In an interview, the artist Makoto Aida justifies Japanese obsession with teenagers by what he calls feminization of the country, who lost his father after abolition of the army at the end of World War II. Aida’s work caricatures sexual philias of his countrymen, attacks the vernacular masochism rooted in ancient codes of honor, entrepreneurial fever and dreamy ways to escape.
Since the floating time of ukiyo-e to the weightless walks between manga girls of present-day Tokyo skyscrapers, from the courtesans with fine features that Kitagawa Utamaro painted in pleasure quarters of Edo to schoolgirls with pigtails that invite us to enter the love hotels of the capital, a chasm opens. But the melancholic acceptance of fleeting happiness continues, of life as a dream, of Buddhist philosophy about illusory of all things even subverted by holding that illusion, that immediacy that trickles like a sip of tea.
Tradition and subversion have always gone together in Japan. The most respected painters of the Edo period were also imaginative pornographers. Just as Hokusai and other Shunga teachers based their erotic drawings on the reinterpretation of ancient legends, the attachment to spirituality, belief in hidden powers, remains in force even in sex shops: condoms shaped with head of Buddha, vibrators inspired in hermaphrodite deities… There is an anima deposited in each object, according to the Shinto thought.
This animism that permeates daily life partly explains the enthusiasm for dolls in Japanese culture. Again, the sacred and the profane are intertwined, the ancient symbolism given to the ningyo (which persists in the Girls Festival or Hina Matsuri) and the current plague of cusmotizables Dollfies, together with the anime heroines embodied in plastic slenderness.
The boundary between childhood toy and sex toy seems to have vanished in the case of the latter, whose big breasts and flexible thighs fill the window display of manga shops, trapping myopic eyes of otaku guys. About it satirizes the artist Takashi Murakami with his well endowed bishoujo.
But especially customizable dolls as Ball Jointed Doll which condense several aspects rooted in the Japanese imaginary: from the impenetrable faces of the geishas portrayed by Edo engravers to the exagerated expression of Kabuki theater, emotions have always hidden behind masks and makeup. The BJD still preserves the precious facial impenetrability.
Ryo Yoshida, maker of articulated dolls of disturbing realism, says seeking transparency in faces to let them reflect, absorb, his own emotions. Clay bodies, rubber muscle fibers, skin of ground shell, glass eyes, ceramic teeth … Yoshida not only creates them, also make up their stories. The staged photographs intensify the disturbing confusion between the animate and the inanimate.
As Bee Kanno, who also takes photos of her dolls to meet herself in them, they are debtors of Hans Bellmer and his anatomy of the unconscious desire. But Japanese artists adds the Shinto conception of the doll as a talisman or spell.
Artisans gradually die while give life to wood idols, in each chisel cut is lost a sliver of flesh. So is shown in a beautiful film of Akio Jissoji, Mujo. It raises the internal struggle of a young man to marry transience and transcendence, his spiritual thirst and his desire to live. Devoted carver of Buddha statues and libidinous lover, society will not allow coexistence of both aspirations. Idols, masks, incest, desecrated purity… fleeting pleasure and eternal death.
Teenagers who portrays the photographer Ken Ichi Murata are flesh and blood but simulate porcelain, with patent leather shoes and velvet dress; lying in flower beds or in coffins, their legs are lifted with ropes of ivy or medical tubes. Necrophiliac bondage, their faces don’t express pleasure or pain, inhabit another dimension.
The branches that embrace their bodies and penetrate their holes remind us libidinous octopuses of Hokusai. After a first impression of vexatious misogyny there is something more than our Western education has trouble understanding. And it has to do with women’s enjoyment, with the difficulty of showing in Japanese society, so he hides behind that appearance of wrist, submissive, manipulated by the equally alibi, castrated, at his object of desire male psyche, as only dare to imagine it as something virginal, guileless, while desecrated by his evil mind. Far is the pleasant dream of the fisherman’s wife.
Murata decadent images seem visual haikus of the erotic encounter failure and the failed attempt to capture purity. Is the ideal of prepubescent purity that underlies the philias and phobias of Japonese sexual imaginary, an ideal that can be related to the miko of Shinto temples, sacred and protective maidens that adolescents find nowadays reincarnated in pop idols, popularly called aidoru (love dolls).
Yasuji Watanabe also dress their models of antique dolls or Alicias with their white apron, clothing that contrasts with their erotic fantasies, their desire to be bound and gagged, their chaotic lives … His photographs synthesize found feelings of Japanese girls, the ambivalence between rebellion and submission, between refusing to grow up for escape social norms and the paradoxical reinforcement of patriarchal patterns whem they assume the role of helpless child.
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