Manga gets a makeover

Yuichi Yokoyama’s first major exhibition opens in Kawasaki

Manga gets a makeover

(left)‘book’ form ‘New Engineering’ ©Yuichi Yokoyama 2002 (right)‘Travel’©Yuichi Yokoyama 2006

Illustrator and manga artist Yuichi Yokoyama is showing his first major exhibition at the Kawasaki City Museum, bringing internationally published creator new recognition. His works have been released in France and other countries, and counted among some of his more popular works are ‘New Engineering’ (a mysterious story about the incessant building of public works), ‘Travel’ (a diary of a train trip to a destination unknown), and ‘Niwa’ (a miniature garden game with no purpose).

One of the most remarkable – and much discussed – aspects about Yokoyama is that he was an oil painter before he became a manga artist. He diverged from this traditionally more prestigious artistic path for some time, trying his hand at the manga arts. After making it as a manga artist, however, he returned to the world of contemporary art; his work was exhibited in the ‘Roppongi Crossing 2007: Future Beats in Japanese Contemporary Art’ at the Mori Museum, a group exhibition at Arataniurano Gallery in Shintomicho, as well as other exhibitions around the world. Yokoyama’s experience as a ‘serious’ painter-turned-manga artist who has returned to painting has helped to create a brand of magical charm to his work that is non-existent in the contemporary art world.

This appeal is evident in every frame of his manga. The alarming violence that unfolds in his works is etched with high-pitched sound effects, in a space that seems to be devoid of time. The characters are expressionless, and there are even shades of fascism in the occasional scenes depicting mob mentality. Any dialog is flat and bereft of emotion, almost as if it has been written using English-Japanese translation software.

What is most horrifying to the viewer is that there seems to be no end in sight – which is what Yokoyama suggests in the title of the exhibition ‘Watashi wa jikan wo kaite iru’ (‘I Am Drawing Time’). His world unfolds without any perspective of space, as if the universe is measured solely by an object’s mass and movement within the space.

The frame layout has an incredible speed, almost like a Sergei Eisenstein film montage accelerated to several times the velocity of light. The reader is catapulted into a time and world with no purpose and no meaning. Utterly confused, he or she is left with no option but to bathe in the overwhelming, lingering reverberations. This feeling of loneliness that remains after reading Yokoyama’s manga or viewing his exhibition is stronger even than in one of the wastelands served up by Wim Wenders. This feeling of emptiness is not unlike the violent 'hollowness' that the recently disbanded Yura Yura Teikoku were getting at in their 2007 release 'Hollow Me' (‘Kudo desu’).

Within the exhibition space, Yokoyama’s works are displayed in concentric circles. This is a playful design departure that almost toys with the aimless wandering of the viewers. By looking at the works objectively, one not only gains an appreciation for their artistry, but one also feels as if he or she has completely become one of Yokoyama’s characters. The above three works are included in this exhibition, as are some of his early works and oil paintings.

Most surprising of all is the inclusion of Yokoyama’s diary, which he has kept regularly since his high school days. It’s full of cryptic one-line entries, scrawled in a tight jumble of words. Reading entries such as, ‘May 1 " ( " ) carriage drive’ ‘5 Palace Sendai/ ox tongue shop 2/ Nishi ko [fireworks] H’, and looking at his collection of 400 works, at ‘Watashitachi’ (‘We’), one cannot help but to wonder if the characters Yokoyama draws are all himself – much like when Yellow Magic Orchestra did with ‘Zoshoku’ (multiply) as an album cover.

Yuichi Yokoyama Neo Manga ‘Watashi wa jikan wo kaite iru
Location: Kawasaki Shimin Museum (Full details & map)
Date: Until Sun June 20
Admission: ¥600; ¥400 Students and seniors (over 65); free under junior high school students
Yuichi Yokoyama official blog:
Twitter by exhibition team:

By Kotaro Okazawa
Translated by E. Kavanagh
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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