Photos by DJ Tony Jr
I have a confession to make. I’m new to Japan’s pop-art scene. I haven’t fully grasped Takashi Murakami’s the theoretical frame work of his Postmodern Superflat movement, but I’m an avid fan of his work and everything and everyone associated with it.
Yoshitomo Nara sometimes comes up on the topic of Murakami and Superflat. The last time Nara’s solo exhibit occupied the Yokohama Museum of Art’s halls in 2001, it coincidentally coincided with Murakami’s at the Museum of Contemporary of Art, Tokyo. Eleven years later, Nara has returned with his next exhibit “a bit like you and me…”
It was possibility the first time that I not only had to wait in line for admittance for an art exhibit, but also the one time where I had to follow a queue of people to move from piece to piece.
Amidst all this, I immediately understood the hype. There’s something oddly bewitching about his characters and painting. Their eyes are deformed, reminiscent of the anime and manga characters’ that he consumed early on in the 1960s. Cute though his characters may be, their expressions are anything but that. Each of his pieces portrays nearly identical girls with leers that have grown to become his signature aesthetic.
A gallery of bronze cast sculptures occupy one floor and as Edan Corkill of the Japan Times reports, March 11 became the key piece to its conception. The sculptures aren’t socially or politically active so much as they’re emotionally wrought. What’s more, there feels like a touch of growing maturity to his newer paintings.
Take Ms. Spring for example. I’m not sure to what degree Nara is influenced by contemporary anime, but the multi-colored scheme reminds me of some of the digital effects rendered by photoshopped characters. The main difference is that while artists use Adobe Elements to achieve this effect, Nara took acrylic to canvas. Look deeper into the eyes of “Ms. Spring” and there’s a vividness in its color that defies her otherwise sullen mood. There’s certainly sorrow there, but the complex coloring of it all is almost elevating. What this means about the direction of Japan’s nascent Post-3.11 art movement is anyone’s best bet, but this exhibit may be one of the best places to start.
Yoshitomo Nara’s exhibit, “a bit like you and me…” continues until Sunday, September 23rd, 2012 at the Yokohama Museum of Art. For further information, visit www.nara2012-13.org.
While production for the fan maligned live-action Akira adaptation may have screeched to a halt as of January 5, 2012, Otomo Katsuhiro–the original creator for the manga and anime–is ever busy with an upcoming art exhibit at the 3331 Chiyoda Arts Centre in Tokyo, Japan, showcased between April 9th to March 30th, 2012. The Genga Exhibition, as it is called, already has a catalogue available for pre-order on Amazon.co.jp.
So far, unpublished art for Kaba 2 will be showcased alongside pieces from his other work.
In addition to that, a special discussion will occur live on UStream between Katsuhiro-san, Blood: The Last Vampire‘s Katsuya Terada, and Perfect Blue‘s Hisashi Higuchi on April 9th, 8 p.m. Japan local time.
Guests are required to purchase their tickets in advance at Lawson’s convenience stores for admittance at a designated time. What’s better is that this is an opportunity to geek out for a good cause. Thirty percent of ticket proceeds go towards helping victims of the 3/11 Earthquake.
Nothing’s set in stone, but I’ll definitely try to make it out there sometime in April or May and report further on the exhibit.
6-11-14 Sotokanda Chiyoda-Ku Tokyo 101-0021
TEL：+81(0)3-6803-2441 / FAX：+81(0)3-6803-2442 / E-MAIL：[email protected]
Say the word “Postmodern” and a tide of ideas flood the imagination. Structuralism, metanarratives, semiotics, and other obscure studies come to mind. At best they sound intelligently incomprehensible. At worst they reek of fashionable nonsense. Hiroki Azuma’s book, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, reads like neither. Unlike the milieu of thinkers who dwell in the pages of academic journals, Azuma’s prose is accessibly lucid despite the citation of high-minded thinkers and philosophers like Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and G.W.F. Hegel. He eschews a pedantic writing style in favor of a lucid journalistic one to analyze and explain the phenomena of Japan’s most notorious caste of social pariahs: the Otaku.
Japan’s homegrown niche of anime geeks may seem like a pretentiously unrelated topic for the lofty heights of philosophy and theory. That is, it would be if Azuma didn’t make such compelling claims. The core argument of the book centers on the collapse of the “Grand Narrative” concerning Otaku consumption. Look at the Grand Narrative as a sense of meaning or purpose, but while the rest of the world was in conflict during the Cold War, Japan only had industry and consumption as a guiding light. The Otaku substituted this with fictional narratives to fill the void, but even this was insufficient. Azuma noted that late into the 1990s, consumers ceased to show as much interest in the plots of anime so much as their characters. Azuma uses the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime as an example. Multiple narratives currently exist for the Eva franchise through various multimedia projects, but most have little to do with the “original”.
“[The Otaku] did not really have a concern for the entire world of Evangelion,” Azuma writes. “Instead they focused exclusively on the setting and character designs as objects for exclusive interpretation.”
In other words, the characters, not the story were its fans’ passion “One might argue that the original TV series of Evangelion [still] continued to function as an entry…into the grand narrative. However, Otaku culture of the few years since Evangelion is rapidly abandoning the need for even this entry point,” writes Azuma.
The emergence of Di Gi Charot enforces his claim. An anime gaming dealership originally created its protagonist, Digiko, as a mascot for its enterprise. No narrative existed prior to this character’s conception, yet an anime and series of novels came to fruition following Digiko’s growing popularity. Even the character Usada Hikaru’s name was determined by a fan poll. In this instance, the “database” of anonymous fans directly influenced the creation of these characters without any sign of original authorship.
With the collapse of the Grand Narrative then, what alternative framework is there for seeing the world? “It is easier to comprehend the world through a database model,” Azuma writes. “An easily understandable example of this is the Internet. The Net has no center. That is, no hidden grand narrative regulates all Web pages.” What’s left are different parts for consumers to pick and choose from the database and craft together and render the Moé characters that you see today through consumer feedback. Here we have a description towards how the anime industry creates its characters. Cat ears, maid frocks, sailor suits, and other informational pieces make up the Otaku wardrobe. Anime producers pick and choose from this database to stitch together the Frankenstein monstrosities in the Moé catalogue.
Grand narratives aside, one might ask what makes such a dynamic Postmodern. This is where the ghosts of theories past enter further into the picture. Philosopher Alexandre Kojeve wrote An Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. In it is a footenote that the world would be divided between a return to (American) animalism or Japanese snobbery. The former consists of those who live in harmony with their environment, but consume without any pursuit of higher meaning in their travels through life. The latter is much different. “snobs are not in harmony with their environment,” Azuma writes. “Even if there is no chance whatsoever for denial, snobs presume to deny, to manufacture formal opposition, and to love the thrill of opposing nature.”
What does this have to do with the Otaku then? This is where it gets a bit tricky. Let’s skip past snobbery and say that animalization applies more aptly to the database consumption of the Otaku. Kojeve referred to animalization as an American form of consumerism. Japan—as we already know—already underwent an Americanization process during its Post-War years. In today’s consumer society, everything is delivered immediately like fastfood to readily satisfy our needs. Even requisite social interactions are no longer necessary for sexual needs via the adult entertainment industry. As a result, society is sufficient without the interactions of the ‘other’ which once constituted human relations. The implications of which should leave any reader frightened. While Azuma is soberly objective in his take on the otaku, it’s difficult not to take a more harshly critical stance in light of these observations.
This review has so far barely even skimmed the surface of the content for Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. That’s only natural because it takes up a meager–yet densely packed–144 pages. If there’s one flaw in its design, it’s that it was too short. Azuma could have easily been more generous with himself and expanded further on his ideas.
Which brings us to the second problem with the book: it’s dated. The inital Japanese publication date was in 2001 and took seven years to reach American shores. Twitter, Facebook, 4Chan, Weibo, and other social media are absent from the books pages along with other recent phenomenon like AKB48 and Hatsune Miku’s mainstream popularity in Japan.
Further more, recent events like the global financial crisis puts his book in a new perspective. The unemployment among recent college graduates in America has led critics to ponder why Millenials can’t just grow up. What many people miss is that Japan underwent a similiar occurence–with some cultural and sociological differences–during its post-bubble years. Otaku-esque subcultures like hypebeasts and gyaru are coalescing in the United States. America may not be turning Japanese, but it’s difficult to ignore some similar trends.
Lastly, Azuma himself observed the creative shift in anime and film following the Hanshin Earthquake and sarin gas attacks in Tokyo during 1995. It (temporarily) grew darker and concentrated heavily on the psychological disorders of modern youth rather than just raw escapism. What artistic changes occur after the 3.11 Tohoku Earthquake remains to be seen. The world is still waiting for a response.
Hiroki Azuma is a professor at Waseda University and President/Editor-in-Chief of Contectures, LLC.
[Correction: Azuma's company is called "Contectures" not "Conjectures"].
It’s 2012 and no progress yet on the live-action adaptation of the Akira anime. Rest assured, Bandai is releasing a replica of Kaneda’s jacket in the mean time. The jacket is to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Otomo Katsuhiro’s manga and it’s yours for the low, low price of 69,800 yen. You can purchase it here on Bandai’s Namco page or the official website for the anniversary.
All you need to know is January 26-Feb 12th. Here’s a link to the schedule and it’s in two locations, Santa Monica and Hollywood. You have little excuses if you’re a fan and in LA. There’s also some rarities so do take a look at the calendar. Miyazaki is more than Totoro! (American Cinematique – Miyazaki)
LA County Museum of Art will be presenting new, English-subtitled 35mm prints of two Hayao Miyazaki films: CASTLE IN THE SKY (the very first Ghibli feature is having its 25th anniversary) and SPIRITED AWAY (10th anniversary). CASTLE will screen at 4:30 pm and SPIRITED will screen at 7:30 pm.
Want to go? We have some FREE TICKETS. Yes, you can go to both screenings and also receive a one sheet (it’s some type of promo material poster or smaller image) for the upcoming Ghibli feature, Secret World of Arrietty. We have a few sets to give away.
If you want in: Just send us the reason why you’d like to go. Hopefully it’s more than a sentence. We might publish it in a future blog post and hopefully it’ll warm people’s hearts like Miyazaki’s movies do. Send it to: info (at) giantrobot.com
At this point, it doesn’t matter. The cast of Akira is white. There will be the pundits who’s love it regardless, but the casting is strange. Who knows, it might end up being like The Departed. A complete new take on Akira. If it works out like that, then fine. How’s will the ending play out? It’ll cost millions with tons of special effects. These actors? They might just be pawns in a movie that’s filled with CG. That’s optimism. (i09 - Akira)
Robot Anime legend Gundam is a series that’s part of history. Not just anime but world cinema. The frontier of this program is still just starting off. A statue just recently stood 60 feet and became a world wide spectacle. There are more and more Gundam films being made. The toys don’t stop. What’s next? Will Hollywood ruin this? Live action? Good to see Gundam getting some ink. It’s a classic that’s huge but can be gigantic outside of Japan. (LA Times – Gundam)
Cosplay isn’t what you might think. It’s portrayed as the super geek thing to do or be into. It’s supposed to be sexy but geeky at the same time. There’s plenty of folks who are into it of all sizes and styles, yet the media captures mostly only one type, the geeky guy, the less clothed female. (cnn – cosplay)