NYT Japan (11/2018)
Interview with Hirohiko Araki by New York Times Japan, translated and published in English on November 25, 2018.
“The venue for the exhibition is The National Art Center. It’s much larger than any other venue in which I have exhibited my artwork, so I felt I needed something that could stand its own ground in a large space. The painter Akira Yamaguchi has once said ‘if you can draw something of the size of a manga, you can also draw something large’ and I thought this would be a good occasion to try that. And since it was going to be large, why not make the characters life-sized? I wanted to make paintings that made people feel a sense of unity—as if they were sharing the same place with the characters.”
I glance at the desk on the workshop. Disposed on it were felt-tip pens, G-pens, brushes, and copious amounts of black and colored inks and acrylic paints. For Araki, it was important that these enormous paintings were painted by hand, and not digitally or by employing new methods, just like with his usual original artworks. “I like the ‘chemical reactions’ that happen when you draw manga. You could call it contingency. For example, the unexpected contrasts or bleeding that occur when you paint two different colors next to each other. I enjoy being surprised by what happens. Manga presents many appeals be it the story, the characters, or the general world-view, but I’d like to add ‘enjoying hand-drawn original artworks’ to that list. And not only that, I’d like those original artworks to be produced precisely to be enjoyed as original artworks, and not for being printed as it is usually the case.”
In addition to the large original artworks, the exhibition also includes numerous original artworks that are presented to the public for the first time, as well as works produced in collaboration with artists who are fans of JoJo, such as sculptor Motohiko Odani, and designer Kunihiko Morinaga of the fashion brand Anrealage. These works open our eyes anew to JoJo’s multifaceted allure: the “Stands” that materialize super-powers, the poses struck by characters inspired by Renaissance era sculpture and fashion magazines that came to be known as “JoJo dachi” (JoJo standing), or the memorable character quotes. But how did Araki conceive of this work with such expressive breadth?
The answer to this question was connected to Araki’s comment, that he wanted to “thank the manga world,” made in relation to the exhibition. “Gratitude to the manga world is directed to the young manga artists who are bringing excitement to the industry, and of course to my predecessors too. The idea for JoJo was born of the desire to depict something different, something that doesn’t resemble the works of Osamu Tezuka, Fujiko Fujio, Tetsuya Chiba, or Katsuhiro Otomo—all great masters that I used to read. It simply wouldn’t have been possible without such predecessors.” The expression ‘something different’ does not imply that Araki is against the past masters. It rather points to the fact that the origin of JoJo lies in the process of creating ‘something new’ within the lineage of manga’s classic appeal, expression, and style, which Araki scrutinized in a highly logical manner. “Looking back, so many manga artists of the 1970s and 1980s were geniuses. It was also an era in which new forms of music and fashion emerged incessantly. Maybe making a debut and beginning to work on JoJo around that time was good for me.”
Araki mentioned horror films as another one of the sources of inspiration from that era. The 1980s are known to be a period of rapid development for horror film, as low budget experimental works were produced one after another. “I even imported videos of films that were not released in Japan. I was particularly attracted to zombie films. In zombie films, dead people come back to life and everyone is equal as there are no bosses, so the basic philosophy and rules of human society are turned on their head.” He also acknowledges that the various aspects of the bubble economy had an impact. That was translated into the rejection of the tournament format, which was at the time regarded as a crucial element of a popular shōnen manga. In a tournament format, the protagonist defeats a strong opponent and then goes on to fight an even stronger one. This would ultimately lead to an inflation of power, and the collapse of the narrative. Araki, instead, adopted a method where the protagonist encounters enemies during his journey, fights them in a more unpredictable sugoroku (a table-top game similar to snakes and ladders) format, and employs wit rather brute force.
Araki thus seems to have succeeded in creating a sense of contemporariness and reality that directly links to the world we live in by incorporating elements from philosophy, economy, and the natural sciences. “When you draw a tree, it ends up looking weird if you don’t thoroughly observe how the branches are attached. To draw is, in that sense, something like a chemical experiment. In many ways, I learn by drawing. My ideal is to portray the world of JoJo based on an idea or theory that unifies everything from the natural sciences, to philosophy and economy. Manga pertains to fantasy, to the fictional. But when it is drawn based on a unified idea or theory, the characters, in a strange way, begin to feel as though they truly exist there. That’s what’s really fun, and that’s what I always seek when I draw.”
There was one thing I really wanted to ask Araki, and that was about the turning points in his career as a manga artist. I felt that the answer to that would provide a hint as to how the work of JoJo is linked to Araki’s own life. His answer was unexpected. “Maybe it’s when I was hospitalized for gastroenteritis.” He said that being forced to swallow a gastric camera was the most shocking experience of his life. “It made me aware that the period in which one is physically invincible doesn’t last forever. And it made me want to enjoy my daily life more, going travelling or cooking. My attention was no longer exclusively devoted to manga after that.”
His favorite cuisine to cook is Italian. For an online article in the past, he presented his pasta dishes, but he says “I kept working on these recipes and I finally have a few dishes that I feel are perfected.” What is it that draws Araki to cooking? “For example, slicing or chopping garlic changes its flavors and aromas. The order in which you mix lemon juice, salt, and olive oil also has an impact. This is similar to the ‘chemical reaction’ that happens when drawing, and I enjoy researching that. When you make Spaghetti Naporitan [a popular dish in Japan], the key is to put ketchup in two phases, once during the stir-frying and once at the end. In the case of drawing too, overlaying pink in the same manner enhances its beauty.”
The expression ‘chemical reaction’ captures Araki’s idiosyncrasy well. The ‘chemical reaction’ that happens in his drawings that are regarded as art. The encounters and collaborations with fashion and art are also one of the ‘chemical reactions.’ Countless fans visited to enjoy Araki’s large scale original artwork that the artist wished “would be looked at in detail.” The ‘chemical reactions’ must have happened in each of the viewers too.
-BY MASANOBU MATSUMOTO, PHOTOGRAPHS BY MIE MORIMOTO, TRANSLATED BY NAOKI MATSUYAMA NOVEMBER 25, 2018