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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 08:51 12/20/2007
Book Review #82: November 26, 2007

"Warriors of Art: A Guide to Contemporary Japanese Artists" by Yumi Yamaguchi and Arthur Tanaka

Reviewed by Sir Hugh Cortazzi

Title: Warriors of Art: A Guide to Contemporary Japanese Artists
Authors: Yumi Yamaguchi, translated by Arthur Tanaka
Language: English
Publisher: Kodansha International
Date/Time: 2007
Pages: 176 pages, over 200 colour plates from 40 artists
ISBN: ISBN 10: 4770030312, ISBN 13: 9784770030313, price £20.


This book will help anyone who wants to understand the contemporary art scene in Japan, who is sympathetic to contemporary art in Europe and who enjoys the sort of art collected by the Saatchi brothers. It is unlikely to appeal to the older generation who remain attracted by traditional Japanese art and culture, but if we want to understand the attitudes of the younger generation in Japan we must be aware of modern trends and interests. This is therefore a book which whether we like the works of the artists illustrated in it we cannot ignore. It brings together the works of 40 contemporary Japanese artists devoting four pages with vivid colour illustrations to each artist.

In her introduction Yumi Yamaguchi explains the background to and the development of modern Japanese art. The pioneer was Taro Okamoto (1911-1996) who 'as an art student in France in the 1930s was influenced strongly by vanguard groups such as Abstraction-Création and the surrealists'. The lead in the final years of the twentieth century was taken by Takashi Murakami. In 2001 Murakami took his self-curated Superflat exhibition on a tour of the United States in which "he presented his concept that all creative works on a flat surface are 'hyper two-dimensional' or 'superflat,' and that the term superflat can also be used to describe the shallow emptiness of Japanese consumer culture." (Some members of the Japan Society may recall a lecture by Murakami at the Royal Institution when he expounded his theories and showed a film illustrating them. I for one came away not much the wiser.) Murakami's second exhibition called "Coloriage" was followed by a third exhibition entitled "Little Boy." This "emphasised the importance of otaku subculture – an obsession with the fantastic world of anime, manga, and computer games – in contemporary Japanese art."

Yumi Yamaguchi tells us that Yoshitomo Nara's "depiction of cute yet menacing children have made a huge impact both in Japan and overseas." His "trademarks are his angry or troubled little girls, marooned against an empty background, excluded from the adult world."

She explains in her introduction that "A glance at the work of the forty artists introduced in this book reveals recurring images of the cute, the grotesque, the erotic, the violent. Japan is a society where the dividing lines between adult and child culture are blurred…It is a society where expressions of sexuality and violence flood the market place… But beneath the veneer of cultural chaos and futuristic decadence lies another Japan: a Japan where centuries of spiritual tradition have been passed down through the generations."

Yumi Yamaguchi provides a brief account of the work of each of the forty artists who are introduced in this book. For instance of Makoto Aida she notes that his themes are "diverse and unpredictable" and include "sadomasochism, political satire and absurd humor." Junko Mizuno, she writes, "draws on the cute characters found in girls' comics and incorporates them into her own narrative world – a place where fantasy meets grotesque."

(This review was produced in collaboration with the Japan Society, UK)

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