Takashi Murakami – Birth of Superflat

*my opinions written in blue

This is a channel 4 documentary on Takashi Murakami, the founder of ‘Superflat’.

Key notes:
-Highly theoretical
– Jelly fish eyes 2001 & Jelly fish eyes wallpaper: “An instillation about the concept of a hallway”
Pop Art
– Warhol – Images from mass media, reproduced and enlarged them.
– Jeff Koons – Kitsch and Pop culture.
– Murakami – Japanese cartoons & enlarging them.
– Childlike but repulsive. On first sight it’s pink, then it’s a fleshy pink.
– Flower artwork, critique of contemporary Japan, culture is childish and empty,
– Superflat – Dark vision of contemporary Japan
-Paul Schimmel, Chief curator @ MoCA Consumerist Aesthetic – Dirty words,
– Tom Eccles, Director of Public Art Fund, New York – Murakami celebrates consumerism, Warhol showed campbell soup cans, he didn’t actually design them unlike Murakami.
– Artists usually see art and business as two separate things. Murakami doesn’t. – “New form of Art” – Murakami

Superflat – “It’s a catch phrase” – Murakami
– Japans loss of national identity
– “The Otaku are grown ups who act like children” – says the presenter. Completely disagree, getting into the debate of what is Otaku is a different research project, but I am not taking this stance for my research project. My opinion is Otaku’s in Japan are looking for escapism  they hold well paid jobs and are very intelligent, but the pressure of society is too much for them so they enjoy adolescent things like anime and games.

Hiroki Azuma- Writer on Otaku culture
– Murakami’s used of big eyes reflect on the dark side of animation

David Elliot – Director, Mori Museum
– Everything has an emblem, a police station has a mascot. Murakami’s Mr. Dob is one of those, but he’s nasty, “he’s a rouge
muppet”

“After 1945 America swamped Japan with it’s consumer culture, Japan became the worlds best consumers.” Not sure it’s fair to say “best consumers” – like it’s a competition, in my eyes they are the “worst” consumers, they have fallen for consumerism which isn’t a positive thing.

Since 1990’s Japanese economy has been flat – terrorist cult with otaku links hacked the subway with poison gas, an Otaku killer was on the loose. Animation before this showed a hopeful future. Now they are a social malade [malade meaning – someone who is crazy, a patient]

“Society has become superflat”, David Elliot – Director, Mori Museum,”things get dumbed down”.

3 dimensions to Superflat
– Sociological
– Historical
– Aesthetic

Murakami appropriates others work, traditional Japanese art & Wester culture. Mr. Dob – Like Mikey Mouse with the stylish of traditional Japanese paintings.

Any irony involved? making the finest Japanese tradition of art (scrolls) to make a print of flowers? – doesn’t really give us an answer

Little Boy
Japans childish culture & the name of the bomb dropped on hiroshima.
Time Bokan – Murakami – 2001 – name taken from the animation – every week the bad guys would get defeated and a mushroom cloud would appear at the end in the form of a skull.

Murakami talking about “Time Bokan” – “This is typically Japanese, we have taken the worst tragedy that ever befell us and turned it into a joke”… “Just 30 years after the war, this fascinates me” “In the west Skulls are dark symbols of death. In japan they are not so negative. We in Japan have no awareness of our cultural identity. There is a reason Manga obsessively shows images of the atomic bomb. We are the only people who have experienced the atomic bomb…. thanks to man-made forced more powerful that gods. This has made us numb, past feeling and caring.”

The smiling flowers are like surrendering. In the future it will be hard to tell the difference between art and other commercial materials. Art is becoming simpler but toys are becoming sophisticated.

This documentary has been very informing, yet it tends to do what I hate, there is no conclusion, the narrater simply states the future remains to be seen and how we read Murakami’s work, ironically or not is a choice. I suppose as a BBC documentary it has to remain balanced as a PBS.

However it has made me think about my project. Why am I trying to use Murakami as an example of Kawaii culture? when he is a mesh of both, his art comments on this work, whilst making money from the consumerists. This could be something to explore, does Murakami’s work oppose Kawaii culture as much as photographers does?

One word I need to explain more is Irony, a word I hate to use in general because it’s so difficult to explain, but is unavoidable, and is a pivoting aspect to this project, consumerism and irony.

Little Boy: ‘The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture’

I have written before about ‘Little Boy’ an exhibition compiled by Takashi Murakami in which a number of artists explore how the Atmoic Bomb made Japan take on the role of a child, hence their Kawaii culture, obsessing over Hello Kitty and anything cute.

On reading the book I have managed to find the original quote which Mirukami suggests this…

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the American-made constitution prevented the nation from taking an aggressive stance… it cast Japan in the role of a “child” obliged to follow America’s “adult” guidance, and the nation willingly complied.

pp08 “Little Boy” by Takashi Murakami

 

Toxic Cuteness

Toxic Cuteness

At the Japan Society’s “Little Boy,” Hiroshima leads directly to Hello Kitty.

By Mark Stevens. Published May 21, 2005

http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/art/reviews/11707/

On display are dozens of sappy-sweet toys, examples of anime and manga, and many depictions of monsters and adolescent cutie-pies. Works of art based upon this material are also on view, but no strong distinction is made between art and artifact. The key argument here is that, far from being just sugary kitsch, Japanese pop represents the strange, even psychotic response of a population traumatized by World War II, and then made impotent and infantilized by occupation. Fantasy can provide an escape from history. Art averts. Art anesthetizes.

Another example of how modern art and culture has been directly influenced by the bombings. The problem I am facing at the moment is that it’s easy to find Super Flat art but not so much photography, living in the UK means it’s hard to find access to japanese photographers work, other than online, After finishing reading this article my next mission will be to stray away from the artists and instead look at photographers who play part of this extreme escapism method in reaction to the actions of America.

From this vantage point, the firebombing of Tokyo evolved into the city stomp of Godzilla. The mushroom cloud became a pretty flower rising into the sky at the conclusion of a children’s TV show. Fantasies of power are irresistible to the impotent. Little Japanese boys (of all ages) love robots and space suits, and have a kinky obsession with girls who play peek-a-panty. Fashion and shopping provide bits of distracting and addictive glitter. Murakami calls this culture “superflat,” by which he means, in part, that the interior life of the nation has been ironed into an ahistorical and decorative field of games, melodrama, apocalypse, shopping, and cuteness. Everywhere in Japan, for example, you come upon that appallingly cute little figure called Hello Kitty. It has no mouth and no developed limbs—an image of powerlessness and, Murakami suggests, sublimated hysteria.

An interesting take on the meaning of Hello Kitty, I have heard before that she is emotionless therefore you can reflect your ideals and emotions onto her. I have never heard that she is “an image of powerlessness before” it’s a strange thing to suggest as she is one of the most powerful brands in the world. It might be interesting to research deeper into Hello Kitty’s origins, again she is not a photography area but all of this research is providing me context for my project. Giving me that knowledge it’s so important I have before I even start talking.

Also I want to find to superflat manifesto, get my around what it is and decide if it relates to photography or not.

The title “Little Boy” is brilliant: It conflates cuteness with the nickname of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

A major artist would have to reach in a powerful way into the sexual, emotional, and historical fear that gives rise to an impotent infantilism. But the show is utterly convincing in one important respect—this isn’t just Disney.

Unfortunately the references aren’t listed, so I can’t find out where Murakami said that Hello Kitty is “an image of powerlessness”.

Little Boy has also been made into a book, one in which I am seriously looking into finding.

Google Books offers us the synopsis

Yale University Press, 11 May 2005 – 312 pages
Little Boy examines the culture of postwar Japan through its arts and popular visual media. Focusing on the youth-driven phenomenon of otaku (roughly translated as “geek culture” or “pop cult fanaticism”), Takashi Murakami and a notable group of contributors explore the complex historical influences that shape Japanese contemporary art and its distinct graphic languages. The book’s title, Little Boy, is a reference to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, thus clearly locating the birth of these new cultural forms in the trauma and generational aftershock of the atomic bomb.

This generously illustrated book showcases the work of key otaku artists and designers, many of whom are cult celebrities in Japan, and discusses their feature film and video animations, video games and internet sites, music, toys, fashion, and more. In the process, the following questions are posed: What is otaku, and what does it tell us about contemporary social, economic, and cultural life in Japan and throughout the world? How is it related to the pervasive and curious fixation on “cuteness” evident in Japanese popular culture? What impact did the atomic devastation of World War II have on the development of Japanese art and culture?

This brilliantly designed, bilingual (English and Japanese) publication examines these themes to explore how contemporary Japanese art has become inseparable from the subcultural realms of manga and animé (Japanese animation)—a world where meticulous technique, apocalyptic imagery, and high and low cultures meet.

Little Boy concludes Murakami’s “Superflat” trilogy, a project conceived in 2000 to introduce a new wave of Japanese artists and to place their work in the historical context of traditional styles and concepts.

Although this book is priced at over £100 it is key I get my hands on in, a reviewer on amazon says that Murakami himself has written 2 essays within the book that focus on how Kawaii and Otaku are coping mechanisms with what has happened in the past, reverting Japans society to a child like state.
Another reviewer says…
Murakami’s latest curatorial effort has gained nearly universal acclaim amongst the art world. His “Little Boy” exhibition attempts to understand the origins of contemporary Japanese art’s affinity for both the horrifically violent and the frightfully cute (kawaii). Ultimately, Murakami argues that these images are spawned from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined with postwar US domination. Violent imagery becomes a sign for a fascination with the kind of power that postwar Japan lacked. Kawaii imagery is then seen as stemming from Japan’s status as a protectorate of the US. This relationship was not unlike that of a parent and child (the child/adolecent becomes a prevalent theme in Japanese art from postwar era forward.)
– By Andrew C. Raymond
As it turns out we have this book in our library. Keep your eye out for another post on this tonight.

Foley Sounds: Matsuo Ohno & Ben Birtt

With the use of sound heavily predominant in Phonar I thought this would abe a good chance to talk about a film I saw at Zipangu Fest 2012 a month ago.

‘The Echo of Astro Boy’s footsteps’ – Masanori Tominaga 2010

Whilst recording the sounds of a cabbage (don’t ask) as part of this weeks workshop we were also shown a short clip from a documentary about Disney & Pixar’s Wall-E. This video really showed me how important every component of sound is, especially when paired up with visual imagery, as the viewer we can be swayed either way by the tone, duration and there aspects of one sound. This is all happening subconsciously.

This video reminded me of one I had seen at Zipangu Fest a month or so ago. The Echo of Astro Boy’s footsteps is an exploration of sound in anime and focuses on the life of one individual in particular, Matsuo Ohno, the creator of the iconic Astro Boy’s footsteps. The thing that was different in Matsuo’s work is the use of feedback. When learning about sound design in last weeks workshop we were told that feedback is a no go, and never to use it. Matsuo Ohno’s work however prides itself on using unconventional techniques to create futuristic sound influenced by the idea of space. Which demonstrates how creative we should be when making sounds, they don’t have to directly reflect the sounds of a physical object to still portray a message.

Both Matsuo Ohno & Ben Burtt create something called Foley Sound. This is sound which is created rather than found. Using objects to create the perfect sound for the scene, it’s very controlled, and there is no sound to start with, the sound designer builds up layers of sound to directly position the audience and to play with their emotions and perspective. As photographers we do this is a very similar way, we use light, colour, composition and context to place our audience, what’s interesting to explore is the combinations of both sound and images, which is what I will be doing as part of Phonar this week.

The need for a Hero – Optimism

If anything my last post made me look at how the effects of the War and Japans defeat mean they needed a Hero, something or someone to give them optimism in their current state. This is a theme that is still apparent today in narrative. I came across this series a while ago and it instantly came to my mind when thinking about Japanese heroes and villains.

The Solitude Of A Machine – by Marc Ninghetto

 

 

Marc Ninghetto is a Swiss photographer who draws his love for Japanese Animation into his photography.

The machines at the heart of the exhibition are none other than the Japanese manga robots Grendizer and Astroboy.

– http://www.mbandf.com/mad-gallery/marc-ninghetto-the-solitude-of-a-machine

Grendizer Ad
Astro Boy Ad

 

 

 

The effect of WWII on Japanese culture, Manga, Anime & Film

Whilst WWII had an effect on every nation involved, it’s effect can be seen no greater than in Japan. On August 6th ‘Little Boy’ was launched by the US military Hiroshima being the target. On the 9th August a second bomb ‘Fat Man’ was also launched by the US but this time targeting Nagasaki. The destruction of these two atomic bombs changes Japans physical and social landscape forever. People began to question the worlds state and consider that one day the human race might be wiped out. This had a huge impact on Storytelling, Manga (Whimsical Drawings) had emerged in the mid 1800’s when Japan’s previously secluded society was forced to merge with other cultures via the arrival of the americans.

most Japanese lived in an unchanging feudaal agrarian society until 1853, when a fleet of heavily armed American ships sailed into Yokohama Bay… More foreigners came East in search of new opportunities, including two Europeans who were to have a huge influence on Japanese publishing – Brinton Charles Wirgman in 1857, and Frenchman Georges Bigot in 1882… As well as new ways of thinking and expression, foreign magazine brought in new technology and new formats. Japanese cartoonists began adapting American comics for the Japanese audience.

The comics market grew and diversified until 1937, when Japan went to war with China and later with the USA and comics became part of the war effort. It was not until after japan’s surrender in 1945 that the social and political cartoonists could resume activity.

-‘500 Manga Heroes and Villains’ – Helen McCarthy 10pp-12pp

The post-surrender Japan needed a lift and a bit of optimism. A need which manga could fill.

Keiji Nakazawa’s masterwork is a first-hand account of the horrors of surviving an atomic strike – a reality which still resonates in manga.

-‘500 Manga Heroes and Villains’ – Helen McCarthy 13pp


I want to explore how the war changed Japanese story telling, through Manga, Anime and Film. This will then lead me to the most recent form of storytelling Photography.

Manga & Anime

Astro Boy (1951)

 Astro Boy is a concept and character created by Osamu Tezsuka, the story is based in 2003, to us now it is a past time but on it’s release it looked 52 years into the future.

Astro Boy also represented the positive aspects od science and technology to a nation only six years on from the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the case for tolerance and openness to others.

-‘500 Manga Heroes and Villains’ – Helen McCarthy 22pp

The narrative explores the future of technology, robots who not only resemble humans but who also inhabit the feelings and lives of them. Humans fearing their ‘servants’ becoming more powerful than themselves they enforce the laws of robotics to try and ‘maintain control’. Astro Boy is the creating of Professor Tenma who dealt with the grief of losing his son by transferring his memories into a robot.

The story of Astro Boy became so popular it became the first Japanese animated cartoon aired on TV and is considered the first ‘Anime’

 

Akira (1882)

As an anime fan there is no escaping the wrath of Akira, one of the most influential stories and films around, it bought a whole new meaning to Manga and Anime and was influenced by WWII.

Katsuhiro Otomo’s science fiction/cyberpunk manga Akira (1982-90) and animated film adaptation of the same name (1988) represent the cultural anxieties of post-WWII Japan, exploring the struggle to find normality in amongst the social and architectural collapse of Neo-Tokyo, to learn that there can be no returning to the pre-apocalypse, only the memories can be accessed through trauma and imagined nostalgia.

– Taken from ‘REBUILDING NEO-TOKYO: THE SEARCH FOR NORMALITY IN THE APOCALYPSE OF AKIRA‘ by S. T. Cartledge
http://themanifold.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/rebuilding-neo-tokyo-the-search-for-normality-in-the-apocalypse-of-akira/

Deadman Wonderland

Perhaps not quite as established as Akira or Astro boy, Deadman Wonderland was written by Jinsei Kataoka and is an example of how the idea of a New World/ utopia in Japanese storytelling is still prominent today.

The story takes place 10 years after an earthquake sank Japans mainland and 3/4’s of Tokyo. In an effort to rebuild the city a prison is made, Deadman Wonderland, a theme park occupying old Tokyo. The workers are criminals, they run the city sized theme park and the public visit, the free forced labour helps push the economy back up. The Manga was written in 2007 but didn’t take off until it’s realise as an Anime in 2011. Interestingly just a few months after the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The Anime has been a huge success in the UK but in Japan perhaps the use of a Tsunami was too sore, an inappropriate release date limited the manga and anime.

Film

Godzilla

I recently went to see Godzilla vs King Kong in 35mm, I have, like most people, always been aware of Godzilla as a popular culture icon. However until I did my research before the screening I did not know that Godzilla was a character made to represent the war.

Godzilla’s genesis “was also conditioned by Cold War tensions and atomic age anxieties.” In March 1954, a Japanese fishing vessel, Daigo Fukuruyu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5) strayed into the U.S. nuclear bomb testing zone near Biniki Atoll. The crew was exposed to “massive amounts of radiation, one crew member died (after a cynical American cover-up), and some of the irradiated tuna on the ship made it onto the market in Japan. . . . This was big news in Japan (and was called ‘the latest atomic bombing of Japan’ in the media), especially, of course, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki remained fresh memories.”

“The first Godzilla film clearly had a strong anti-nuclear message. . . . Yet it becomes increasingly hard to conclude that the films have had a consistent message over time . . . . The only constant about the Godzilla films is a deep ambivalence, a kind of moral and intellectual ambiguity, that precludes drawing any firm, unitary conclusions. The message of Godzilla,” Tsutsui explained, “. . . is complex and reflects . . . a fundamental ambivalence on the part of the Japanese when they look at issues like modernity, technology, science, nature, politics, and the world outside Japan.”

– http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=24850

This has just been a very brief scratch on the surface of how Japanese storytelling reacted to WWII, I will writing more on this subject in relation to photography very soon.

Soasig Chamaillard

 

 

 

 

As you can probably tell from the photographs, Soasig Chamaillard’s work looks at pop culture and relates it to religion. Much in the same way of Pierre et Gilles and David LaChapelle’s work. Mixing iconic figures from religion and transforming them into modern iconic figures comments on today society and the role of products, note that none of the characters depicted are real people, instead products of consumerism that shape pop culture.

www.soasig-chamaillard.com