Sunday, June 10, 2007
Astro Boy Comes to Civic Center
The Asian Art Museum in Civic Center has just opened a pair of new shows for the summer that are a smashing success.
One of the exhibits is devoted to the late Tezuka Osamu (1928-1989), the Japanese "god of comics" who was a pioneer in Japanese comic books, "manga," and their animated offspring, "anime."
He created stories for children from the 1940s through the 1960s and then stories for adults from the 1960s onwards.
In an adjoining gallery, there is a low-lit exhibit of late 19th century prints by the last of the great Japanese woodblock masters, Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) that are strange and fabulous illustrations of various tales, and the show is oddly complementary to the 20th-century illustrator next door.
The Tezuka exhibit is the first time his work has been shown outside of Japan, and was assembled by Philip Brophy, an Australian who organized the show for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
This is surprising because Tezuka's work is widely admired and has been serialized and animated into just about every language in the world, with his 1940s "Mighty Atom" metamorphisizing into "Astro Boy" and his "Kimba the Lion" tale eventually being ripped off by Disney for "The Lion King."
The exhibit is beautifully installed, with amusing piped-in music (from the varous anime series I presumed), and the "adult" manga are fascinating.
There is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," all strange angles and moral complexity intact, except with Raskolnikov looking like a cousin to Astro Boy.
Plus, there's a biography of Buddha as an action figure (Tezuka wasn't a Buddhist), a gory series about a morally conflicted surgeon with superpowers, not to mention gender-shifting characters run amok. If it's all too much, you can repair to the "Manga Lounge" and sprawl across a beanbag chair.
Also, if you renew a subscription to the Asian Art Museum or join for the first time, they are handing out cool Tezuka Astro Boy posters. Check it out.