Faced with campaign over blackface show, Fuji TV may have flinched

 

 

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Rats & Star in blackface.

African American resident of Japan and blogger Baye McNeil says there are signs Fuji TV may be stepping back from its plan to air a show featuring performers in blackface. McNeil’s petition to stop the show from airing has already gained more than 2000 signatures out of a target 2500.

 

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Art-conoclast Jack McLean

"It’s a long story, in full colour, without a happy ending." Installation at The Container gallery in Meguro.

“It’s a long story, in full colour, without a happy ending.” Installation at The Container gallery in Meguro.

From his burnable pyro-sculptures to his pathetic Sad Clown character, Scotsman Jack McLean’s art aims to provoke questions and undermine authority. McLean has spent a good part of the last two decades in Tokyo and now brings his turbulent imagination to alternative space The Container.

Metropolis asked McLean about his new drawing series, It’s a long story, in full colour, without a happy ending.

Not a happy clown

What moved you to create your first color works for The Container?

I’d been working in black and white for a number of years, and I had wanted to try the same style of drawing in full color for a while. Hendricks Gin company were sponsoring the next show at The Container, so Shai Ohayon the director asked me if I wanted to try full-size color drawings in a solo show specifically for the space.

Tell us about the genesis of your Sad Clown character.

The Sad Clown started as a performance for an art event called “Dirty, Dirty, Sex, Sex” in Shinjuku-nichome. I wanted to do something clichéd and absurd that had elements of ’70s comedy TV and British working-class, naughty seaside humor. I’ve always hated clowns, and I find most performance art awful, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. A truly awful piece of performance art from a sad clown.

The ending is not a happy one… How did you feel after completing the work?

I work very hard on the big drawings—hours and hours in front of the canvas—so there is a sense of relief when they are completed. Then it’s time to start another one.

Your art, such as your micro and pyro sculptures, often takes aim at the commercial art establishment. What then are your thoughts on Banksy?

Success—in the sense of “commercial success”—means that you are involved in the commercial art world establishment, and that world is far removed from the street. Due to his success, Banksy is now part of the commercial establishment whether he likes it or not.

On viewing It’s a long story… a few artists that come to mind are Francis Bacon, Salvador Dalí and outsider artist Henry Darger. Please tell us your thoughts on them and any other possible influences on your artistic development.

Francis Bacon developed a unique style that elevated him beyond his limitations. Salvador Dalí’s eccentricity and flamboyant personality promoted his technical ability within the context of his time. Darger was discovered by an insider, and the obsessive nature of his work was easy to understand. But none of them have really had any direct influence on my work. I’m not sure if I recognize any artists who have influenced my work, but I’m sure to others looking at my drawings they will find connections.

McLean’s turbulent imagination

How have two decades of living in Japan on-and-off shaped your art?

I’m not consciously aware of living in Japan shaping my art except from the ability to sustain myself economically and thus allowing me to create my art as a result of that. Perhaps the shaping, if any, has been in more subtle ways to do with the how and why I live here, and the respect I have for Japanese society.

How do people in Scotland and Japan approach art differently?

I think the way people go to see art in galleries in Tokyo is different. The great European masters are more accessible in Scotland than in Japan, so when there are “visiting exhibitions” here, I think there is probably more enthusiasm. Also, I think art shows are promoted more here—or used to be; maybe that is also the same now in the U.K.

Tell us about your favorite museums and galleries in Tokyo.

I like the museums in Ueno because they are older. I sometimes go to a rental gallery complex in an old apartment building in Ginza, but as it becomes more well-known, it is losing its appeal. But one day, I’ll go there and it will have become a vacant lot, so it doesn’t really matter.

What could be done to improve Japan’s art scene?

Affluent Japanese should spend their money on interesting and intrinsically valuable art rather than designer goods and the equivalent brand-name artists. This would create a healthy situation that  would help to develop a more positive Japanese art scene.

The Container, 1F Hills Daikanyama, 1-8-30 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku. Until Feb 15; Mon & Wed-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat-Sun 10am-8pm. Nearest station: Meguro. http://the-container.com

Ken Tanaka: YouTube star smashes stereotypes

We tracked down Ken Tanaka, the Caucasian-Japanese star of numerous YouTube shorts parodying Asian stereotypes.

Tanaka says he was adopted by Japanese parents in the ’70s, and was only recently reunited with his long-lost twin brother, Californian actor/comedian David Ury. Despite their side-by-side appearances in videos seen by thousands, some still suspect they’re—ahem—the same person.

Why did your Japanese parents decide to adopt a Caucasian American?

In the mid-’70s, Japan had a big booming economy and it was popular for Japanese families to adopt American babies. Kind of like how American celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie adopt babies from other countries.

What was it like growing up as a white Japanese person in rural Shimane?

I lived in a very small village high in the mountains with a population of under one hundred people. Everybody had known me since I was a baby, so nobody treated me any differently than any other boy in my town. 

How is your search for your birth parents going?

It is a difficult journey, but I will never give up. 

What inspired you to begin making videos?

I met a person when I first came to Los Angeles who suggested that YouTube would be a great way for me to share my story. I had never heard of YouTube before and I had never made a video. But my friend had a camera; he showed me how to work it and how to upload videos. It’s been seven years now since my first video.

Tell us why Asian stereotypes make your videos funny.

You’re probably referring to our videos, “What Kind of Asian Are You?,” “But We’re Speaking Japanese,” and “Asian Stereotype Police.” These are all videos that question assumptions about race and identity. When we write these comedy sketches, we look for common but absurd situations that we think people will be able to identify with.

How does the response to your videos about Asian stereotypes differ in the West and Asia?

For “What Kind of Asian Are You?” we got a lot of comments from Caucasian people who were sure this could never happen in real life—and then a lot of comments from Asian people who said they experienced this kind of situation often. I think people in the West generally are more sensitive about these kinds of comedy videos.

What do you have in mind for your next video?

We just released a new video where David and I discuss Japanese jokes and David tells some jokes that I have heard from many Japanese language learners.

Tell us about your new book.

Earlier this year, my brother and I collaborated on a new book called Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book for Grown-Ups. It’s an illustrated picture book that can help grown-ups cope with the inevitable fate that awaits us all. It includes fun activities like “match the corpse to the cause of death” and a last will and testament that you can fill out. It’s fun for the whole family. 

More information on Ken Tanaka, his work and his books can be found at www.kentanakalovesyou.com

Mr. Porter “A Saturday with…Zim of Black Shadow”

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Film by Mr Antony Crook (Text by Dan Grunebaum)

They are Tokyo icons. Visit Yoyogi Park or the waterfront of Odaiba on a Saturday or Sunday and they’ll be there, rain or shine. Swivelling in leather get-ups to vintage rock blasted through portable sound systems, they’re Japan’s self-styled rockabillies.

Zim is the leader of Black Shadow, a well-known gang who dress up like 1950s rock’n’rollers. During the week, Zim is Mr Kinya Ueno and he holds down a regular nine-to-five job. But he prefers not to talk about his life Monday to Friday, for he is a man who is truly working for the weekend.

Black Shadow’s heyday was in the 1980s, when Japan experienced a retro-rock boom and American and British pop culture offered an irresistible lure of freedom to rebellious Japanese youths, who railed against a conservative society ruled by the proverb “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”.

Zim left high school in the provinces as soon as he could and fled to Tokyo as a teenager, determined to become part of the scene. Like many who reject Japan’s corporate treadmill, his decision consigned him to a life on the margins.

But for a member of Black Shadow, being part of the gang was more than ample reward. Music and fashion provided more of a satisfying life than being one of Japan’s corporate salaryman drones ever could.

Heavily tattooed, clad in black leathers and with their “Regent” pompadour hairstyles blow-dried and styled to crazy heights, Black Shadows do what many Japanese can only dream of: express themselves. Extravagantly. Unabashedly.

Now these rock’n’rollers are growing old. Zim, now 45, has been in the gang for nearly 30 years. But teens today are into J-pop or electronic dance music. They have home-grown styles such as cosplay (dressing up in anime/ manga/ cartoon costumes) and don’t look to the West as much as Zim’s generation once did.

Still, as long as Zim can wax his Regent and shake his hips to the rock’n’roll beat, he’ll keep coming back each weekend to the place – and the people – that gave him his identity and set him apart from the mainstream; that made him and all the Black Shadows, in a word, different.