JAPAN: Kingdom of Characters

Kawaii desu ne? (Isn’t this cute?)

Japan: Kingdom of Characters

The title of this exhibition can be read in two ways. First, literally, referring to the myriad Anime characters that have gain popularity in Japan and elsewhere. Second, referring to the intangible attributes, or “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”, of Japan a country steeped in respect for traditions and heritage and technological advances. The anime that Singaporeans are fond of is perhaps tied to the mystique surrounding the land of the rising sun and allure of the country’s soft culture and sub-culture.

The exhibition features several iconic Anime avatars such as Rei Ayanami (Neon Genesis Evangelion) Ultraman, Gundam, and Pokemon. Accompanying these theme park like mannequins/sculptures are visual panels, text and  extracted video clips showing how these Japanese characters have become emblems of ‘kawaii’ (cute) consumerism. The most informative panels shows different characters in the past decades (e.g. 1950s-1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 2000s) and corresponding economic, social or technological milestones in the history of Japan. Fans of Spirited Away (2001) or My Neighbour Totoro (1988) might be disappointed that characters from Studio Ghibli are not represented.

This exhibition shows just the tip of the iceberg, featuring Anime and Manga as Japan’s cultural exports, soft power, or cultural diplomacy. Thoughtful and serious themes and subject matter portrayed explicitly or implicitly in Anime are not discussed. Neither is this meant as a critique of Japan’s exploding subcultures, like Little Boy (2005) series of exhibitions curated by Takashi Murakami. While the informed audience might had wished for serious interpretations of these Japanese characters, the casual audience would be quite happy taking photos with their human size idols.

JAPAN: Kingdom of Characters, Lim Hak Tai Gallery, NAFA, 15 November – 12 December 2013 (click on the album above to see images from this exhibition)

For more information on Japan Creative Centre, see: http://www.sg.emb-japan.go.jp/JCC/

For a brief analysis of the cultural status, popularity and dilemma of Anime as pop culture, see Saito Kenji’s “More Animated than Life” here.

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