Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Big Picture 09

While the rest of the world was getting over the anticlimax of Y2K (I had a long list of items I intended to acquire during the riots I was promised), the Japanese were flocking to a bizarre teen slasher movie entitled Battle Royale. The premise of the film is simple enough, a cross between Survivor and Lord of the Flies – take a bunch of hormonal teens, put them on an abandoned island, and let the gouging begin!

What struck me most about this otherwise unremarkable film was the Japanese concept of dangerous youthful rebellion. Set in a not too remote future, Battle Royale shows us a Japan where teens have “run amok”, forcing the government to inflict harsh punishments (such as banishment to an abandoned island full of psychopaths) – the funny part is, “amok” is defined as “not doing homework” and “not listening to parents”. My parents would have increased my allowance if that was the extent of my teen rampaging. It doesn’t take much to be a bad-ass at Tokyo High.

What, one wonders, would the fascistic minders from Battle Royale make of the kids pictured in Shoichi Aoki’s Fruits, an exhibition of photographs of wacky Tokyo street fashions? Time to gear up that desolate island.

Taken over a period of ten years, the images in Fruits offer a glimpse into the anxious underbelly of urban Japanese life that even smarter North American travelogues like Lost In Translation fail to notice: a peek into a culture so pressured by notions of obedience and propriety that it forces young people to adopt outlandish, indeed clownish fashions in order to assert their individuality.

But to compare Aoki’s subjects to 1970’s punks, the teen faction they most resemble, at least superficially, is to miss the point. These kids are not dressing for discontent – in fact, it’s the opposite. They look like happy toddlers who’ve been permitted to clothe themselves, not nihilists.

The style itself is certainly original, a cross between Tickle Trunk and bag lady. The brightly coloured baby doll dresses and snowsuits are awash in pinks, powder blues and electric greens. Ensembles are over-accessorized with toys and kindergarten labels - the ubiquitous pink terror Hello Kitty, a sure sign of the coming of the Antichrist, grimaces like a demon, as does the ever-creepy Barbie - and the kids pile layer upon layer until you wonder how they can move (a sign, I was once told by a social worker, that a young person is attempting to negate his/her sexuality, to literally smother their budding pubescence).

This everything-in-the-bombed-closet look is the polar opposite of your older brother’s carefully feathered long hair with Led Zeppelin tee-shirt statement, or your own androgynous Flock of Seagulls coif and black nail polish drag. There is no undercurrent of self destruction in the Tokyo style, nor any hint of radical gender transgression. And the whole presentation looks too considered, too aware of its own ridiculousness, to compare to the laid back, Vancouver hemp activist shtick, which is (allegedly) all about not caring how you look.

Rather, what these kids are telling their parents is that if they are not going to be permitted to make their own decisions, to become adults, then they will rebel by simply never growing up. And what could be more terrifying to a middle class parent than a child who stays five years old for life, who won’t ever move out and get a job? Leave it to the Japanese to invent a better youth quake.


Feeling Christmassy but not, you know, Santa and Silent Night and Tim Allen movie Christmassy?

Love the pretty colours, the parties, and the smell of eggnog, but hate and loathe to the point that you wish you were Hassidic the cheesy family claptrap of Christmas? Do you cherish the look of old Peanuts cartoons, the moody gloom of A Christmas Carol (Alastair Sym version) and the tinny shine of vintage ornaments, but despise icicle lights, those grotesque inflatable snowmen and anything combining the words “holiday special” and “Jessica Simpson”?

Do you crave a bit of elegance and thought with your Yuletide tide? Then be sure to stop a moment on your Queen West shopping crawl and bathe in the amber, haunted warmth of Christy Thompson’s understated holiday installation Lodge.

Set in a narrow window between Dufflet’s Pastries and a clothing store, Lodge combines deer antlers, electric candles and pearly beads in a delicate candelabra that references all things Dec 25th – reindeer, sparkling dinner tables, strings of garland – without beating the already abused viewer over the head. A tumble of hushed ivories and dying ember yellows, Thompson’s spooky ornament (the antlers are from dead deer, after all) is as quiet and mysterious as Christmas Eve after midnight, when all the pulsing green and red mini-lites are turned off.


With every gallery in town hocking budget-priced art to tease the gift giver, why not break away from the usual prints ‘n pastels selection and buy your art presents at a toy store?

Magic Pony, a new store that specializes in screwball (but high end) toys and figurines from Japan, is hosting the Toronto stop of the touring show Plustastrophe! – a collection of plush toys made by local and international artists, many of them influenced by Japanese manga and anime.
Some of these fuzzy creatures are downright ghoulish. Cyclops monsters made of soft felt, creatures with multiple fun fur heads, freakishly proportioned animals caste in cloth, specimens from the petri dish rendered in fabric – in other words, the perfect gifts for that niece you’re trying to wean off Bratz, or that youngest son, the bookish one who likes show tunes.

Among the local plush delights are Seth Scriver’s popular, amoeba-like wool sock monsters and a selection of sinister, rail thin animals by Tara Azzopardi, who apparently thinks that if animals can drive cars and go to school, like Rupert the Bear, then they can smoke and drink coffee too.
Hand sewn with a babushka’s loving attention to detail, Azzopardi’s delightfully grim beasties will keep the cat out of the Christmas tree.

Magic Pony Gallery
785 Queen Street West Until Jan 2
$25 - $300

Shoichi Aoki
Edward Day Gallery
952 Queen Street West
Until January 5

Christy Thompson
Solo Exhibition 787 Queen Street West
Until December 25