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Some very nice watercolours by the South Korean artist Misulbu

There are several treats for art lovers here. If you click either image above you will go to Misulbu's own art gallery (watercolour section). His Korean home page is hard for English people to navigate but well worth exploring. His main sections are Watercolours, Pen, Oils and Acrylic/Airbrush.


I was introduced to Misulbu by the wonderful art blog of David Meldrum, who hails from Stockholm, Sweden. It features not only his own work, including some great watercolours, but also introductions to many other fine artists.

(Click the palette to visit David's great art resource.)


The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

I am a long time fan of Studio Ghibli, and I still consider Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away to be the finest animation ever made (a close runner-up being The Illusionist by Sylvain Chomet).

One reason that I am a fan is the beautiful environments (often urban) created in many of their films. These are works of art in their own right, and I have done my best to capture (with my own screenshots) some of the ones that I particularly like.

In order to keep this post a reasonable length, and because the art in many of the films can only be appreciated in animated form, I have chosen only three films (omitting, for example, the beautiful natural environment of My Neighbour Totoro along with many others). Click any image if you would like to see links about that film.


Kiki's Delivery Service

This charming story about the early difficulties of a trainee witch, based on a children's fantasy novel, would be worth watching just for the artwork of the beautiful Scandinavian-style landscape and city. When the weather is lousy or everything seems miserable, I watch this film again, thinking how much I would like to live here - and how much designers of modern architecture could learn from the film.

Kiki standing outside the bakery, overlooking the sea. Behind her is a glimpse of the lower part of the fictional city. The (apparently hand-painted) details of mortar, stones, plaster, tiles and so much else is incredible - the more you look, the more you see. As with so many of Miyazaki's urban environments, it is set on a hill, giving it added interest as a place and a wonderful three-dimensional feel as art.

The fictional city is “Koriko” or “Coriko”, although the characters don't mention it. Miyazaki's inspiration for it was the town of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden (worth looking at), although the fictional Koriko is a much larger place.

This is animation at its finest (no still images can convey how good it is), and one of my all-time favourite movies. (The version I have is in Japanese, with English subtitles, which I generally prefer.)


The bakery, with another glimpse of Koriko rising above it, lit (as often in Miyazaki's films) by a low sun. The room at the top of the stairs is a kind of storage loft, which Kiki can use free as her room (and have free use of the telephone for her delivery business) in exchange for helping out at the bakery.


The view from Kiki's room, as evening falls.


The bakery at night.

The Wind Rises

This is to be the last of Miyazaki's films (see here), and in many ways is very different from the others. A very good description of it can be found here.

It is a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi fighters that flew in WWII. It features many things: the love and mystique of aviation (and a repugnance for its use in war) that is Miyazaki's own, a stunning sequence covering the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, 7.9 on the Richter scale, that devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area, and a bittersweet story concerning his love for Nahoko, a girl whom he rescues during the earthquake and then doesn't see again for some time.

The story is fascinating from a historical point of view, but it also features some fine art work that somehow makes even factories and aircraft hangars things of beauty. I have selected just a few here.

A train journey during a period of tranquillity. Jiro is on his way to a hotel where he will again encounter Nahoko. Trains, and other means of transport, feature in many of Miyazaki's films with an extraordinary attention to realistic detail. (In Kiki's Delivery Service, when looking through the front window of an old-fashioned bus about to depart, we can see its nose rise as it is lifted by the torque of the engine, before setting off - a detail most people wouldn't even care about, or notice.)


The outfall from a beautiful spring pool, near the hotel where he encounters Nahoko.


Walking back to the hotel, caught in a sudden rain squall. Wind, rain and clouds are often major features of Miyazaki's films.


The hotel where Nahoko and Jiro meet.


Nahoko sadly dies of tuberculosis. They marry so that they can live together for the short time left, but Nahoko disappears one day, returning to the sanatorium so that he will remember her as she was. Together with other patients, she lies (well bundled up) on the verandah of the sanatorium, and in this beautiful short sequence she looks up at the sky as snow falls.

Whisper of the Heart

This is another great favourite of mine. It's a coming-of-age story set in modern Tokyo. Its heroine Shizuku is led on a journey that becomes more and more magical at it progresses - not, in this case, the magic of myths or legends, but a way of seeing the real world through the eyes of a young teenager that becomes a true voyage of enchantment.

The film was written by Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, whom Miyazaki hoped would take over from him. Kondo's premature death shortly afterwards, apparently caused by overwork, seems to have led Miyazaki to announce his retirement, although (fortunately for us) he continued to work for a further 15 years but at a more relaxed pace.


The apartment block where Shizuku lives is far from luxurious...


The door is metal and the interior is very small and cluttered. Nevertheless Shizuku's family lives happily there, and apart from the expected occasional friction with Shizuku's older sister, is very supportive of her.

Shizuku's life is one of an ordinary young teenager. She attends a local school, remarkable only for the respect that Miyazaki always shows being given by children to their elders and teachers. Shizuku writes two translated versions of John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (hilarious when translated back to English in subtitles) - she doesn't really understand the concept of a “home town”, and her second version is entitled “Take Me Home, Concrete Roads”.

Shizuku is a voracious reader, borrowing books from the library, and keeps encountering the name of a previous borrower, Seiji Amasawa. She encounters Seiji several times without realizing who he is, and is extremely cross when he teases her. But things will change...


One day when Shizuku travels on the local train, she is joined by an unusually independent cat. When they get off together she follows him...


...losing him...


...but discovering him again higher up the hill.


The cat leads her up a steep, narrow rubbish-strewn alley.


(Monitor test: you should be able to see considerable detail even on plain concrete walls.)


Shizuku emerges into what, to her, is a different world...


...and discovers an open, and apparently deserted, antique shop...


...in which she will discover Seiji's grandfather, and learn that Seiji himself lives downstairs, learning to be a violin maker.

Here she also meets The Baron, an amazing statuette with crystal eyes, whose story links to an unfulfilled love in the grandfather's past life.


Seiji's grandfather shows her a marvellous clock that he is repairing, whose mechanisms include another depiction of unfulfilled love.



Shizuku later meets Seiji here, and learns that he hopes to leave schooling early for a career making violins - but first he will have to prove himself by becoming an apprentice to a strict violin-making master in Cremona, Italy.


Shizuku realises how much she will miss him, and decides to challenge herself while he is away by writing a long story, which she calls Whisper of the Heart, inspired by the story of The Baron.


Seiji's grandfather wants to be the first to read her story, and Shizuku waits for hours on his lower verandah while he does so, in an agony of suspense. He finally appears and tells her that her story is a little rough, like any craftsman's first work, but she has dug out some real gems from her heart - and makes the hugely relieved Shizuku a supper of Ramen noodles.


Early one cold morning Seiji returns, and calls to Shizuku to come down.


He takes her high up to one of his favourite places...


...to watch a magical sunrise above Tokyo




If you like this...

[Wingsee, a delightful site dedicated to the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki]
[The painting "Ship Flying Over The Rainbow" from "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]
[The Art of Animation: Disney's “Tangled”]



"Jeune femme allongée sur un banc, 1913 (The blue lantern)" by Carl Larsson

From the always-beautiful pages of ensemble5, who got it from this very nice Carl Larsson art blog.
Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia on BBC Breakfast, talking about “The Bridge”


A couple of days ago we saw Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, stars of the mega-popular Scandi-hit The Bridge (finishing its second season here in the UK, with another season in production), appearing on BBC Breakfast. They are over here for London's Nordicana Festival, devoted to Nordic fiction and film.

It was particularly nice to meet the real Sofia, who has a charming and bubbly personality very different from that of Saga, the character she plays on television. Saga has an unspecified condition that might be Asperger's, a condition that makes her a brilliantly intuitive (and sometimes scary) detective who is almost totally deficient in inter-personal skills.

Kim is obviously a big fan of Sofia. “People ask me how I can work with someone without feelings - but when Sofia is acting, you see all of Saga's feelings in her eyes - so many feelings.”

Asked about any problems that came up between the Swedish and Danish languages, Sofia explained that the initial difficulties actually helped. “Being Saga is like being behind a glass wall. At the beginning it was very difficult... It demands a good one [Kim] to play against, otherwise I wouldn't have dared to do it.”

The Nordicana Festival, running in London at the beginning of February, is a remarkable illustration of how popular Nordic entertainment and literature has become over here (see my previous post, for instance).


If you're interested...

[More about The Bridge, and the “Scandinavian Invasion” generally, here on my web site]





A sample of the beautiful photography of Anna Ådén, a fine art and freelance portrait photographer living in Umeå, northern Sweden (click each image for the various sources)

I found this photographer here on the beautiful pages of Annie Hall, and I was introduced to Annie (as to so many beautiful things and people) by ensemble5. A visit to both of these Categorians is highly recommended.


If you like this...

[Try clicking the winter or sweden tags, among others...]




My older daughter worked in Sweden for several years, and brought home several delightful calendars produced by Bengt Elde. We also visited Stockholm one winter (a delightful place) and met Bengt Elde's wife at his studio.

Very little of Bengt's work appears online - I hope he doesn't mind me showing this one, which I like but is far from being his best work. His pictures have a unique fairy-tale appeal, and (being Swedish) sometimes have a little adult humour tucked away somewhere.




"Boltenharrers laboratory"


"Flying Rigmor"


"Rogerson and the Diving Bell"

A small sample of the wonderful work by Swedish illustrator Alexander Jansson

I found this artist on the pages of my friend Borderline, who has recently updated her really useful Categorian help information - don't miss it!


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

(Original post: August 17th, 2010)

I have rarely enjoyed a thriller so much as the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, of which The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the first part. Although it's a trilogy in books, in many ways it is a story in two parts, the second part being told in The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.

I like the books because they are complex, multi-layered and multi-threaded, weaving together an initial murder mystery, a conspiracy thriller, a biting commentary on aspects of Swedish society (and other societies), a range of fascinating personal relationships and a nail-biting suspense thriller around the emerging story of Lisbeth Salander - the girl with the dragon tattoo. I have read them several times - knowing the end doesn't spoil the books for me. The books contain strong sex and violence (sparsely distributed), but never gratuitously nor in any kind of titillating way.

I was hesitant about watching the Swedish movie of the first book, given the considerable challenges of bringing such a story to the screen, but I bought the DVD recently and was surprised at how very good it was. It offers both a Swedish soundtrack with English subtitles and an English soundtrack, and in only two and a half hours really conveys the essence of the book.

If you enjoyed the Swedish version of Wallander then you will really enjoy this DVD. The photography and atmosphere are very similar (and it's the same film studio doing both), but the plot of Stieg Larsson's books is much richer.

[Update April 2011] Unfortunately, the second and third Swedish movies were a disappointment to me. People who have not read the books may see nothing wrong with them, but the rich and satisfying nature of the original books has been almost entirely lost, especially in the final movie. Having seen the superb 20-hour Danish TV production of The Killing, I would really like the same treatment (whether Swedish or Danish - but not Hollywood) to be given to the Larsson novels. Michael Nyqvist I can take or leave alone, but improving on Noomi Rapace as the actress for Lisbeth will take some doing.



Noomi Rapace doing a fantastic job playing Lisbeth Salander


Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist who plays the investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist


If you like this...

[My movies page]
[My books page]


(Original post: September 11th, 2009 - updated again July 28th 2014)

One of the best things I have seen on TV for a long time is the original Swedish version of Henning Mankell's Inspector Wallander, starring Krister Henriksson and Johanna Sallstrom (Johanna later died tragically), which has been running on BBC4. The BBC (for reasons best known to themselves) have suspended the series after 10 episodes, deciding to show the remaining 3 episodes of this series over the Christmas period (actually as of October 2009 they are starting again with the entire 13 episodes).

The cinematography, atmosphere, acting and stories have all been really first class. A good English language version of 3 episodes starring Kenneth Branagh introduced Wallander to many English viewers who (like me) had never heard of him, but the original Swedish version is even better.

Wallander has some of the melancholy of Inspector Morse (Kenneth Branagh was dubbed "Inspector Norse"), but he is not the "prima donna" of John Thaw's classic interpretation of Morse. Krister Henriksson plays Wallander as a serious cop, well able to work with colleagues (including his screen daughter Linda) who are real people with real problems. The sometimes tedious conventions of English and American TV detective shows are refreshingly missing in Wallander. The events in the stories are often quite brutal, but are counterbalanced by the natural beauty of the area, the realistic and absorbing personal relationships, and the quietness of the professional police operations.

The Inspector Wallander web site, intended for English-speaking fans, is an excellent source of information on the series. Among other things you can find out about the second Swedish series, and get advice on a logical reading order for the translated books.

I am actually not a great fan of the books, especially the early ones. Kenneth Branagh's version of Wallander is drawn from these books, whereas the Krister Hendriksson version is based on specially-written stories for the series, when Wallander is much older and more experienced.

The second series of Wallander starring Krister Henriksson is, unusually for a sequel, every bit as good as the first. Wallander's daughter is no longer with him (for reasons not dwelt on), but a new recruit, played excellently by Nina Zanjani, provides a new non-sexual relationship with Wallander which is part of the enormous appeal of this series.

The third (and definitely final) series is not quite as enjoyable as the second, due to Wallander's character succumbing slowly to Alzheimer's as his career draws to its inevitable end, but is of unmissable quality. His daughter Linda returns, this time married and played most capably by Charlotta Jonsson. Krister Hendriksson's acting, however, is in a class of its own.

In 2014, Britain is totally hooked on the superb standard of Nordic Noir and Borgen. Krister Hendriksson's Wallander was where it all began.

If you like this...

[My Movies/TV page]




Carl Larsson, 1853-1919, Swedish painter and illustrator

I love this. Thanks again to Aline for this one... click the picture for more work from this great artist!