they read the data.

I think the time has come when we have to ask, “What is globalization?” and “What does it mean after all?” I don’t mean all globalization is bad, but I feel that information travels much too fast now and people are losing their individuality. I am afraid that many people are starting to think that all things can be understood easily and all problems can be solved quickly, because there is so much data flying around — but that is simply not true.

About the Praemium Imperiale: 

The Praemium Imperiale was created in 1988 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Japan Art Association and to honor the late Prince Takamatsu, who was the association’s honorary patron for almost six decades. 

The Association chooses the winners based on the recommendations of individual International Advisors in England, France, Italy, Germany, the United States, and Japan. Each advisor is guided by the recommendations of a nominating committee, comprising cultural leaders from his home country. The international advisors are leading figures with a deep interest or involvement in the arts. International advisors to the Praemium Imperiale chair nomination committees and propose candidates for the annual awards. Japan Art Association selection committees make final selections. Selections for the 32nd Praemium Imperiale awards will be presented at a ceremony in October 2021.

Author: JAPAN Forward