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100 Years Of Culture: Four Icons From Asia Whose Influence Transcended Borders – Forbes

Forbes – a publication known for profiling successful people with the aim to inspire – celebrates its 100th anniversary this week. In line with the tradition they’ve kept alive for a century now, we look back at five of Asia’s most memorable cultural pioneers to celebrate Asia’s pervasive influence on the world.

Looking back at these icons, their stories of success and struggles are still valid today. From Hollywood “whitewashing” to sexism over gender roles in the home and workplace, these pioneers from the East fought and forged paths for generations of Asian talent after them.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama attends the Yayoi Kusama ‘I Who Have Arrived In Heaven’ Exhibition Press Preview at David Zwirner Art Gallery on November 7, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)

Known for her iconic repeated ”polka dot” pattern, Kusama was able to achieve critical and commercial success that remains even today — one of the few female artists to ever achieve that career longevity. “From her avant-garde attitudes developed in the 1950s reacting against the social conservatism of post-war Japan, through to the sexual revolution of the 1960s in America, and her ongoing commitment to peace and connectedness – there is a great persistence in her message, which is still relevant to us now,” explains Aaron Seeto, Director of Museum MACAN in Jakarta which has one of Kusama’s Infinity Rooms in its permanent collection.

Now in her late 80s, the Japanese artist – who is believed to have influenced contemporaries such as Andy Warhol – remains active and continues to produce artworks in various media from her mental health unit in Tokyo, where she checked herself in 1977.

“Few artists from Asia have been able to command the global imagination as she has, to be present within so many of the key moments and conversations of modern and contemporary art history; to be significant across different geographies; to be reactionary and visionary, whilst becoming part of the vision of popular culture,” says Seeto.

Bruce Lee

Fans and members of the media gather around a statue of Bruce Lee (R) to mark the 40th anniversary of his death, on the Avenue of the Stars in Hong Kong on July 20, 2013. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

“There are so many reasons he’s iconic. He’s arguably the first widely known Asian hero onscreen,” says Maggie Lee, Chief Asia Film Critic at Variety.

Lee’s cultural relevance in Asia and globally comes from the fact he debunked the then-prevalent stereotypes about Asian men who were mostly portrayed as emasculated, awkward and unattractive. Worse is when Asian roles – not too dissimilar from today – were given to white actors, something known these days as “whitewashing.” Both practices are exemplified in the character of Mr. Yunioshi from the 1961 hit Breakfast at Tiffany’s which was played by Mickey Rooney.

Bruce Lee was also a pioneer in martial arts. “He formulated his own style Jeet Kune Do which many see as one prototype of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA),” says Lee adding that he cultivated “a modern image for Chinese martial arts and was able to convey and popularize his fighting philosophy in fluent English.”

The artistic value and influence of what he started still lives on today and “can be seen in the wave of films that cropped up about Ip Man, the Hong Kong Wing Chun master who taught him as a teenager” explains Lee referring to the Ip Man trilogy which was released between 2008 and 2015 and received global critical and commercial success, and even brought its star and martial artist Donnie Yen to the attention of Hollywood where he later starred in the blockbuster Star Wars: Rogue One.

Akira Kurosawa

Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa during the making of the film ‘Kagemusya’ (The Shadow Warrior) in 1980. (AFP/Getty Images)

“Not only have his films been remade or reinterpreted continuously in Japan, Hollywood, and even as far flung as Kazakhstan, the way he choreographs action has influenced the filmmakers around the world working in all kinds of genre from spaghetti westerns, to Hong Kong gangster films to fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings,” says Variety’ Maggie Lee.

It’s no secret that Kurosawa’s critically acclaimed 1954 movie Hidden Fortress directly inspired George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy and his 1950 puzzling masterpiece Rashoman – which was a surprise Golden Lion winner at Venice Film Festival that year – was the first Japanese movie to grab the attention of the western world.

“It could be argued that this greatest of filmmakers gave employment to action heroes for the next 50 years, just as a fallout from his primary purpose,” said late film critic Roger Ebert about the iconic director.

Kurosawa’s legacy continues till today, bringing attention to Asian cinema and still inspiring generations of directors in Asia and beyond.

100 Years Of Culture: Four Icons From Asia Whose Influence Transcended Borders – Forbes}

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