Thanks to Spill member Stephan
, I have been obsessing over the oddest thing you could possibly imagine.
A music video directed by McG starring Kristen Dunst covering The Vapors “Turning Japanese.”
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My initial reaction was this: OMG!! THIS IS AWESOME!!
But as I began obsessing over the video over the course of the day, my art education started to surface when I realized who produced the video. My favorite Japanese Pop Culture Artist Takashi Murakami. And then it dawned on me. This was more than just a simple music video. It’s an art piece. An art piece that I later found out was debuted at a show in London.
Obsession leads to research; research leads to analytical; analytical leads to symbolic reading; symbolic reading leads to pretentiousness. So is the path to the Dark Side of Art. It’s one of the reasons why I’m pushing myself to get into SCAD and find a more lucrative creative career.
Anyway, let’s tear the layers back from this video, shall we?
So first off, let’s look at our cast. We have Kristen Dunst playing the starring role and singing a cover song from 1980. We have McG directing the music video. We also have Takashi Murakami supplying the money for this video to be made, which is the job of the producer. Finally, the video is set in Akihabara which, for those that don’t know, is Japan’s Mecca for all things anime. What do all four of these things have in common? NERDS!!
Kristen Dunst, while probably popular among different groups for different roles, is best recognized among comic book nerds as the film incarnation of Mary Jane. McG’s name is currently associated with his work on Terminator: Salvation
, which is a popular sci-fi franchise and on the top of several lists of sci-fi nerds. (The franchise, not the individual film.) Akihabara is pretty much nerd central for Japan’s youth and a safe haven for those ridiculed by their peers for being “too old for comic books and dress-up.” And wrapping all that up is Murakami who has been making art commenting on Japanese pop culture and nerd culture for as long as I’ve known his name!
But one of these things is not like the other. Care to take a guess? It’s Murakami himself.
The other three have roots in the entertainment industry in some way or another. (I’m sure you can connect those dots without my help.) Murakami doesn’t. He’s considered a very popular, almost celebrity-status, gallery artist in the Fine Art world. People often compare him to Andy Warhol based on his choice in color pallet alone. But he’s been researching nerd culture in Japan as it’s been growing in size with each new generation. Hell, I have a book edited by Murakami that shows a timeline of when Otaku Culture started in Japan! It should come as no surprise as to what started it all to anyone. Want a hint? It was a bomb!
One of the things I like about Murakami’s work is that even if you aren’t art-minded, for lack of a better description, he still has an “easy in” for the viewer. That’s where the novelty of Kristen Dunst singing “Turning Japanese” comes in. It’s catchy, she sings it well, and McG makes the video entertaining to watch. But like any educated artist will tell you, there was a conscious reason why that song was picked.
The popular belief is that the song is about masturbation, but apparently the band denies this. They say the song is really about youth angst turning you into something completely different and unexpected. On some level, this has to be taken into consideration in order for it to be art and not just a fun music video of a cover song, so where is that concept being represented? It’s in the various images that McG took of Japanese walking around Akihabara. Now they way they are dressed and how they dye their hair isn’t what needs to be pointed out. It’s the “why.” Why do they dress like that and have their hair styled that way? With Murakami helming this video’s production, it can only be two things he is trying to comment on.
The first bit of commentary is influence. The cliché of East meets West is a rabid as herpes in this video. Dunst dressing up in a blue anime wig and a pink Sailor Moon costume standing next to a Japanese man in a denim jacket and t-shirt shows the fashion influence. You have Akihabara looking like Time Square, which covers your cultural influence. But there’s a lot of back and forth as well, such as the street dancers wearing the masks of Western pop culture characters, most noticeably the Scream mask and Doby the House Elf from the Harry Potter franchise. Dunst’s costume even has a Green Lantern ring on her left hand that you can see at one point in the video. McG, to some extent, even promotes the Western stereotype of anime being pornographic with all the shots of billboards advertisements from the area.
The second bit of commentary is irony. You have a Westerner singing a song from a British pop band abut turning Japanese in Japan among nothing but Japanese youth who have been influenced by Westerner culture by some degree or another. And the strange thing is, the reverse is happening now. The Twilight books are being turned into a manga so they could capitalize on that demographic on at least an artistic level. New York has a two-story Nintendo store similar to the five
-story Sega store in the video. Anime, to some degree, is becoming more and more common as a genre here in the states. You even have public schools offering Japanese as one of the choices for a second language course. That alone I find ironic because, while I was in high school, I learned that the US government is constantly comparing our standardized test scores to that of the Japanese. In some twisted way, Murakami is trying to tell the Western viewer out there “Look, you’re turning Japanese.”
Knowing Murakami’s work as well as I know, all this information is hidden under the mask of how entertaining the video is. I say this because having gone through similar art training in college, I can no longer enjoy any of my animes I own for what they are: entertaining stories. I end up taking the otaku route myself, looking at the little details that are hidden in the film that reveal a lot about the Japanese culture. Satoshi Kon’s Paprika
, which I recently revisited, is one of the films I own that hinted towards how obesity is generally viewed in Japan. And thanks to Nakato for supplying even more information on the social views of that culture, it makes perfect sense to me now why all the otaku characters in most animes I own are all fat. Simply put, the body is reflecting the mind. The mind is obsessed with something that is considered unhealthy by that culture’s social standards and ends up being seen in a negative light because of this, even when those obsessions lead to something innovative and new.
So maybe it’s mentally unhealthy for me to be obsessing over this music video as much as I did over the day. However, the world is filled with ironic moments, and mine just made itself known. If I hadn’t been obsessing over this silly little video, I wouldn’t come to the realization that my all that fine art training preparing me for the gallery social culture is just another group of nerds who are being influenced by their own core interests. Mine just happen to be childish things like cartoons and video games…