Arielle Busetto, JAPAN Forward

Have you ever watched a film and become so entrenched in the story that you wanted to visit the locations featured in it, just to experience the feelings they evoked in the characters?

What happens when the film is in fact an animé, a manga, a video game, or a tokusatsu (SFX film)?

At the National Art Center in Tokyo, a new exhibition called MANGA⇔TOKYO presents a selection of works from Japanese popular culture with stories that take place in Tokyo.

Blurring the line between fiction and reality, the exhibition seeks to offer a wide-ranging sample of Japanese pop culture, but also a new lens to appreciate the cosmopolitan metropolis.

At the exhibition, JAPAN Forward spoke to Takako Masumi, a member of the curator team, to learn how the project came together and what it seeks to convey, and to find out what visitors can look forward to even in this time of COVID-19.

MANGA⇔TOKYO Started Abroad, and Came to Tokyo

“You know how, if someone from the Louvre [in France] comes to Japan, it’s something which makes the Japanese quite proud? We thought that we would try to do the same, bringing Japanese culture abroad.”

This is how Ms. Takako Masumi illustrated the starting point of the traveling exhibitions — the idea of bringing Japanese animé, manga, and games overseas.

MANGA*ANIME*GAMES from JAPAN (June 24 to August 31, 2015) was born, followed by the same exhibit held in Thailand and Myanmar. Then, in 2018, as part of Japonismes 2018: les âmes en resonance, the organizers held the MANGA⇔TOKYO exhibition (November 29 to December 30, 2018) in Paris, France, which attracted over 30,000 visitors.

The supervision was provided by Kaichiro Morikawa, an associate professor in the School of Global Japanese Studies at Meiji University and a specialist in architecture.

He proposed that manga shouldn’t be just an introduction to Japanese pop culture, but used a theme. And what could be better than presenting it in Tokyo itself, the biggest city in the world, and the one that has become the emblem of modern and cyberpunk-esque culture?

Ms. Masumi explained that the concept was drawn up also with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in mind. “Tokyo was gathering a lot of attention because of the Tokyo Olympics.”

In addition, the curator specified there was also the will to show a different side of the metropolis.

“By choosing works which would show Tokyo as the background to a story, or characters that end up in Tokyo, we wanted to show the particularities of Tokyo itself.”

By - Ben K.