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Picks :
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Picks is a monthly sampling of Japan's art scene, offering commentary by a variety of reviewers about exhibitions at museums and galleries in recent weeks, with an emphasis on contemporary art by young artists.

Note: Most of Japan's museums and galleries have reopened, but conditions and anti-coronavirus precautions vary. If you are planning a visit, please check the venue's website beforehand.

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image image 1 July 2020
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World Theatre Festival on the Cloud: Kirill Serebrennikov, "The Student"
5 - 6 May 2020
Online
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A stream screening, with filmmaker's talk, of Russian director Serebrennikov's film based on German playwright Marius von Mayenburg's Märtyrer. The high-school student protagonist refuses to attend swimming class on religious grounds, and the school accepts his position. But instead of evolving toward greater tolerance of diversity or coexistence among different value systems, the school -- a microcosm of society -- becomes embroiled in the student's fundamentalist Christian ideology, ultimately laying bare its own discriminatory tendencies toward minorities.
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Kawaramachi and Yokodai Housing Complexes
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(Kanagawa)
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The greater Tokyo area's massive postwar apartment complexes, a.k.a. danchi, are architecturally interesting as reflections of their respective eras. Two standouts are Sachio Otani's space-age Kawaramachi Danchi in Kawasaki (1972), which boasts dynamic inverted-V volumes inspired by 人, the character for "person," and Kengo Kuma's 2018 renovation of the Yokodai Danchi in Yokohama. Originally completed in 1971, Yokodai consists of the usual rows of rectangular volumes, but Kuma's renewal at the half-century mark has added some refreshingly idiosyncratic touches to the buildings and the mall that connects them to the nearby train station.
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AKIRA (IMAX)

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Toho Cinemas
AKIRA(4K)
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First released in 1988, the dystopian SF anime masterpiece influenced subsequent cinema to a degree that is clearer than ever 32 years later. AKIRA referenced such traumatic events as the student-police clashes of the sixties and the attempted military coup of 1936 known as the February 26 Incident; it even foreshadowed the Tiananmen Incident of 1989 in its final scene, when protagonist Tetsuo singlehandedly confronts a tank on the streets of Neo-Tokyo. The new IMAX version now showing in Japan's recently reopened movie houses confirms its status as a classic that still has something to say to our times.
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Takeshi Mizukoshi: The Rock Ptarmigan of the Japanese Alps
2 - 26 April 2020
Communication Gallery Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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Mizukoshi (b. 1938) is one of Japan's leading practitioners of alpine photography. This show commemorated the publication of his latest photo collection, one featuring the titular bird. The subject matter is a bit of a departure from his usual treatment of mountains as a "realm of the gods" transcending the world of human endeavor. A unique relationship between man and bird permeates Mizukoshi's meticulous chronicle of four seasons in the life of this hardy creature against the sublime backdrop of the Japanese Alps. In his paean to the rock ptarmigan one senses both sorrow and affection.
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Shonan T-SITE, Fujisawa SST, Mina Garden Tokaichiba
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(Kanagawa)
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Like Daikanyama T-SITE, its predecessor in an upscale Tokyo neighborhood, Shonan T-SITE (2014) is a retail complex designed by Klein Dytham Architecture for the Tsutaya bookstore chain. However, the surrounding environment is utterly different at Shonan, where T-SITE forms the commercial hub of a new residential development, Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST). Though an ambitious example of eco-conscious town planning, SST suffers from the cookie-cutter look of typical suburban housing. Yokohama's Mina Garden Tokaichiba (2012) does a better job of creating a varied layout by paying attention to the spatial relationship between residential units.
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Art with Emperor
22 - 31 May 2020
Kunst Arzt
(Kyoto)
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Artists Mitsuhiro Okamoto, Meiro Koizumi, and Ryoko Kimura all submitted works to the controversial After "Freedom of Expression?" show at Aichi Triennale 2019, in which they employed parody and quotation to critique the pathological aspects of Japan's imperial system and postwar Japanese society as a whole. This exhibition at curator Okamoto's own gallery reunited the three in an event that once again scrutinized the imperial system from a number of irreverent angles.
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HMP Theater Company: Bukabukajoshibukajoshi

22 - 25 May 2020

Online
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This experimental online performance by the Osaka-based troupe adopted the premise that a play is a gathering of actors performing in real time in the same space -- even a virtual space. The live broadcast synthesized images on a single screen of the five actors simultaneously performing in their own homes. The play is a satirical look at the corporate world, in which a middle manager hounded by absurd demands from his superiors must also cope with resistance from a subordinate. (The onomatopoetic-sounding title actually translates as "Subordinate-subordinate-superior-subordinate-superior.")
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Dark Independent
20 - 29 May 2020
Online/Undisclosed venue
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This "dark" exhibition consisted of two parts: a "surface" website where contributing artists could freely display their work, and a curated physical space for "works which cannot be shown on the ‘surface'." What made it unique was that the location and content of the physical exhibition were not to be revealed. Not just anyone could go see it; visitors were selected by the organizers and sworn to secrecy. Given the heavy nature of the works on display (which this reviewer was fortunate to see), the precautions may have been wise, considering the harassment to which certain participants in Aichi Triennale 2019 were subjected. In this case, the viewers were judged by the works, as it were, rather than vice-versa.
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50 Years After His Death: A Tribute to Yukio Mishima
7 May - 7 June 2020
Communication Gallery Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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Subtitled "A rare theory, the death of a man," this solo show by doll artist and photographer Kimiaki Ishizuka (b. 1957) marks the 50th anniversary of Mishima's demise with tableaux of dolls that reenact various death scenes associated with the novelist and his work. In 1970, not long before he committed ritual suicide in a failed coup d'etat attempt, Mishima posed for Kishin Shinoyama in a series of photos that were to be published under the title "The Death of a Man," but most of the images never saw the light of day. With his dolls and backdrops, Ishizuka brings his own interpretations to Mishima's death obsession.
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History of Early Japanese Photography: Kanto Region

3 March - 24 May 2020

Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Between 2007 and 2017 the TOP Museum ran a series of exhibitions of Japan's earliest photography. Research has continued since the completion of that first cycle, however, yielding some finds introduced in this new iteration of the series. The focus on the Kanto Region, which includes Tokyo and Yokohama, is appropriate since this was the birthplace of photography in Japan. The highlight is a shot of the Emperor Meiji and his entourage visiting a shipyard, surreptitiously taken by Austrian photographer and Yokohama resident Baron Raimund von Stillfried in 1872. (Interrupted by the coronavirus shutdown, the show will reopen from 20 December 2020 to 24 January 2021.)
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