“À Travers: Cinematography, Anime, Depth"

Presented By: Daisuke Miyao, University of California, San Diego

In April 2000, the Japanese visual artist Murakami Takashi curated an exhibition titled Superflat. By “Superflat,” Murakami refers to various flattened forms in Japanese graphic art, animation, pop culture and fine arts. In his manifesto for the exhibition, Murakami writes, “Society, customs, art, culture: all are extremely two-dimensional. It is particularly apparent in the arts that this sensibility has been flowing steadily beneath the surface of Japanese history.” Here he tries to create a direct lineage between art from Japan’s premodern period and contemporary art. Murakami makes the connection entirely in terms of the structural composition of the image. The movement of “the eye” is, according to Murakami, strictly limited to the flat surface. The notion of superflat depends on establishing a fundamental difference between Japanese traditions of flat composition on the one hand and Western traditions of linear perspective on the other. Such culturally essentialist positioning of superflat avoids dealing with questions about modernity and modernization of Japan, which have had a complicated relation to Western technology. In this paper, comparatively examining Jungle Emperor Leo (1997) and The Lion King (1994/2019), I will discuss such a complicated relation from a historical perspective. Like Murakami’s superflat theory, my focus is also on the movement of the eyes. However, I will not argue that the movement is limited to the surface, no matter how flat the images of Japanese art and cinema look, compared to those in Western counterparts. Even in those flat-looking images, cinematography invites the eyes of the viewers to become more unstable, mobile, and ephemeral. That is what I call the à travers cinema.