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Takashi Murakami Drives Otaku Culture into the Mainstream

February 13, 2001
A young artist from Japan named Takashi Murakami has been creating quite a stir recently in the United States and Europe. Murakami is playing a leading role in an art movement that has drawn inspiration from Japan's best-known subculture, namely, anime (animation) and manga (comic) characters. Since the mid-1990s, Murakami has been splitting his time between America and Japan, but 2001 could turn out to be his best year yet.

Dreams of Youth
Born in 1962, Murakami was profoundly influenced in his youth by Japanese anime from the 1970s and 1980s, such as Ginga Tetsudo 999 (Galaxy Express 999) which was an enormously successful series. In order to become an animator, Murakami enrolled at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and majored in Japanese art. The works he made, incorporating the bold layouts and coloring associated with anime and manga, defied categorization.

Even while attracting attention from galleries and critics as a graduate student, he continued to pay attention to developments in the Japanese art world. He felt that he was not alone and that other artists from his generation and younger were being influenced less by traditional fine art and more by anime, manga, and video games. Murakami coined a phrase for this fusion of American pop culture and Japanese otaku culture, with its focus on anime and technology; he called it the "Poku" art movement. He also created a cartoon-like character, Dob, reminiscent of Mickey Mouse. Murakami has put Dob not only in his pictures, but on balloons, T-shirts, and keychains for sale. Murakami is passionate about marketing as well as art.

Exhibitions Everywhere
In recent years, Murakami has made some large-scale, three-dimensional renderings of anime characters that have become the focus of much attention. Though not unusual in the world of manga and anime, some of these images are quite erotic for the world of fine art, prompting a few to criticize them as being pornographic. For the most part, though, they have been greeted with great excitement in Europe and North America. He has received a flood of invitations from galleries and museums around the United States that want to exhibit his work. It has been said that almost every leading modern art collector owns one of Murakami's works.

In January 2001 an exhibit opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles that showcases not only Murakami's own works but also those of a group of artists he has chosen that represent his unique take on modern art in Japan. In April, he opens a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Murakami continues to have exhibitions at prestigious museums, and media interest in him will probably grow.

Historically, there are many examples of people who were not accepted in Japan despite having been embraced by overseas aficionados. In hopes of countering this trend, however, Murakami has established a group, Hiropon Factory, dedicated to helping young artists in the Poku genre succeed not only in America, but also at home in Japan.

Murakami himself is scheduled to open an exhibition at the biggest modern art museum in Japan, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, in autumn 2001. Since his anime- and manga-inspired works have succeeded in mainstreaming pop art, which had always been seen as being a notch below fine art, Murakami can truly be said to be a leading figure in the Japanese art world.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.