1944 Failed his conscription exam due to pleurisy.
1945 The end of the Second World War.
1948 Moved to Tokyo.
1950 Started working as a literary critic and art critic.
Became politically active by participating in strikes. Supported underdeveloped countries.
1954 Joined the Japanese Communist Party.
1962 Expelled from the Communist Party.
1999 Was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized for two months.
2003 Lives and works in Tokyo.
Hariu Ichiro became known as an outstanding activist, he earned admiration as an art and literary critic who emphasized the importance of revolutionizing public consciousness.
Sato: Could you explain your development and ideas as a critic after the Second World War?
Hariu: In the Second World War we abandoned our personal desires and served the public duty of our country. It implied that we obeyed the ideas our country stood for; this of course included the goals set by the military and the Emperor. It was only after the war had finished that I realized this was a big mistake. We as citizens should have made an effort then to become self-conscious and disciplined in achieving the things we believed in. It could have been possible if our interaction was based on personal representation created to serve our own desires. What I have done for half a century is based on this aspiration. I started to work first as a literary critic and later I wrote about art as well. If I think back, there were the left wing activists, the artists, the writers, and other minorities who had the possibility to become a cornerstone in society. They could have influenced the public in becoming more organized and self-aware. I recommended and supported these groups, but the commodities which Japanese capital and companies provided through advertisements and publicity overwhelmed them. During the war we denied personal desires and profits, after the war we eagerly accepted it.
Sato: We cannot look at ourselves objectively. That is still a big problem in Japan.
Hariu: The distinction between commercial commodities and creative values has become mixed up. Creative values should be discovered from the bottom up, through experiment and exploration, a definition of creativity should not be moderated by seniorities through laws and traditions. It was an interesting change to see people pursue their personal desires and profits after the war. It was also the starting point of capitalism, as the nation was formed into a capitalistic society. During the post war period, all personal desires were immersed into this mechanism of mass production, mass consumption and mass communication without any self-awareness.
Sato: When I was still living in Japan, I wasn't able to do any creative work. I tried but there were too many things that occupied my mind and I always felt short of time. I didn't realize then that my life was so heavily influenced by the media. It was only after I left Japan that I became aware of the problem. I was engaged in a lifestyle dictated by conglomerates and media standards. We Japanese do not have a historical awareness of individuality. Therefore we became very self-centered when our material desires became acknowledged.
Hariu: Yes, I think that is true. If I compare the diversity of literary works and art works that have been made about the war in Japan with that of other countries, I must conclude that the production here is a lot less complete. This is especially true for the type of work that gives insight into our soldiers killing innocent civilians. In the United States there are many creative works made about the war. Some of them are trying to dig deep into the personal and communal motives, which lead to the horrors of war. These works give a clue about the trauma and mental damage that was done to both the perpetrators and the victims of the wars in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq.
In Japan many soldiers experienced the war as perpetrators, but most have died without having had the opportunity to talk about their war experiences. Maybe it is too late, but they did leave material like letters and diaries behind that could paint a more complete picture of what their experiences were like. I would recommend exhuming and analyzing the bits and pieces they left behind.
Sato: I talked with several Japanese people and I have read books about the Second World War during my trip. I discovered that many people still think that the war couldn't be avoided. Largely because of the fact that the United States blocked the oil export to Japan and we wanted to free the Asian countries from the increasing influence of western colonialism. The fact remains that we killed innocent people, and I think you have to separate this fact from the motivations that have lead to start the war. Anyway we could have made up any reason to justify the war whatever the situation had been like. The United States partly justified their dropping of the nuclear bomb with the fact that they had to stop the war as soon as possible after the shock bombardment of Pearl Harbor. I think it is important to understand more clearly what happened in the minds of the people who experienced the war.
Hariu: I would like to show you a very interesting book, 'War and the Responsibility of Crime', written by Noda Masaaki. He is a psychopathologist doing research on the side effects of war. In this book he mainly investigates the feeling of guilt among Japanese soldiers who were fighting in China in the 20's till the 40's. He also interviewed people who experienced the war in Bosnia, Chechnya, Vietnam, Uganda and Iraq. He noticed that if you compare it with other soldiers, the guilt complex among Japanese ex-soldiers' is the most unclear and least apparent of all.
There is a group in Japan called the 'Alliance of Repatriated Japanese Soldiers who served in China' (Chugoku, kikannsha, rennrakukai). They represent the soldiers that committed atrocities against Chinese civilians during the war. Right after the war they were caught and locked up in Chinese prisons. When they were asked why they killed innocent people, they stated they followed the orders of their officers, i.e. the emperor. Of course this was formally correct, but Russian soldiers for example, raped many women in Manchuria, without ever killing their victims.
Through talking with ex-Japanese soldiers, Noda noticed that the soldiers perceived Chinese people as mere objects; they were able to remember what it was like to thrust a bayonet into the bodies of their victims, but they couldn't remember their faces. Furthermore if they would have accepted their war crimes and became self-critical, they became allegeable for release. They were well treated by the prison officers whose families could have been battered by the Japanese Army. Orchestrated by the Chinese government the Japanese prisoners were deliberately confronted with their war crimes. After their release they returned to Japan. Some of them stayed from 1945 till 1956 after having spent six prior years in Russian prisons.
The Japanese government suspected that they were brainwashed to become communists in China. As a result the police made it difficult for them to find a job. They would for example, phone their employers to inform them about their past. For the returned soldiers it was very difficult to survive. They found some work in factories or became self-employed. Some of them were highly educated. To share their experiences in China they joined the Alliance and traveled throughout Japan to talk about their experiences during the war and afterwards. Now years later, as some have established themselves economically and socially, they were able to come out in public, join lectures etc. I have met some of them.
When Noda Masaaki spoke to the ex-soldiers of the Alliance he came to the same conclusion as we mentioned earlier; their feeling of guilt was not very present and if they were aware of it, it was in a very abstract sense.
One day some of them decided to visit the place where they had killed people. The neighborhood told them who the family members of the victims were; they came in contact with a woman who was alone because her husband lost his life in the war. This was the first time that a sense of guilt was embodied and became realistic to them.Noda described how there was no possibility in Japan after the Second World War to deal with these feelings. People became self centered; 'If we are fine, we don't have to worry about the others.' At that time, there was a lot of corruption in companies and among politicians... Short-tempered kids committed murders and prostitution among young girls became widespread. This part of the book is very convincing.
Sato: I saw a documentary on Japanese T.V. about the Second World War and I was shocked when a Japanese ex-soldier told his story: 'We found a beautiful Chinese woman and baby, so we raped the women and took her and her baby along with her on our journey. Everyone raped, so I did too. A few weeks later we had run short of food, the baby had become very weak and my officer threw the baby down a cliff and the mother jumped after her baby. I cannot forget what happened.' Another soldier described calmly how he raped a Chinese woman. It seemed as if most of them felt no real remorse. On the other hand, when they talked about their own comrades who died in the war, they became very emotional and cried a lot. I recognized a similar behavior with my father. When he survived and his friend died in the army, he started to gamble a lot.
During this trip my uncle told me that my father's parents knew about his struggle. They argued that gambling was always better than suicide, and hoped it would stop some day. His reaction was too extreme if you compare that with what happened to the Chinese people. Why do you think it is that we don't feel the same way for them as we do for our own people?
I asked Noda the same question... Japanese soldiers were told to abandon
their feelings of humanity in the war, if not they were not considered
full-fledged soldiers but Oni (an obsessed demon, but not necessarily
in an evil way). The Army generally respected European prisoners a bit
more because they were protected under international laws, but towards
the Asians these laws were completely ignored and they turned into demons.
They killed many prisoners and raped women, trampling upon human rights
as if these laws didn't exist. The army seemed to stem from the Middle
Ages. The Oni is actually quite a convenient concept. The more angry or
crazy we become, the more we turn into demons. The Oni stands between
God and the Devil, and we are allowed to become it once we're possessed.
If the moment of possession is over and we return to our human state,
we forget everything that has happened. Oni is still a popular idea in
Japan and you come across it in many books and magazines. In modern society
ferocious Japanese businessmen are considered Oni. Japanese companies
also encourage and approach their employees this way; 'we must become
Sato: But the intentions of businesses are to earn money.
Hariu: Indeed. If you want to become rich, you shouldn't care about others. In that case Oni is an excuse to gain as much profit as possible.
Sato: In Europe young people, actually people in general are quite egoistic, but still nothing compared to Japan. Using the idea of Oni as an excuse for behavior, is very hypocritical and seen from the point of view of the oppressor, the boss, it is also a way to control people.
Hariu: Indeed. I thought that the idea of Oni, combined with the fact that soldiers were obliged to follow the emperor's orders, could have been an excuse for their behavior. I didn't go to the war, but I have heard lots of stories where soldiers were threatened to follow orders or they would become court martialed. What can they do when they face the enemy? They must kill to survive.
Even though they have sworn to dedicate their life to Japan and the emperor, it was understandable that they operated on a very basic instinct to survive. Up until that point Oni can be used as a legitimate excuse. I spoke twice with Mr. Noda about this. He wasn't too convinced about my ideas because Japanese soldiers were indoctrinated to choose death over surrender so they never thought they had an alternative. But of course, if you are told to kill the enemy it suffices to rely on instinct.
traditional Japanese Oni masks
videogame Oni from: Ganbare Goemon 2
| Sato: In
the documentary film 'First kill', an American soldier was being interviewed
about his military past. He was sitting in a wheelchair, he served in
the Vietnam War and obviously left the war damaged both mentally and physically.
He told his experiences about how he had to kill people to survive. After
he had done this a few times the act of killing people became pleasurable
like having an orgasm. Human beings have survived as a species, because
of this sense of violence, i.e. instinct. The other side is that when
this instinctive violence surfaces in an offensive way, horrible things
Hariu: When I was thinking about the sudden freedom in Japan to express personal desires, I became fascinated and influenced by an essay, 'On Decadence' written by Sakaguchi Ango. In it he outlines the basic nature of human beings and the difference between God and humankind in Japanese culture. As human beings we have two ways to go, one is to heaven, and the other is hell. During the war there were many rapes and crimes in Japan, but the press did not dare to write about this at all. Sakaguchi criticized their hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of society as a whole. He urged ex-kamikaze pilots to do illegal work, to show society that they weren't holy people, he even went so far to recommend war widows to become prostitutes for American soldiers. I was very impressed by the essay. After the defeat we were under U.S. occupation and the Japanese government was defunct. We had to survive by whatever we could do. So the essay could have been interpreted as a sort of liberation and encouragement to the people, although it would only work during that specific period of recovery.
As a nation we were not able to establish a system or methodology to control our instincts during and after the Second World War. We groped for it in many ways, but we didn't succeed at all.
Sato: What might be the reason for that?
Hariu: Fascism brought our society's transition towards a capitalist model to a standstill. After the Second World War had ended everyone in Japan became over occupied with building up the economy.
Sato: We were very poor and the people's first priority was to survive.
Hariu: Yes, but we established independence in 1951 through the Peace Treaty we signed with the U.S. On the other hand, the Japanese - U.S. Security Treaty made sure Japan always sheltered under the American dollar and nuclear influence. The political and military affairs were controlled by America and we as a nation have been solely occupied with earning money. The economy was the most important factor in national politics. That period has been called the Moratorium. It was a very special case in world history, which lasted from 1950 till 1980. That's a very long period, don't you think.
Sato: Wasn't there anyone to warn us about the situation?
Hariu: Yes, there was, but nobody wanted to listen.
Sato: There must have been reasons why we didn't consider our traditional culture anymore?
Hariu: The relationship already started to loosen during the Meiji Period (Generally, this period from 1868-1912, is considered the first era where Japan widened its horizons due to the interference of foreign powers like the U.S. and the Netherlands), but surely after the Second World War our cultural/historical awareness was lost completely. This cannot be a direct answer, but for example, a student mentioned in one of my seminars that the captions and the explanations of art works in museums made him angry because he wanted to experience the artworks without these explanations. He chose to study Art because he wasn't good with language. And still, the words kept standing between him and the artworks. I explained that it is just as important to understand art through theory as through practice.
If you want to feel and understand everything through your sensitivity without the interference of logos, hard training is necessary. In Japanese culture there are a few good examples like the widespread influence of Zen, Nou (traditional Japanese dance theatre) and the Trip of Basho the poet.
'First Kill' |
73 min. 35 mm
That first moment, your first kill, its ... strange, because its something you have never done before. But after that, well, with me, it started getting good, the killing started getting good.
How many people did you kill? 36. And how did you keep count? Cutting their ears off.
So what would happen if you would encounter an enemy? Well, it would be either him or me. If you encountered him first you shot him and vice versa, a lot of them would hesitate, I dont know why they hesitated, I dont know because of total surprise, I had one get to drop on me, but I shot him and killed him.
But can you imagine that I could be able to do it, I could become a killer? Sure.How? By doing it.If I would be in that situation ...Yeah.It is not so hard? All you have to do is pull the trigger, gun does the rest.
I still dream about Vietnam, I still wanna go there, but I dont wanna return the way they are going overthere now, I wanna go back over to kill.Why? I miss it. I have never found nothing like that. Yet they put us out there to do that and then they bring you home and expect you to behave like normal people.
Every kill you made, seemed like it made you feel a little better. In other words, there was a place that it sort of cheered you up to a certain extend, I mean you didnt jump up and down or, you know with joy and all this, but there was a place in your heart that it just made you feel good.Could you compare it to anything? Sex. And then, that sounds bad because you know, can I say this on camera? Sex is such an enjoyable thing, you take it and compare it to killing somebody and having the same feeling and thats where it gets at.
|(Basho created the Haiku poem, in the 17th Century: In 1689 the
Basho set out on a poetry-making journey from his home in Fukugawa, Edo
(Tokyo). For about six months he traveled north through the interior and
the eastern coast, visiting well-known places, until arriving at Ogaki,
Gifu, having covered 2400 km. The
Narrow Road to the Deep North, his now famous haiku journal, was a
result of this trip. It was Basho's pilgrimage to famous places sung in
ancient poems to experience first hand the poetic sentiment of the ancients
and at the same time to seek inspiration for the creation of his haiku).
Basho tried to reach cosmic truth intuitively by using his sensitivity. It was a great achievement in Japanese culture. After the Meiji period this type of training almost disappeared completely.
Sato: Although this type of training is still very important.
Hariu: It was an important and interesting element in Japanese culture, but what do sensitivity and mental equilibrium mean nowadays? When you go to the store, you can obtain any kind of product you want, all made with mass production techniques.
Sato: In Japan you don't need to search or make things by yourself, because nearly everything is for sale. When I was a student in London, I had to learn how to make a canvas. In Japan I used to buy canvasses in shops. At first it was a bit confusing, but I learnt a lot through the process of canvas making. First of all I had to find a shop to buy the textile I wanted, then needed to learn how to use the wood cutting machine, make the frame and finally stretch the canvas. After this experience I understood certain paintings better because I understood how they were made. I learned many methods that I was able to implement in my own work. In school there was a free atmosphere where students could make whatever they wanted. Technique was not essential to give a work it's purpose, but the process of learning and appropriating techniques made me realize there were more ways of creating art. Training is very important to sharpen our sensibility. We had to study philosophy in the first year of the Academy. It was very difficult to understand Marx because of my poor English, but in the end it helped me a lot in understanding art. Art cannot be separated from the world and its politics. After all human beings are the one species that contemplate, philosophize, write literature, create music, etc.
Hariu: In Japan our sensitivity is weak and our creativity lazy. If someone wants to create art with a limited amount of sensitivity, it is a very lazy idea. In Japan the level of sensibility remains modest, we lost a sense of purpose and the way politics have been conducted after the war was hopeless. Sometimes you can find very good, sensuous artwork in Japan, especially when a young person makes a first time effort without thinking what its implication would be. In that sense we Japanese are very good craftsmen, but if you want to develop your way of thinking and develop the concepts behind your expression, you need to abandon what is not important and concentrate on what is important. The problem is that the Japanese cannot abandon methods or ideas, because they have no sense of logic. For example, I was told many times by foreigners that there were many different concepts in painting. It seemed if a concept does not work, there are others, there are many ways not one so to say. But this is not the way it is seen in Japan.
Sato: Is that the reason why you prefer to review literature to art?
Hariu: I became interested in literature in the 1950's and 60's, because it had proven itself as a powerful tool to capture, analyze, criticize and confront the situation and problems in our society. I thought that would be the most effective way to contribute to society. But tell me, where did you study art mainly?
Sato: I first studied Art at the Goldsmiths' College in London. Before I went to the U.K. I worked as a midwife in Japan. There art schools didn't seem to be very interesting, because they over emphasized the technical aspects of art making. At that time I did not intend to become an artist at all. I wanted to experience what it would be like to live abroad. I met some really good teachers at Goldsmiths'. It was a fantastic time to study art there. After Goldsmiths' I went to a postgraduate Academy in The Netherlands.
Hariu: Which school did you go to in Holland?
Sato: The Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. In the second year of the Academy my teacher (Jon Thompson) came to my studio and said 'Japanese artists are very good craftsmen but they lack a conceptual approach. If you want to exhibit your work, it should consist of a solid conceptual basis and that is the artist responsibility in society.' It was a very strong critique about my work. In Goldsmiths' I became familiar with conceptual thought as an incentive for my work. I was fascinated with the character and behavior of materials. It was an amazing world to discover but it also limited my work to a predominantly visual experience.
After the talk with Jon Thompson, I stopped working for a while and thought of what I really wanted to achieve with my artwork. Later during my study I became amazed by glass. I was wondering around in the Academy, and placed a big glass tube (about 150 cm height x 40 cm wide) in the corridor. A partly blind man smashed into the tube by accident; it was a big 'Bam!' I went there and knew I had discovered something important, yet it was not clear what. It had to do with the destruction of the meaning of an object and making something else like a landscape with the same material. It included all my life's experiences; working in the hospital as a midwife, my father who disappeared when I was still a child, etc. While making work, I sometimes experienced to be entirely absorbed by it. This was both fantastic and frightening.
Installation work has been very challenging to me. I have made Installations for the last 8 - 9 years. And now I wanted to do this project since I have been thinking about this project for 6 years now. I don't exactly know what writing is, but I knew I wanted to combine images and text in this project. It developed from personal matter into an interest in political and social issues; this especially had to do with my cultural Japanese background where relations between art and war have always had intimate. (After my trip to Japan this became clearer.)
I have a question about Mugonkan (the word literally means the silenced),
the Museum that Kubojima Seiichiro has made in the small village of Nagano.
Kubojima collected the artworks that were made by art students who died
in the Second World War. I doubt whether these works were good enough
to be presented in a museum. Do you think Kubojima had other political
Hariu: Mr. Kubojima had no political reason to open Mugonkan. You might think so, but he did not.
Sato: I think to experience the war and to make an artwork about it are two very different affairs. Obviously that does not mean to say that you when have had traumatic experiences, you will also make a good artwork about it. Whatever the reason, Mr. Kubojima exhibited the art students' work. I cannot imagine that the works were artistically interesting enough to be presented in a museum. What is the importance of making this kind of art museum?
Hariu: I have been there once. Do you know the book Kike - Wadatsumi no Koe (Listen - Voices from the deep)? I was still a student when the Second World War ended. I had tuberculosis and was therefore exempted from military service. Lots of my friends who had to serve in the war died so I do understand what it is like to loose someone dear. I become suspicious however when a Museum prioritizes certain victims over others. This is my opinion about the Mugonkan museum. But on the other hand, when I saw the articles left behind by the departed, I felt deep sadness and compassion.
The reason why the presentation in Mugonkan is somewhat limited has to do with the fact that the collection is predominantly based on the artworks made by the students of the Tokyo Art University. The University kept their educational method strictly centered on concrete art. According to Ozawa Setsuko, who's a well-known modern Art historian, there were tendencies in private and public art schools that strongly leaned towards the avant-garde. Students came to study there from China, Korea, and also from lower class families in Japan. It would have been more stirring and interesting if avant-garde art works from these private schools would be part of the Mugonkan museum collection.
Mogunkan museum, Nagano
Sato: I heard that you had a relation with the artists, Mr. and Mrs. Maruki who have made very powerful paintings about the Atomic bomb in Hiroshima. (Fig. 1) I am impressed by their work, have you ever worked with them?
Hariu: When they were still alive, they joined many peace movements. A private museum containing their works was built and supported by their fellows. The director was a sister of Mori Arimasa whom I knew. He was a French literature teacher at the University of Tokyo. (Mori lived the last years of his life in France. He worried so much about the future of human beings living under the threat of the nuclear age that he committed suicide.) She wanted to stop working in the museum and asked me to replace her. Now I am the unpaid director in the museum.
Sato: In Japan it seems there is not so much social and political movement anymore. You work as an unpaid director in the museum. Do you do this work out of political or social conviction?
Hariu: Whatever I have been doing has always been part of a social and political movement.
Sato: How do you define your concept of a movement?
Hariu: I would first like to talk about the 'Hiroshima Panels' as the 15 paintings of Mr. and Mrs. Maruki became known. When I started to work as an art critic, their paintings and books that represented the horrors of the Atomic bomb couldn't be published or exhibited due to the censorship of the allied occupation forces. Recently in one of my seminars we discussed one of the few books about Hiroshima that were published during the occupation, it's 'The flower in summer' by Harata Miki. Not that it was so noticeable as literature, but the mere fact that it was published at that time makes it an important book.
Sato: It all emerged secretly didn't it?
Hariu: Yes, leftist propaganda material for example was impossible to be officially printed and distributed. Also critical articles about the Imperial System, which the American military occupation decided to keep intact symbolically, were only accepted briefly after the war. Literature, artwork and propaganda that criticized the Allied powers, was definitely forbidden.
Sato: The United States never wanted to show their disgrace.
Hariu: I agree. John Dower, an American historian, published the book 'Embracing defeat' in 2000. It deals with the Japanese history after the Second World War. He described how Japanese post-war society was reconstructed with the aid of America. Eventually they would name it 'Imperial Democracy'. But the problem, he argued was that the main incentive for the war (which had to do a lot with the imperial system) was allowed to remain. So in the end no one was held accountable for the war.
Sato: In Germany, responsibilities were more clearly defined, I thought.
Hariu: Noda Masayuki suggested that this wasn't really the case in Germany. Questions on responsibility and clarity who was culpable during the war weren't different from the situation in Japan. Many German civilians claim that the Nazis were solely responsible for the Second World War. But the Nazi's couldn't exist without support of the German citizens, even if they forced citizens to support them. In Germany it has been very difficult to clarify who supported and who was enticed by the Nazi's.
Recently the bestseller 'Der Vorleser' by Bernhard Schlink was published in Germany and translated into Japanese. It is the recollection of a German boy, who went to the Gymnasium and had a relationship with an older woman in the same town. He found it strange that the woman repeatedly asked him what he learnt at school. She was especially interested in the literature classes he took and asked him to read her the literature he studied. She was very pleased when he read her the books and they made love afterwards. One day, she unexpectedly disappeared from the town. A couple of years later, when he was a law student and had to go to court as an intern, he ran into her. She was pending trial, because she had worked as a guard in the concentration camps and she had maltreated the Jewish prisoners. He discovered that she couldn't read when they first met each other. She was so poor that she could not afford to go to school.
After his internship, he became a lawyer, got married and kept on visiting her in prison. Every now and then he would sent her some books. She promised that she would contact him once she was released. But just before or slightly after her release, she committed suicide. That's how the story ends.
Defining and clarifying the responsibility of the nation as a whole during the Nazi period only started recently in Germany; this story shows how complex the involvement and the struggle of people during and after the Nazi period was.
An opposite example I experienced was during a symposium about 'Art in the future' which lasted three days and took Place in 1991 at the German institute in Osaka. There were 4 Japanese and 4 German panelists. I was the chairman during the last discussion. In the final report, the German panelists all talked about the position of art in society and culture, and about the responsibility of the artist. Curiously the Japanese panelists only talked about art in a historical and general perspective, stating which 'ism' came after that 'ism'. I was surprised by the difference.
Let's go back to the 'Hiroshima Panels' of Mr. And Mrs. Maruki. Just after the bomb exploded, Maruki Iri (who was an Indian-ink painter) and Maruki Shun (an oil painter) hurried to Hiroshima to help and protect Iri's parents. They witnessed the disaster in the City's streets and started making drawings. Altogether they made a series of 15 paintings that became known as the Hiroshima Panels. In 1953 three of these paintings, explicitly depicting the aftermath of the Bomb were exhibited in Japan. At that period I was interested in artistically new, experimental, unconventional work. I felt it was important to develop a more objective view on art instead of just documenting whatever I felt when looking at an artwork. I criticized the paintings of Mr. and Mrs. Maruki in a magazine because I felt that they were too sentimental, focusing excessively on the victim's perspective. The works referred to traditional Japanese scrolls depicting images of hell which I thought, was too evocative. Later I came to realize that Mr. and Mrs. Maruki as well as their paintings have had a very big influence on the thinking- and recuperation process after the war. I had to revise my opinion...
The 14th painting entitled 'Crows' in the 'Hiroshima Panels' series was made in 1972 and depicted a Korean worker who was forced to come to Hiroshima and work in a military factory. His body is shown rotting among the ruins in the streets as a crow picks it.
The people from surrounding Asian countries like China, Korea and the Philippines were pleased that the Atomic bomb had ended the war. To them the bomb felt as a retribution for the horrors committed by the Japanese army. Mr. and Mrs. Maruki felt obliged to confront the Japanese public with the facts that occurred in the Asian countries. Eventually they started to paint the Japanese people as perpetrators. They made paintings about the Nanking Massacre (In 1937, Japanese soldiers looted the city of Nanking and slaughtered an estimated 300.000 Chinese soldiers and citizens and raped over 20.000 innocent women and children), the illness in Minamata (after the war Minamata had enormous pollution problems) and the battle in Okinawa. (At the end of the war the city of Okinawa became nothing more than a battlefield in Japan; one third of the population of Okinawa was killed not only by American but also by Japanese soldiers. As some of the citizens were forced by Japanese soldiers to commit suicide.)
The series of paintings were the Maruki's answer to my initial criticism of their work. In their particular paintings of Hiroshima, Mr. and Mrs. Maruki tried to express a collective view of the actual situation and depicting the people as victims was the only way to achieve that. It would have been impossible to paint the scene with western standards trying to achieve a monistic and concentrated connotation. As a result, each occurrence, implying also a different moment in time, should be depicted in one image. The painting scroll therefore is a very good solution. It is natural that their paintings became like the classic Japanese painting scrolls of hell and haven.
The Atomic bomb was a weapon where one could not see the enemy, but the massive explosion did cause the death of many people in one split second leaving the city completely destroyed. Imagine what it would be like to see so many dead people with keloids, burned flesh wounds, etc in the streets. In that type of situation it's no more than obvious that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn't feel as perpetrators but as victims.
However, it is necessary to face the fact that we were perpetrators in the war and therefore we do need to answer our critics.
In 1953, the year I began to work as an art critic. Kawara On the artist was 19 years old at that time, when he exhibited 10 pen drawings entitled 'The bathroom series' (fig. 2). The drawings depicted the leg, hand, head and torso of a pregnant woman emerging from the tiles in a bathroom. The first time I criticized 'The Atomic bomb pictures' of Mr. and Mrs. Maruki, I thought that the view of On Kawahara's painting was the right road to take after the war in Japan. During the war Japanese people were controlled by politics and military force and after the war we wanted to get away from that. At that period it was a major argument to strive for a modern sense of ego, individuality so to say, in order to criticize and at times reject politics. Even though I had experienced the war, the extreme situation of the war continued for me in a different way; it was impossible implement a Western sense of humanism in Japanese culture. The idea of individuality was transplanted into Japanese society but it has never become a natural sensation of self.
The novel 'The dark painting' by Noma Hiroshi had been published in 1946. In it he stated, 'Through egoism, i.e. self-protection and self-obsession, we should try to search for a western, scientific definition of ego'. At the time enthusiasts who valued the novel for its affirmation of a bourgeois humanism applauded this. They felt that this idea would never emerge in Japanese proletarian literature and therefore it typically portrayed the post war period.
If you read this novel, you'll find the first chapter that consists of a prose poem, to be very central to the book. It describes a group of students of the University of Kyoto looking at a painting. The painting (an unspecified Brueghel remake) depicts handicapped farmers tenaciously resisting the tyranny of the Spanish dynasty in Flanders. The students discuss how it could have been possible to form a collective resistance as shown in the painting. Although the question Noma Hiroshi raises is disrupted in another part of the book (because it conflicts with his impossible dream of establishing a bourgeoisified type of individualism) the most important motive of the book was how a resistance, like the one formed by the Flanders farmers, could be possible. If you ask me, individuality should not be expressed in a personal-, but in a collective way. A sense of collective individuality should have been composed by the elements that surfaced in Japan after the total destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was the concept of the avant-garde, supported by Takiguchi Shuzou (writer, critic and editor) Okamoto Taro (artist) and Harada kiyoteru in 1950's and 60's. This concept has been and still is my main incentive as a critic. I continue to believe in that.
Sato: Could you explain what you mean when you use the term 'collective individuality' and how would this work?
Hariu: I do not know exactly. I had close contact with the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. In 2000, when we discussed the literature of Kafka, they emphasized the boundlessness of his literary work, as the product of someone who was part of a minority. Kafka tried to break away from his dominating father in search of his own identity. As a Jew he tried to assimilate in an Austro-Hungarian orientated Czech society. It proved difficult to integrate, he shifted his focus and searched for ways to escape the environment he grew up in. In his literature this quest is represented by references to machines or the changing of form, from human to insect. You could conclude from his writing that it is quite impossible to escape ones own roots.
To come back to the 'Hiroshima Panels' by Mr. and Mrs. Maruki: You can see in these paintings that people are trying to help others who are dying, but they cannot. They share a sense of indignation and despair. The dying people represent some sort of collective individuality for me. It is a good example of how a large group of individuals reach a sense of collectivity. In the Buddhist philosophy, in order to establish a sense of 'I', you need to integrate yourself with nature and the cosmos. That is to say, without disregarding oneself for the sake of others it is impossible to establish an enlightened sense of 'I'.
Since the 70's, due to the then present political and economical situation, Japanese artists have become autonomous and isolated. They lost connection with society and searched for an identity by adopting mediocre ideas that differed very little from international modernist tendencies.
Autonomous art assesses political, social, economical, and cultural issues of a certain era. It represents these topics in an idiosyncratic way and therefore challenges the organization, censorship and taboos of society.
To strive for art's autonomy should however not imply a division from our cultural heritage by simply categorizing it as a profession subject to prevailing economical, social standards of society.
According to Michel Foucault, authority is not an isolated entity anymore. In the latter definition of Capitalism, authority is latent throughout all social structures. Therefore the only possibility to discern existing control structures is by adopting the perspective of women, children, invalids, immigrants, political criminals, the elderly, the unemployed, and the homosexuals who are naturally/structurally oppressed or discriminated in society. If artists solely define themselves within existing power structures and shy away from the weak and suppressed in society they will never become truly innovative and autonomous in their expression.
I would like to finish by mention a book I'm still reading, 'Empire' by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. It used to be a popular book in the United States before September the 11th but the U.S. government became very critical towards it after the attacks. I realize now that this gigantic empire, the United States, was established not because of territorial expansion or imperialism, but through their stronghold on the information network. Consequently, you could argue that unification through Nationalism is no longer an effective way to control people. According to Baruch Spinoza, the organization of an empire depends on how mature its general public is. So far the general public is nothing but a crowd of people, a gathering of isolated individuals. But if we succeed in organizing people in a fluid and flexible international network (e.g. how self organized political/social/artistic gatherings are conducted through the internet), we could be able to form alternative domains that balance and perhaps even overthrow national and international empires. Art appeals basically to individuals and spreads itself through flexible networks and relationships, therefore its influence could become an increasingly important part of alternative movements.
Hiroshima Panels (detail)