Monday, 28 November 2011

The Grown-up Playground

<Extract from my Modes of Design, which was done in a total rush...>

Through my extensive research I have concluded that kawaii is more than just a stylistic genre, it is a collective mentality shared by the majority of the population in Japan, it is an inseparable part of their life – they dress kawaii, act kawaii, think kawaii; they are part of kawaii themselves. Although seemingly warm and positive, the cuteness phenomenon is in fact a reaction of the people to the atomic bombs and the country's defeat in the war – it is a national consciousness shaped by historical catastrophe. In order to convey kawaii's profound relationship to WWII, I decided to creative my visual outcome in the form of propaganda posters, exploring the three topics discussed in my dissertation: Sex, Money and Power.

In my design for the theme ‘Money’, I have illustrated a character waving a ‘flag’, apparently waiting for someone's ‘safe return’ from a war. I wanted to comment on the fact that cuteness seen in kawaii characters such as Hello Kitty is indeed a tool for companies to expand their business. The character in the poster is a symbol for all the seemingly innocent embodiment of kawaii, namely Sanrio's cartoon characters and the young girls of AKB48, and the banknote-flag it is holding suggests the commercial intention behind its creation – companies make use of the public's obsession about cute things and people, producing marketable commodities that are constantly desired. These successful companies would always welcome the ‘return’ of their customers with a smile on their faces, just like the Kitty in the poster.

My second design is on the theme of ‘Sex’ in relation to kawaii. As examined in the dissertation, schoolgirls in uniforms have become a common subject for men's fantasisation in Japan. The apparent pure image of schoolgirls is indeed sexual desire in disguise -young idols dressed in a conservative way would sometimes behave in a provocative way, inviting the audience to enter a world of forbidden imaginations. Therefore in my design I have portrayed a girl in uniform who is pulling up her skirt revealing the underwear, as a reference to the bizarre fetish for schoolgirls' used panties; the girl's stretched arm has made the invitation more physical, urging the audience to ‘unite’ with her, which meaning is up to the audience's interpretation. It is worth noting that the heart-shaped sun motif used here is also used in the background of the first poster, as my way to express Japan's close connection to ‘cuteness’.

In the final poster exploring the theme of ‘power’, I have illustrated a kawaii version of a kamikaze jet used in the war, projecting shells over the lands of Europe and the United States. Through the export of its ‘soft’ ‘power’, metaphorised by the pink shells, Japan has found a way to control and influence other cultures, revenging its defeat in the war. The apparent cuteness and harmlessness of the jet echoes that of kawaii culture, and is gradually taking over the world by ‘winning everyone's heart’.

In order to reflect the nature of the fancy good markets and Murakami's artwork, I have deliberately decided to digitally produce my posters so that they are suitable for mass production. Although in the form of propaganda posters, my designs are not intended to persuade the audience to become a fan of the cuteness culture, but instead, they are only aimed to demonstrate the fact that kawaii is being used as a commercial and sexual commodity, as well as a kind of power for Japan to raise its international status, just as explored in details in my dissertation. I want the audience to look beyond the innocent appearance of kawaii and reflect on its influence on our life and our world.

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