Takashi Murakami - Superflat

Takashi Murakami Beginnings

Mr. Murkami is a contemporary artist based in Japan. He was born in Tokoyo on February 2, 1969.

From the very beginning Mr. Murakami was a fan of both manga and anime. His lifelong dream was to one day work in the animation industry. Toward that end Murakami enrolled at the Tokyo University of the Arts, eventually earning a PhD in Nihonga, the traditional Japanese painting style (see image below Murakami's portrait).

Murakami eventually became disillusioned with the clannish nature of the Nihogna movement and began exploring contemporary Japanese art. Here too, he quickly became disenchanted with the movement which he eventually viewed as an extremely shallow adaptation of Western ideology. In his view, Japanese artistic values have been subjugated by western commercial values.

Takashi Murakami at Versailles
Takashi Murakami at Versailles | Source
Traditional Nihonga paiting
Traditional Nihonga paiting | Source

Superflat

What is "superflat?"

The world of the future, that could be like Japan, is now superflat.” - Murakami

More an essay that a manifesto, Murakami attempts to describe the two dimensional quality of Japanese art. In this essay, Murakami's explains that in embracing Superflat (his own term), Japanese society became more and more superficial starting at about the end of World War II on.

He posits that Japanese society suffered damaging trauma to the collective psyche after the war and in an attempt to deal with the shame of defeat, began to deny its own past. In so doing Japan lost its identity while simultaneously embracing another; that of western culture. This included embracing the cartoon as a popular medium.

This adaptation to western values is reflected in both anime and manga The overall effect is apparent in the high degree of consumerism, commercialism, and "fanshi guzzu" (fancy goods) so prevalent in Japan's society. Murakami claims that this is a studied attempt by Japanese society to regain its childlike guiltlessness, a collective identity associated with pre-war innocence. He proposes that this attempt to return to childhood is problematic in that it clouds Japanese sensibilities and blurs its former social values.

Superflat then, is a term, applied by Murakami to highlight current Japanese trends in "low art" and pop culture.

By embracing the styles and forms of manga and anime, but in a dark and foreboding manner, Murakami is attempting bring an awareness of superficiality to his society. In an odd twist Murakami's own movement has become a resounding commercial success in Japan.

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Mr. Dob (one of many iterations)Mr. Dob
Mr. Dob (one of many iterations)
Mr. Dob (one of many iterations) | Source
Mr. Dob
Mr. Dob | Source

Mr. DOB

In order to ridicule Japanese cartoon iconography, Murakami created his own cartoonish character and named it Mr. DOB in 1993.

DOB is a contraction of the phrase Dobojite dobojite” meaning "why? why?"

The character is marked by the letter "D" on it's right ear, the letter "B" on it's left, with the face forming the "O." Mr DOB is instantly recognizable and shares many of the esthetic traits it satirizes. Shortly after the character was introduced it became Murakami's symbolic alter ego.

Champignon
Champignon | Source

Kaikai Kiki

In an attempt to bring his vision to a wider audience Mr. Murakami began hiring a cadre of assistants. "Kaikai Kiki" was created as the management arm of this collection of workers. Over time Kaikai Kiki evolved into a vehicle for promoting and supporting like minded artists working in the Superflat movement.

The list of artists represented by Kaikai Kiki include Murakami himself, Aya Takano, Chiho Aoshima,Mr.,Chinatsu Ban, and many others.

Warning: The video immediately below contains images that may be disturbing to younger viewers.

Little Boy
Little Boy | Source

Little Boy

Over time Murakami has put together many art shows. The latest being called "Little Boy."

The show was originally called "Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture" with the first presentation in Tokyo on May 2, 2005. The title, Little Boy (小さな男の子), is both a label for adult Japanese citizens who purchase and collect anime and manga toys, and the Uranium 235 bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II.

This is no accident as Murakami is attempting bring some self-awareness to the Japanese people and their collective psyche through his art.

The exhibit featured mushroom clouds depicted as faces and multi-eyed mushrooms in fanciful colors. Also presented were sugary sweet adolescent characters, cute cartoonish animals, and monsters with all of their anatomical features displayed.

Coda

I'm not sure how to feel about this movement. I'm impressed by it, disturbed by it, and am a bit dismayed by its commercial success since its stated purpose is to satirize commercial art in Japan. What I find most odd is that it has become its own commercial success, which to my western sensibilities, seems counter to it's implied purpose.

Still, one of an artist's chief responsibilities is to present the public with a wordless concept that encourages self-exploration and contemplation. In this regard Murakami is a resounding success.

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