Pop Psychosis: the Influence of the Bomb on Superflat Art

Pop Psychosis: the Influence of the Bomb on Superflat Art

April 19, 2010 By 

http://postbubbleculture.blogs.wm.edu/2010/04/19/pop-psychosis-the-influence-of-the-bomb-on-superflat-art/

Japanese artists of the Superflat movement use the language of this pop culture iconography to explore what kawaii says about the Japanese people and their history. Takashi Murakami, founding member of the Superflat movement and author of its manifesto, views the development of kawaii as Japan’s response to World War II and the atomic bomb.

Murakami, “Mushroom Bomb Pink”

Although this article is about an Art movement rather than photography it is a really good piece of text which helps analyse when this escapist, Kawaii, Otaku culture derived in Japan and the reasons for it.

The first section of the article is called…

The Neutered State

When the Americans rewrote the Japanese constitution after World War II, they included a clause prohibiting Japan from using its army for anything but self-defense, and demanding that it remain a “peaceful state.” Some historians see Article 9 as a symbolic castration, forcing a policy of nonaggression and stripping the country of its right to express dissent through military action. In 2005, Murakami curated a show of Superflat art called “Little Boy,” also the codename for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The show’s catalogue directly faults Article 9 for the infantilism and willful innocence implied by the kawaii aesthetic, as it “forced the Japanese people into a mindset of dependency” and cast Japan in the role of a “child” obliged to follow America’s “adult guidance.” The New York Magazine review of the show notes that “Japanese pop represents the strange, even psychotic response of a population traumatized by World War II…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…” The sweetly naïve youthfulness of kawaii may well be attibuted to a sense of emasculation in Postwar Japan.

Finally I have found a piece of text which justifies my thoughts. I never thought about the use of childhood imagery as a metaphor for Japans surrender but that makes perfect sense. The superflat movement comments on this and often explores the world of “Kawaii Noir” a sub category of Kawaii (Cute) culture which has a dark undertone.

The Escapist Mentality

The growth of kawaii corresponds to the growth of otaku culture in Japan, and both kawaii and otaku provide a means of escape. Otaku can become engrossed in anime, manga, or other hobbies, sometimes to the detriment of their ability to interact with the outside world. The world of kawaii is a fantastical one by nature; where loaves of bread talk, cats wear pinafores, and children frequently possess special powers. In “Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness,” Michael Darling cites anime legend Yoshinori Kanada as an inspiration for Murakami, and notes the escapist atmosphere of his work: “Kanada’s fanciful images of destruction serve to distance the viewer (and the creator) from the real horrors of war, and can be seen as a symptomatic retreat from an honest reckoning with the ravages of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Murakami also filters confrontation with the war through a cartoonish lens, but is aware of the dynamic and deliberately plays with it, as in “Mushroom Bomb Pink.” Here the mushroom cloud has formed the shape of a skull with two big eyes, painted against a fluorescent pink background. Mushrooms recur in many of his pieces, as in “The Army of Mushrooms.” The connection between the image of the mushroom and the miliaristic reference of the title is impossible to ignore, but the implications are obscured by the anthropomorphization of the mushroom and the sunny, springlike palette.
From an academic standpoint, Superflat art and the kawaii aesthetic it reappropriates is a means to examine many aspects of Japanese culture and self-perception. But forefront in the work of Takashi Murakami is a preoccupation with the past and how the Japanese choose to view and confront it.

Murakami, “The Army of Mushrooms”

Although short, this article gets right to the base of japanese pop culture and it’s reference to the war. Thankfully the references are listed, so I can explore this area more.

Sources:

Darling, Michael. “Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness.” Art Journal 60.3 (2001): 77-89. JSTOR. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

Holmberg, Ryan. “Little Boy: the Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture.”Artforum International (2001).

Stevens, Mark. “Toxic Cuteness.” New York Magazine, May 21, 2005.

External links:

Video: Murakami interviewed by Jonathan Ross

Trailer for Murakami’s new animation project:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg1RP_eaoRM

Another interview with Murakami:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJw8U9yMFZ4

Murakami’s official site: http://www.takashimurakami.com

The fan site! http://www.takashimurakami.net/

Wired Magazine profile: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.11/artist.html

Japan, Godzilla and the Atomic Bomb by John Rocco Roberto

Japan, Godzilla and the Atomic Bomb

A Study into the Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Japanese Pop Culture

by John Rocco Roberto

Before I delve into this essay I want to provide a bit of context. I am starting to finally realise the importance of when and where essays were written, we are told to challenge everything we read for the symposium, but it’s silly to challenge a piece of writing you haven’t done any research into.

John Rocco Roberto

While John was not well known with some of the newer members of the fandom, his influence was far reaching. He was the true mover and shaker of the old days when fans didn’t have the internet to connect with one another. His articles, as well as the articles of his contemporaries in the old issues of G-Fan and later in Kaiju-Fan set the standard for serious analysis of the films (“Godzilla in America” anyone?)

– ‘Special Tribute’ By John “Dutch” DeSentis

He [was] one of the founding fathers of modern Godzilla fandom, helping establish G-FAN and G-CON.

– ‘Remembering John Rocco Roberto’ by BRETT

It’s safe to say from these account that John Rocco was a key player in the fandom world of Godzilla and was active in his passion. Therefore I can accept that this isn’t a half researched essay. Founding conventions and fan bases for one film takes a lot of work and dedication, and the success for G-Con reflects on his knowledge of not only the film but it’s surrounding debates.

Let’s get started on the essay…

The section I am particularly interested in is titled ‘From Desperation to Insperation’

However, one could argue that the true date of Godzilla’s birth was not November 3rd, 1954, but August 6th, 1945, the day the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

I had my suspicions before that Godzilla was a representation of the Atomic bombing, purely because of it’s release which was just after the bombings. However John Rocco Roberto explains this with more substance.

“On the plane ride back to Tokyo, I was desperate,” Tanaka recalled.“  I was sweating the whole time.”  The year was 1954, and the film he intended to make was to have beenIn the Shadow of Glory, co-produced in cooperation with the Indonesian government.  The plans for the film, however, fell through when Tanaka could not get work permits for the film’s stars.  Having a budget for a war film, but having no film to shoot, Tanaka agonized at the prospect of losing face in the eyes of his company.  But it was during that plane ride that, as Guy Tucker argues, “desperation became his friend … and would lend him an idea that would develop into something far larger and more enduring than the project he left behind.”

At the end of the Second World War Japan was devastated; physically, politically and financially.  The people of the nation were starving and homeless, and their spirits had been broken.  There was an atmosphere of hopelessness, known only too well to Haruo Nakajima, who served in the Imperial Army during the war, and who would go on to play Godzilla in eleven films.  “There was a feeling of great despair [all around].  It was very difficult for people to find work at this time,” Nakajima recalled. The intensity of the Japanese reaction to their defeat, and the devastation brought on by it, is evident in their present anti-nuclear policies. Their inner feelings towards this defeat, however, have never been fully examined.  But one place to start that examination could be through analyzing two important Japanese films in the context of their times.

Quotes by the man inside the Godzilla costume and Tomoyuki Tanaka himself define the idea of the bombs not only having an effect on Japan physically and financially but also culturally, inspiring the iconic character that is Godzilla.

Under SCAP guidelines Japanese directors were to stress how all Japanese “were endeavoring to construct a peaceful nation [and] how soldiers and repatriates were being rehabilitated into civilian life.”  The result was a series of poor films half-hearted in their execution.

We can clearly see that there was a massive reaction to the bombing in the film industry. John Rocco Roberto goes on to explain this in the section section…“Gorja”

In Gojira, the monster Godzilla is the United States’ atomic bomb, devastating Tokyo and reducing it to a radioactive cinder all in one night.  Originally conceived by Tsuburaya as a giant mutated octopus, producers Tanaka and Mori felt that a giant dinosaur-type creature (mutated through the effects of atomic testing), would have more appeal and be more threatening to land-based civilizations… In Honda’s conception, the monster Godzilla would not merely be awakened by the bomb; instead “He would be twisted and mutated by it, into a rampaging uncontainable force; the A-bomb made flesh.”

“Japan and the bomb in the 21st century”

Dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War has remained a heated and controversial debate in the United States to the present day.  Whether the Japanese were about to surrender; whether the Soviet Union was about to enter the war; all remain good, but academic points in the 21st century.  The bombs were dropped, and Japanese culture changed forever.  On the surface, there is very little sign of pre-war Japan.  American influence has completely embedded itself into every part of Japanese society.  In fact when one travels to Japan, one is immediately taken with the lack of any sign that Japan suffered from nuclear attack. In fact there are very little signs that Japan ever lost the war.  The average Japanese citizen drinks Coca-Cola, eats breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, eats lunch at MacDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, enjoys American sports such as Baseball and Bowling, and flocks to their local theaters to watch big-budgeted Hollywood films.  There is no sufficient way to describe the experience of traveling in Japan unless you have actually experienced it.  The best description would be to imagine Times Square in New York City multiplied by 100.

“Japanese Pop Culture and the Bomb”

Beginning with the lifting of SCAP restrictions in the 1950s, several films began to address the issue of the atomic bombings

Read the full essay here

Whilst this essay has been interesting and informative, and have allowed to me form a strong group of quotes, it reminds me again of the importance of titles, The sub header suggests this essay explores how the bomb effected Japanese popular culture, when instead it only explores Godzilla. It is still, however an insight into post Bomb Japan, and worth referring to in the future.

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.