Tadasuke Kotani’s The Legacy of Frida Kahlo is a pedestrian documentary about Japanese photographer Miyako Ishiuchi’s visit to the Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico.
Tadasuke Kotani’s The Legacy of Frida Kahlo is a pedestrian documentary about Japanese photographer Miyako Ishiuchi’s visit to the Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico. Ishiuchi aims to bring the spirit of Kahlo back to life by photographing her clothes —on the ground or hanging up. Frida’s clothing and personal belongings had been locked away for over 50 years so Ishiuchi also planned to take inventory of the collection.
But the film is more concerned with Ishiuchi’s personal journey than the legacy of Kahlo’s style and its effect on Mexican culture today, making it a puzzling, sloppy, and sometimes disjointed piece of work.
In a recent interview with Kotani in Japan Times, he expressed his love for Ishiuchi’s process; meanwhile, his admiration for Kahlo was spotty, which may help explain why the film focuses more on Ishiuchi. In one very revealing and uncomfortable scene, Ishiuchi learns that her friend committed suicide. But Kotani’s unnecessary attempt to create drama actually pulled me out of the film. Kotani never connects Ishiuchi’s personal struggles to the story of Kahlo’s journey, making these tangents superfluous.
When Kotani turns to Kahlo’s contributions, he looks at how the garments are made in Mexico through interviews with many garment makers and embroiderers. But these interviews never explicitly broach Kahlo’s contribution to contemporary practice. There’s too little information to explain his conjecture that, without Kahlo, women would not still wear traditional garments today.
The film’s aesthetic felt amateurish thanks to little shot variety and low resolution images. It’s a shame, because he had access to Ishiuchi’s evocative images from past collections, but only briefly uses them at the end of the film.
Instead, Kotani trains his camera solely on Ishiuchi’s very technical process of taking photos and setting up shots. We never get to see how because Kahlo influenced Ishiuchi’s photography because Kitano only ever films Ishiuchi’s reactions to Kahlo’s personal items. When her photos are finally revealed on camera, it’s at a stuffy Paris opening far away from the heat of Mexico. By the end, we’re still left wondering, why Ishiuchi wanted to do this cataloguing job.