recess radio program

05/10/06
Little Boy
    by Jaimy Mann

Japanese children's artifacts that are becoming increasingly popular globally include genres like manga, anime, and kawaii, or cute. Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture, edited by artist Takashi Murakami and titled after the nickname of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, is a compelling look at Japanese children's culture. Murakami argues that uniquely Japanese artifacts for youth demonstrate Japan's infantalization and post World War II trauma and its "replacement of a traditional, hierarchical Japanese culture with a disposable consumer culture ostensibly produced for children and adolescents."

The first hundred pages of Little Boy consist of gorgeous, full color reproductions of stills from at least four decades of popular Japanese children's television shows and films, like Godzilla and Neon Genesis Evangelion, as well as introductions to the animation artists responsible for them. Also included are glimpses at Japanese toys, action figures, and the endless stream of pop culture merchandise, like Hello Kitty and Mobile Suit Gundam. In addition, Murkami shows us how contemporary Japanese artists are also employing aspects of children's culture -- like Murakami does in his own wide-eyed, ultra-cute, super-flat Taro Panda and other sculptures that have been receiving international attention.

But Murakami does not stop there. He offers a western audience a poltical, historical background for the art and artifacts in the book through his commentary that examines how Japan, in the wake of World War II, was cast in the role of the "child," obliged to follow America's "adult" guidance. It is a complex weave of both trauma and guilt that Japanese culture and, by extension, Japanese artists are still working through today. Murakami shows how you can see these tensions being worked out in such well-received works of recent animation as Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 film, Howl's Moving Castle. Elsewhere in Little Boy, Murakami analyzes weekly teen manga magazines from the 1970s to 2000 because, he claims, children's stories and children's programming offer a compelling analysis of contemporary Japanese culture. Yes, Japanese children's artifacts do reveal a powerful, vivid, and complicated story, as one can see in the pages of Little Boy, and Murakami has ambitiously set out in this volume to tell the world.

Copyright 2006 Jaimy Mann

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