Here's an email I sent to a friend about the Little Boy exhibition and this book:
I spent Friday afternoon at the Japan Society viewing the Little Boy exhibition, curated by Takashi Murakami - and I purchased the handsome exhibit catalogue, Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture (edited by Murakami, with commentary and essays in English and Japanese).
The exhibition title, of course, is the name of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and that event is a recurrent theme and background for the exhibit. But it also points toward the apparent childlike drift of Japanese pop culture as evidenced by the kawaii craze. Murakami has two essays in the catalogue, the first of which is "Earth in my Window" (pp. 98-149). The essay has an image from "Howl's Moving Castle" as its frontispiece, opens by talking of the historic Little Boy, moves through the assertion that "everyone who lives in Japan knows-something is wrong" and quickly arrives at "Kawaii (cute) culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body. It is a utopian society as fully regulated as the science-fiction world George Orwell envisioned in 1984: comfortable, happy, fashionable-a world nearly devoid of discriminatory impulses" (p. 100). I've not read the essay in full.
The exhibition was quite interesting, steeped in manga and anime. One wall was covered in original hand-drawn Doraemon panels, another wall of Hello Kitty art and merchandise, Mobile Suit Gundam was well represented, while a bench of foot-high Godzilla sculptures was placed in front of a black well on which the 9th article of the Japanese constitution was written, in English and Japanese. That's the article in which Japan renounces the right to wage war. And lots more, more than I can even mention, much less comment on, in this brief note.
The overall effect - of both the exhibition and the catalog - is that of manga and anime themselves. We have worlds colliding and intersecting, intermingling and cross-breeding. Who knows what it will toss up, hopeful monsters and all.
I was most taken by the (acrylic) paintings of Aya Takano. Midori Matsui remarks of her art (p. 232):
"The interpenetration of the future and the past, the outer and inner space is captured dreamily in Takano's paintings, in habited by supple, nude teenagers and half-human creatures drawn with tentative lines and painted in a vapory spread of acrylic. Her retro-futuristic vision is inspired by the science-fiction novels of Brian B. Aldis, Cordweiner Smith, James Tiptree, Jr. and the comics of Osamu Tezuka, the father of postwar Japanese narrative manga. The mixture of hippie hallucination and space-age fantasy gives Takano's erotic nudes a mythical flavor. Coyly taunting the "Lolita complex" of an otaku erotic comic, she conveys a different sort of eroticism derived from the androgyny of the adolescent body."
Yes. Her work is very delicate, but substantial. Moderately painterly as well. You can see the brush strokes, but the paint is thin and Matsui's phrase "vapory spread" is apt. The heads are rounded, as are the large eyes. The eyes are also heavily lined, as though these wiry and delicate creatures are made up with kohl around their eyes. The images are haunting.
If I were a collector, I would collect Takano. But I would have to hang those paintings in a gallery. I wouldn't want them in a living room, a library, a hallway, nor a bedroom. The images are too intrusive to be background. They demand your attention; they are jealous.
I saw lots of images like that in this exhibition. I wish I could see it again.