The Samurai Re-Imagined explores the roots of the popular Japanese art forms of manga (graphic novels) and anime (animation) in the traditional arts of Japan by examining images of the iconic warrior, the samurai. By juxtaposing depictions of samurai in Edo era woodblock prints, ink paintings, historical photographs, animation cels and drawings, original manga panels, and toys, the exhibition will demonstrate the ongoing links between fine art and popular culture in Japan.
- Blurb from the Pacific Asia Museum Website
Actually, I was pretty pleased they got a lot of things right. When the Asian Art Museum in SF had that Tezuka exhibit about a year ago, I was pretty surprised they were blowing up images left and right. (Or was it at Comic-con?) Ever since my Japanese Art History professor ground it in our heads to question everything you see, I definitely looked at gallery spaces with a more critical eye.
Thankfully, the galleries had books under glass cases opened up to scenes to show the black and white artwork-- just how manga is meant to be read. (Not on 50 ft banners and poster-sized paper. CONTEXT!) Though in this case, it was probably more of a cost-issue than a deliberate marketing ploy. Either way, it was a relief.
There were two galleries dedicated to the exhibit and it's totally clear they were aiming for a pretty young demographic the minute you walk in. First of all, anime Kenshin's face was all over it as well as other animation posters. You've got the psychedelic reminds-me-of-craft paper colors for the Wall Information. Font types were in familiar blambot comic fonts. XD They were aiming young and I think they pulled it off. I saw kids walking in super excited to see characters they were familiar with.
I was impressed they had such a mixture of stuff that I honestly thought were pretty hard to trace to actual "samurai" but were pretty cool visual material to show off. I saw Gundam and Eva models in display cases and wondered how the hell they were going to link Mecha to Samurai. I'd say they did build a pretty good case for it by linking the feeling of disconnect the orbiting satellites and colonies to feudal Japan and the masterless ronin. Again though, you can't deny the fact that its presence is potentially a big draw. "Go to the museum. They have robots!"
Animation cells from Jubei-chan, Ninja Scroll, RK and some other series were there too, as well as more Viz books Shonen Jump books. I was very VERY pleased to see Magic Knight Rayearth make it there since I know CLAMP did wonders for Shoujo with that one.
The sad thing about all this ofcourse was the dated samurai illustrations which looked a little lost among the colorful items. Though, I could be wrong and who knows if the kids actually ooh'd and aah'd appropriately at them. I'm sure they enjoyed the katana displays. STILL, I remember Levine specifically commenting how there's all this new RUSH to equate/relate/link old art to new art when IN FACT, the two types of visual representation, aside from subject matter, barely have anything in common with relation to context.
If I had one bone to pick, it was that the samurai (or even the Japanese) haven't always been portrayed as in a positive light and I didn't get much of an indication of this fact through the exhibit. I can imagine there having been a period when they represented the bad guys for the great Western powers. I didn't really see this kind of a vein in the half hour that I was over there but I may have easily missed it with all the hubbub at Art Night. I think bringing something like that into the mix and showing the transformation of that image into something that most young kids today consider "cool"-- would make it even better. That's probably something I'd bring up when I see the curator for a gallery talk next time.
Overall, I thought it was a pretty well put-together exhibit. A little sad ofcourse, all the art and books were the from US releases. Someday I'd like to see a gallery of actual manga artist's work but that may just be asking for too much at the moment.
x-posted to my private journal