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Fine Arts

Japanese Art Scene 5

"Osamu Tezuka's Buddha and Buddha"

Keiko Sakagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University (School of Culture, Media and Society)

It seems it wasn't just us who were reminded of "Astro Boy" by the nuclear power issues that arose from the Fukushima nuclear plant accident after the earthquake. I saw several programs where foreign media had taken up the Fukushima accident in which Astro Boy appeared. It is probably an image indispensable to linking "Japan" and "nuclear power." The original comic was made into a cartoon with "Astro Boy" first being screened on television in 1963. Extremely popular both at home and abroad, it was Japan's first homegrown animated cartoon.

Even so, I can't help but feel that there is no coincidence in the timing of holding an exhibition of Astro Boy's creator, Osamu Tezuka. "Osamu Tezuka's Buddha - The Story in Manga and Art" exhibition opened on April 26 (until June 26) at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno.

The exhibition revolves around Osamu Tezuka's cartoon "Buddha." In stark contrast to the "science" themed Astro Boy, the theme taken up in this exhibition is Buddha and the subject of "religion." At first glance, I had an interest to step into Tezuka's world on subjects thought to be reciprocal. To many people, this also offered the opportunity to raise the question again of the true meaning of Tezuka's world which developed the main theme of "science" in "Astro Boy."

Osamu Tezuka's "Buddha" was a long running series that ran from 1972 to 1983. While following the life of Buddha, it became a work that incorporated Tezuka's religious views and philosophy. The exhibition shows the important stages of Buddha's life, "birth", "penance", "enlightenment", and "nirvana", in the form of alternating Tezuka's drawings and the actual Buddhist statues.

The Buddhist statues on display were made in Gandhara, India and Japan, and by being placed in beautiful lighting, they give off a heavenly aura.

The experiment of lining up drawings and statues was declared as "a joint performance of modern cartoons and historic cultural artifacts" in the commercial for the exhibition, and can be said to be a display urging new experiences. Certainly, lining up objects which appear to be of completely different nature together has a synergy effect. It felt that the appeal of the unseen becoming visible was in that space.

At the outset, part of Tezuka's work was criticized as it didn't depict Buddha's life correctly. In all likelihood, that is because, more than there being a problem with the storyline, the drawings were overly human-like and graphic, and at times erotic. But even the statues, when lined up next to Tezuka's works, we can really feel that they appear before us with the actual humanity rather than the divinity. Although the statues have possessed a power to instill a deep faith in many people, now we could re-realize that it is because of such an aspect of the statues.

At the same time, a Sharaku exhibition was held at a different venue in the Tokyo National Museum (May 1 - June 12). With Ukiyoe and modern cartoons, traditional and modern art in Japan that freely used the mass media were on display concurrently. In that sense, it was an exhibition of great interest.

Keiko Sakagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University
(School of Culture, Media and Society)

She graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University, majoring in History of Art. After studying at Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, she has assumed the present post. Her speciality is modern and contemporary art, comparative culture. Her major works include "Painters in Dream and Luminescence: Reconsideration of Modernite (Modernity)" (publisher: Skydoor/ Winning the new face award of Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts) and "Berthe Morisot: Modern Times Lived by a Female Painter" (publisher: Shogakukan Inc.).