A protégé of Takashi Murakami, Japanese artist Mr. (née Masakatsu Iwamoto) first came to prominence with his interpretations of otaku culture and its sexually exaggerated portrayals of prepubescent girls in cartoons, comic books and video games (a depiction that’s acceptable in Japan, though it leaves some Americans taken aback). With a career that also extends into pop music—he animated Pharrell Williams’s video for “It Girl”—Mr. has been busy, though he recently took time to discuss his new art show at the gallery Lehmann Maupin and his fascination with otaku’s unnerving eroticism.
How did you get the name Mr.?
It was a nickname given to me by Murakami and the people at his studio. There was a Japanese baseball player who played for the Yomiuri Giants named Shigeo Nagashima, and his nickname was Mr. Giants. He was known for eccentric interviews that no one really understood. Everyone thought my mannerisms were like his, so they started calling me Mr.
What attracted you to otaku culture?
I’ve watched anime since I was a kid. It’s been such an obsession of mine that it’s become impossible to separate my life from it. Using otaku as a form of self-expression came as second nature to me, which is why it’s been a theme for 20 years.
Are you a fan of cartoons that treat young girls erotically?
Yes. But strangely enough, it has only encouraged a kind of psychological complex I have in my approach to creating girl characters like them.
What do you mean?
Well, whenever I drew one, I wanted her to be as cute as possible. But by the time I finished, she wouldn’t look as cute as I wanted her to be. I’ve gotten better at it over time, and I can make my characters cuter now, but I’d like to make them even cuter.
Your video for “It Girl” certainly has lots of sexy young girls romping on the beach. How did you go about making it?
I wanted something that was less about Pharrell and more about Japan—and me. I based the video on a concept called bishojo—meaning “beautiful girl”—in which summer and swimsuits are standard themes. It’s a specific type of manga or anime, which I use to represent me as an artist.
You’re almost 50 now; isn’t it time for you to find more serious subject matter?
It’s actually the opposite: I don’t feel the pressure to explore more serious things. It’s more like I feel the pressure to maintain the freshness of my work and to keep finding new ways to express it.
See the exhibition
A former protégé of Takashi Murakami, Mr. (né Masakatsu Iwamoto) takes a similarly anime/magna-inspired approach to his work. His paintings, sculptures and videos draw upon the aesthetics of otaku, Japan’s pop-subculture of sexualized cuteness with scenes of young boys and girls who seeming innocence is belied by erotic undercurrents.
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