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The Eastern World Gives the Trend: focus on Japan

Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki

Japan, a country created by an exceptional society and customs but which followed more than a century of modernisation based on the occidental model, has now its own eclectic style. Japanese culture amazes more and more because it is unique. With the help of different artistic styles, it is more and more eager to be recognized for its true nature rather than for its stereotypes like in the past. It is consequently with an enormous success that the recent Spirited Away and other animated films by Miyazaki are exported in the entire world leaving spectators astonished by such a innovative show. But photography, painting, drawings and architecture are also not forgotten.
On realysed by the artist Nora Krug (see link at the bottom of the text) real lessons, illustrated by amusing animations, are given in order to offer the to-be japanophiles the opportunity to approach work or private relationships with serenity and knowledge. This site provides with the essential tools to encounter the Japanese culture which is highly emerging.

The world success of animated films

The most popular form of artistic expression, among both children and adults and which is probably the most accessible one, is without doubt the animated film which is a symbol of the Japanese know-how. The animated film was created in the 50s but has developed to renew its style in the 80s with films such as Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo who influenced a whole generation, Ghost in the Shell by Mamoru Oshii and Graves of the Fireflies by Isao Takahata which share interesting visual aspects. In 1997, the success of Japanese animated film is confirmed in the American box-office to concurrence directly the Disney studios.
But why has the Japanese animated film encountered such success? First of all, the Japanese have invented a new genre concerning the narrative which reveals itself to be more intricate, richer that that of the American production. Indeed the themes are deep and original. In Mononoke-Hime (aka Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki) the motive of conflict between the nature and man is dealt with while in Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi(aka Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki)it is the spiritual education is a little girl which is expressed. Moreover, the artistic dimension is also exceptional. The illustrations are based on details and subtlety, for the pleasure of spectators.
But recently problems have occurred and the studios have to face harsh competition and low budgets and this could slow down artistic development and new talents. However animated films are maintaining their quality and earning the spectators' approval in the whole world.

Contemporary art: a slow development but a certain quality

Contemporary art is less popular than the animated film, but it is nonetheless of high quality and slowly emerging. In this art we can find different genres as well as different techniques (photography, graphics, sculpture…). The technique used often reflects the artist's vision of the world, his thought by a shape which tells more than the content itself. For instance, Murakami's drawings are qualified as "flat" or "superflat". This comes from the technique he uses: he creates his canvases at first with the help of a computer where he draws two dimension simplified shapes which are colourful and with a thick outline. Superflat evokes other flattening or elisions, such as the blurring of existing borders between established genres and between mass and high culture. The Japanese artist Kyoichi Tsuzuki uses photography to encounter social models. With his recent exhibition at the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris he represented urban life in Tokyo and particularly its fashions victims in sort of advertisement photography with titles such as great luxury brands. In that same way, the artist Ryuji Miyamoto also studied reality in Japan. Through a series of photographies, made a great documentary on the Kobe earthquake of 1995.
Contemporary art through creation also leads to different intentions. Hiro Yamagata focuses on the technique as well as on physics. By using lasers as a mean of expression, he searches for the possibilities of creation , constantly looking for a new technique to experiment. Consequently, his aim is science itself and his creations have the goal to present a new technique which is often futuristic. Currently Hiro Yamagata shows his latest work, two building-sized cubes covered with holographic Mylar panels at the seaharbour of Yokohama (see The Japanese photographer Tsuzuki which, contrary to Yamagata who encourages modern society, gives a harsh critique of today's society. The photographer is both amazed and scared by the atypical lifestyle of the fashion victims which is dictated by the consumer society. For the artist, collection and slavery are both divided and mixed.

Japanese Pop Art

The emergence of japanese pop art is a significant development for the art scene in general. Standing a the same time for innocence, scare, rage, astonishment and the more colourful aspects in between, this form of art is renown around the world. The most representative artists of this pop art movement is certainly Yoshimoto Nara and Takashi Murakami. Both of them find heir inspiration in manga culture.
Nara´s drawings sometimes leaves a bitter background, are mad and show a completely delirious aspect of Japanese pop art. They reflect a whole panel of emotions like anguish, scare, insecurity, pleasure and confidence. These characters appear from a dream-like world where children provoke the spectator with aggressive glance and the animal with tender glances. When Nara´s works are seen, they recall both the spectator´s childhood and his concerns as an adult. Through pictures that may seem naive, the artist´s works convey a dark and painful side of life which disturbs our mind and emotions. However through hope the artist appeals to an optimistic side.
On the other side, Murakami gets his inspiration from traditional and popular culture in order to analyse their influence in contemporary life. He emphasizes the wonderful and cute world of childhood and its impact on the artistic scene. His canvases are brightly colored and lack purposely in character internal content thus those are qualified as "superflat".
Japanese Pop Art is characterized by such themes as childhood mixed with irony which takes is source in mangas.

Japanese contemporary art : a difficult present but emerging

Even if we cannot doubt on the quality of Japanese artists, contemporary art in Japan develops rather slowly. Indeed the country strongly lacks in specialized structures to circulate works of art. The diffusion of art consequently takes place in the private field which prevents the organisations of large exhibitions. There are few private and institutional owners and their means are limited. As a consequence, diffusion of Japanese art is mainly done in foreign countries.
However different structures are at present made use of. For instance, the Artist-in-Residence (AIR) project encourages artistic creation by giving means to realize the projects of different artists. Localized in the suburbs of Tokyo this projects aims at ameliorating communication between artist of different nationalities but also with the local population. The AIR project was created in 2001 and is already stimulating Japanese creation.
Although structures are slowly developing, the emergence of Japanese society surely is going to give the Japanese art scene the opportunity to develop increasingly. In a context which is hostile to his type of art, we discover a society which is far from being stiff and which is mutating.

Text by: Johanna Eschbach

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