Last updated

Superflat is a postmodern art movement, founded by the artist Takashi Murakami, which is influenced by manga and anime. [1] However, superflat doesn't have an explicit definition because Takashi Murakami does not want to limit the movement, but rather leave room for it to grow and evolve over time. [2]


Superflat is also the name of a 2000 [2] art exhibition, curated by Murakami, that toured West Hollywood, Minneapolis and Seattle. [3]


"Superflat" is used by Murakami to refer to various flattened forms in Japanese graphic art, animation, pop culture and fine arts, as well as the "shallow emptiness of Japanese consumer culture." [4] Superflat has been embraced by American artists, who have created a hybrid called "SoFlo Superflat". [3]

Murakami defines Superflat in broad terms, so the subject matter is very diverse. Some works explore the consumerism and sexual fetishism that is prevalent in post-war Japanese culture. This often includes lolicon art, which is parodied by works such as those by Henmaru Machino. These works are an exploration of otaku sexuality through grotesque and/or distorted images. Other works are more concerned with a fear of growing up. For example, Yoshitomo Nara's work often features playful graffiti on old Japanese ukiyo-e executed in a childish manner. And some works focus on the structure and underlying desires that comprise otaku and overall post-war Japanese culture. Murakami is influenced by directors such as Hideaki Anno. [5]

Superflat is not limited to contemporary art alone. Murakami cites older Japanese pieces as superflat as well, including Katsushika Hokusai's "Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit" (1830–32) as an example of superflat. [2]

A subversive look at otakuism is not a defining factor of Kaikai Kiki's galleries; Bome, one of the most important artists involved with the first Superflat exhibition, is a famous otaku figure sculptor and his work based on existing bishoujo anime characters has been showcased in multiple galleries including a solo exhibition in the Kaikai Kiki Gallery. The artist Mr. is a self-described lolicon and views his artwork to be not a cultural commentary but a portrayal of his own personal fantasies. [6]


Superflat artists include Chiho Aoshima, Mahomi Kunikata, Sayuri Michima, Yoshitomo Nara, Aya Takano and Takashi Murakami. [7] [8] In addition, some animators within anime and some manga artists have had their past and present work exhibited in Superflat exhibitions, especially Kōji Morimoto, and the work of Hitoshi Tomizawa, author of Alien 9 and Milk Closet .


There are multiple factors that played a role for Murakami to come up with his Superflat claim. In his Manifesto, he describes “Super flatness” as an original concept of Japanese who have been completely Westernized, that simultaneously links the past with the present and the future. [9]

The past, in this case, refers to art made during the Edo period in Japan, where Murakami finds his foremost inspiration in the works of Fine Art painters such as Kano Sansetsu, Ito Jakuchu, Soga Shohaku and Katsushika Hokusai. Murakami explains that his theory was born from a hypothesis created by art historian Nobuo Tsuji in his book The Lineage of Eccentricity. [9]

In his book, Tsuji critically analyses works from Edo period painters and explains how the picture controls the speed and course of its observer’s gaze, creating an interaction between the surface and the viewer with a zigzag motion. This is further elaborated in Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics, a book that presents key examples of Murakami’s work alongside a selection of Japanese masterpieces arranged according to the concepts laid out by Tsuji himself. It is mentioned that the juxtaposition of foreground forms extending horizontally across broad compositions and two-dimensional surfaces is another feature that Murakami has adapted for his own theory and contemporary subject matter. [10]

The particular sensibility of the gaze and inspiration from old masters is what Murakami continues to incorporate in his own works. An example of this is his painting called 727, a work made with acrylics on three panels. In the middle is his alter ego depicted, also known as ‘Mr. DOB’, riding a stylized wave that is a direct reference to Hokusai his famous Great Wave off Kanagawa. The panels on which it was painted show a resemblance to the flat and often ‘blank’ backgrounds characterizing in Nihonga paintings and folding screens, illustrating features of Superflatness.

Another field within the arts that, according to both Murakami and Tsuji, is closely related to eccentricity of traditional Japanese art and also carries Superflat features, is animation. In his manifesto, Murakami takes Yoshinori Kanada as a prime example of an animator whose work contains a compositional dynamic that resembles that of the “eccentric” artists to a startling degree. [9]

A connection can be made of modern-day animation back to twelfth- and thirteenth-century Japanese handscrolls, where the narrative is composed across multiple sheets of joined paper, read from right to left, providing the observer once again a two-dimensional ‘flat’ space and composition where the gaze leads the viewer through the story. [10]

A different factor that played a role for the emergence of Superflatness was the bursting bubble of the Japanese economy in the 1990s’, where Japan was led into uncertain territory and a loss of its sense of security. Michael Darling explains that "rabid consumerism and the slavish following of fads, especially in fashion, have further contributed to a culture of surfaces and superficiality, representing still another facet of the Superflat concept". [11] Darling, 2001). He uses photography and fashion as further examples to illustrate Superflatness and the hype and high consumer demand of Japan.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Lolicon</i> Desire for young girl characters in anime and manga

In Japanese popular culture, lolicon is a genre of fictional media in which young girl characters appear in romantic or sexual contexts. The term, a portmanteau of the English phrase "Lolita complex", also refers to desire and affection for such characters, and fans of such characters and works. Associated with unrealistic and stylized imagery within manga, anime, and video games, lolicon in otaku culture is understood as distinct from desires for realistic depictions of girls, or real girls as such, and is associated with the concept of moe, or feelings of affection and love for fictional characters as such.

James Jean is a Taiwanese-American visual artist working primarily in painting and drawing. He lives and works in Los Angeles, where he moved from New York in 2003.

Hiroki Azuma is a Japanese cultural critic, novelist, and philosopher. He is the co-founder and former director of Genron, an independent institute in Tokyo, Japan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Takashi Murakami</span> Japanese artist

Takashi Murakami is a Japanese contemporary artist. He works in fine arts media as well as commercial and is known for blurring the line between high and low arts as well as co aesthetic characteristics of the Japanese artistic tradition and the nature of postwar Japanese culture and society, and is also used for Murakami's artistic style and other Japanese artists he has influenced.

Yoshinori Kanada was an influential Japanese animator originally from Nara, Japan. He is best known for his popular 1984 work Birth, one of the first original video animations released in the market. Though he did not create many character designs, he was famous for his character animation skills. His work on Galaxy Express 999 (1979) and Harmagedon (1983) were very influential to an entire generation of animators in Japan. These two works also served as partial inspiration for Takashi Murakami's Superflat art movement. During the 1980s and 1990s, he worked closely with director Hayao Miyazaki on several movies from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to Princess Mononoke. He was also known for breaking down the directorial system in animation, allowing individual key animators to exert their own style into a particular work. He died at the age of 57 of a heart attack on July 21, 2009. His works inspired the art and works of animators such as Hiroyuki Imaishi, Masahito Yamashita, Akira Amemiya and Masami Obari. The final episode of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt was dedicated in memory of him, and his influential work garnered special praise from many industry figures, such as Hayao Miyazaki.

Nijikon (二次コン) or nijigen konpurekkusu (二次元コンプレックス), from the English "2D complex", is the affective perception that two-dimensional anime, manga, and light novel characters are more attractive visually, physically or emotionally than people from the real world. The term appeared in the early 1980s in Japan. It has been interpreted by some observers as a genuine sexual orientation in which a person loses interest in real-life people but develops feelings of love and sentimental attachment to characters. This is generally directed towards the behavior and exaggerated physical or facial features of the anime/manga art style, which are perceived to be "ideal" human features.

Aya Takano is a Japanese painter, Superflat artist, manga artist, and science fiction essayist. Aya Takano is represented by Kaikai Kiki, the artistic production studio created in 2001 by Takashi Murakami.

Weekly Dearest My Brother is a series of six bishōjo-centered manga booklets that were released weekly for a short time in Japan. The manga would come packaged with a limited edition plastic-figure assembly kit, designed by Ohshima Yuki, of the featured character of the week. These figures of small-breasted prepubescent girls helped to expand the niche market of lolicon and also placed Ohshima in high esteem among figure collectors in Japan due to the high level of detail and clever portrayals. Some of Ohshima's figurines are reproduced by Takashi Murakami.

Chiho Aoshima is a Japanese pop artist and member of Takashi Murakami's Kaikai Kiki Collective. Aoshima graduated from the Department of Economics, Hosei University, Tokyo. She held a residency at Art Pace, San Antonio, United States in 2006.

|Bome is the pseudonym of a Japanese sculptor, primarily sculpting anime-styled women for mass commercial release. The name is a contraction of Baseball Cap and Eyeglasses, both of which he wears regularly. He started making garage kits and now works for Kaiyodo, a Japanese company that specialises in anime-related figurines. Bome's work has proved sufficiently popular and successful for Kaiyodo to release a Monsieur Bome Collection, including figures from such popular anime and video games as GunBuster, Full Metal Panic, Dead or Alive, Kiddy Grade, Xenosaga and Jingai Makyō. Bome has, amongst others, also sculpted characters from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Sailor Moon.

Neo-pop is a postmodern art movement of the 1980s and 1990s.

Hitoshi Tomizawa is a Japanese manga artist. He is best known for his sci-fi series Alien Nine.

<i>Little Boy: The Arts of Japans Exploding Subculture</i>

Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture is the companion catalogue to the exhibition "Little Boy" curated by artist Takashi Murakami. The book is about the aesthetics of postwar culture in Japan.

Mr. is a Japanese contemporary artist, based in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. A former protégé of Takashi Murakami, Mr.'s work debuted in both solo and group exhibitions in 1996, and has since been seen in museum and gallery exhibitions in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hong Kong, Seoul, Daegu, Paris, New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Miami, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nakano Broadway</span> Shopping mall in Tokyo, Japan

Nakano Broadway (中野ブロードウェイ) is a shopping mall in Nakano, Tokyo, Japan. Founded in 1966 as a luxury shopping complex, it has subsequently become a popular destination for goods aimed at otaku.

SoFlo Superflat describes an art genre started in Miami in the 1990s. It is an urban pop art movement in South Florida that combines super bright colors and ultra flat images. The subject matters are very diverse. It is an outcrop of the Japanese Superflat movement, founded by the artist Takashi Murakami.

"It Girl" is a song written, produced, and performed by American recording artist Pharrell Williams. The song was released on November 10, 2014 through Columbia Records as the fifth single from his second studio album Girl (2014) in the United Kingdom. The lyrics reference the title in the line you the it girl.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Erina Matsui</span> Japanese artist

Erina Matsui is a contemporary Japanese artist. She is known for her surreal self-portraits, mostly done as oil paintings. Her work has been praised for its jarring visual impact as it defies normal representations of childhood being cute and innocent.

My Lonesome Cowboy is a sculpture created in 1998 by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Produced during Murakami's so-called "bodily fluids" period, the 9.45 ft-tall (288 cm) statue depicts an anime-inspired figure ejaculating a large strand of semen. Like its companion piece Hiropon, My Lonesome Cowboy is an example of superflat art, an art movement founded by Murakami in the 1990s to criticize Japanese consumer culture. The sculpture is noted as among Murakami's most famous works.

Hiropon is a sculpture created in 1997 by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Produced during Murakami's so-called "bodily fluids" period, the 7.33 ft tall statue depicts an anime-inspired figure expelling streams of breast milk from her nipples. Like its companion piece My Lonesome Cowboy, it is an example of superflat art, an art movement founded by Murakami in the 1990s to criticize Japanese consumer culture.


  1. Natalie Avella, Graphic Japan: From Woodblock and Zen to Manga and Kawaii, Rotovision, 2004, p111. ISBN   2-88046-771-3
  2. 1 2 3 Steinberg, Marc Aaron (2002). Emerging from flatness: Murakami takashi and superflat aesthetics (Thesis). ProQuest   305459576.
  3. 1 2 Hauser, Kitty (October 2004). "Superflat: Kitty Hauser on fan fare". Artforum International. 43: 129. OCLC   5261037854.
  4. Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter (2001-01-18). "Superflat (Art Exhibit Review)". Archived from the original on 2021-01-27.
  5. Frenchy Lunning, Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga, University of Minnesota Press, 2006, p. 133. ISBN   0-8166-4945-6.
  6. Chen, Aric (May 2007). "Candy Man Archived 2017-07-15 at the Wayback Machine ". Hint Fashion Magazine. Accessed 9 March 2009.
  7. "Superflat". 2001-01-14. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  8. "Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture". 2005-04-08. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  9. 1 2 3 Murakami, Takashi (November 1, 2000). Superflat. Japan: Madora Shuppan. ISBN   978-4944079209.
  10. 1 2 Murakami, Takashi (2018). Lineage of Eccentrics; a collaboration with Nobuo Tsuji and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: MFA Publications. p. 65. ISBN   978-0878468492.
  11. Darling, Michael (2001). "Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness". Art Journal. 60 (3): 76–89. doi:10.2307/778139. JSTOR   778139.