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The Un-Private Collection: Takashi Murakami and Pico Iyer

In partnership with The Broad
In anticipation of its opening, The Broad has launched "The Un-Private Collection," a talk series featuring unexpected pairings of cultural leaders and influential artists in the Broad collections, taking place at venues around Los Angeles.

As part of The Broad Museum's The Un-Private Collection series, writer and cultural philosopher Pico Iyer chatted with renowned artist Takashi Murakami, at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on May 29, 2014. They discussed Murakami's childhood and adulthood influences, his relationship between East and West, and his new film "Jellyfish Eyes."

What follows is a condensed transcript of their wide-ranging and fascinating conversation:

Pico Iyer: This is a rare chance for all of us in L.A. to hear Takashi Murakami. But before I fall silent, I just wanted to almost set our conversation into a kind of context. I've been based in rural Japan for 27 years and I go back and forth between Japan and California. And a few months ago, I was going to my local health club in Nara and I squeezed into a little elevator and I saw there were a couple of young mothers there dressed in Gucci and Dior with Hello Kitty rings next to their Louis Vuitton bags.

And their kids were of course adorable in Captain America and Superman t-shirts and the young fathers were wearing hip hop kind of South Central gear from Abercrombie and Fitch probably, and I thought, "What a charming, cheerful, innocent world I've chosen to live in." And then the elevator stopped at the third floor and a very demure-looking matron came on and I remembered my Japanese wife who told me that this lady had actually had a mental breakdown and would sleep with any man around. And then I looked and I saw a retired businessman in the elevator and he characteristically was carrying a Manga comic book full of wide-eyed nymphettes and XXX-rated scenes of graphic violence.

And then I remembered that the Tokyo Police Department presents itself to the world through a loveable little character called Pipo and even the nuclear industry in Japan represents itself through a cartoon mascot, Pluto-kun. And I went back to my apartment and I began looking through Takashi Murakami's work, and suddenly everything fell into place because there were the really irresistible, cute, cartoon-y bright characters but surrounded by signs of apocalypse. And there were the two-dimensional, super flat figures that surround me but haunted by ghosts and demons and nightmares. And there was the post-war All-American generic suburb we know from the novels of Haruki Murakami but shadowed by the spirits that we see in the wonderful films of Hayao Miyazaki.

And suddenly I felt really as if Takashi-san's work had explained the world around me but also all the invisible worlds around it. So now all of us know that his work is very charming and troubling and easy and difficult and layered and big and fearless. But I think it's like nothing else on the planet and certainly for me, Japan never looks the same after looking at his work. So Takashi-san, so happy to see you here. And I have a lot I want to ask you about you process and your vision but I thought maybe we could start way back. What are your earliest memories of growing up in Japan?

Takashi Murakami, artist: Okay. So I have to excuse myself...but [I will speak] maybe 80 percent in Japanese and twenty percent in very bad English, so but in a difficult moment [I might use my translator Yuko.] Your question is memory, right?

PI: Growing up. Yeah.

TM: Oh. Okay. My memory linked with my pieces mostly is [the] Vietnam wars TV program, and documentary stuff in Japanese TV, and also like 40 years ago [when] showing exact documentary [footage of] the war stuff...World War II...like...and why Japan lost the war and many, many war image and also the Cold War too in America and the Soviet Union. A lot of stuff in my environment is war issued because my father served defense force. He was working so he was a geek for weapons and my house had a lot of the magazines about weapons and stuff. My father [asked me] why we lose from the U.S.-- that's why, so that's the reason is he talked to me again and again and again.

But my philosophy came from conversations with my father, so [maybe] that is the first memory but at the same time kind of like a SciFi TV program...or some kind of the most kaiju stuff so that is very familiar. The moment was very...kind of that dark kind of feeling because in the Pacific Ocean [after] having several atomic bomb experiments, the Japanese people really fear the effect of the radiation stuff. My mom said, "Please be careful when the rain [is] coming," [because] you have to escape from the rain because of radiation. So kind of that feeling was like from a kaiju movie in Japan; [because of] that environment I think my memory was something like that.

"100 Arhats," 2013 by Takashi Murakami, acrylic, gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board, 118 1/8 x 393 11/16 in. (300.04 x 999.97 cm); Courtesy of The Broad Art Foundation and The Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation. Image ©Murakami.

PI: And your mother actually grew up in Kokura, which is the town where the atom bomb was going to be dropped before they chose Nagasaki. Isn't that right?

TM: Yes. Yeah. So she was talking with me about this story.

PI: She saw the bomb?

TM: She said Nagasaki atomic bomb maybe--she saw that kind of a rainbow color in the sky, right? A very, very curious color, like not rainbow but kind of the orange plus never seeing the landscape she said.

PI: And then were you also absorbing a lot of American stuff when you were a kid?

TM: Yes. Many, many TV programs, and I don't know in English the title, but many kind of family movies.

PI: Cartoons?

TM: Yes. Cartoons every day and also "Lassie."

PI: Lassie?

TM: Yeah. And kind of the dolphin something like a dolphin stuff? What's the title?

Interpreter: Dolphin?

TM: Yeah. Dolphin. Kind of..."Flipper"?

PI: "Flipper." Yeah.

TM: Yeah. Yeah. Kind of that. Very popular. So I was a very big fan.

PI: I've seen your movie and I was interested in the little boy in the movie. Did you spend a lot of time by yourself as a kid?

TM: No. Because then I had a young brother and many friends...

And also my neighborhood was kind of [a] rice farm so that meant that we can go fishing and kind of catching for the lobster or something so a kid's time was very, very happy with nature.

PI: And then when you went to college, you decided to study the most traditional side of Japanese art. Isn't that right?

TM: Yes. Yeah.

PI: And you got a doctorate in...what was the subject of your study?

TM: Why I had to go to the Japanese traditional painting department: the reason was when I was getting very big influence of the movies...Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and Hayao Miyazaki stuff. And then my dream was I wanted to go into the kind of animation industry and if I can make a good drawing so immediately I want to go but I have no skill. So that's why I saw I have to do training about making a drawing and painting. So but when I [had to] choose a department--design and the oil paint and many departments--but no fit because it [all] looks really complex. So the Japanese traditional painting department was just sketching like a ball and like kind of the landscape. So okay so when I will go [to] this department and get training for the drawing, that's why I choose.

PI: Easier.

TM: Yes. But I lose two years and that was difficult.

PI: And I think I heard that when you were a student somebody said you weren't so good with color so you decided really to work hard on color or something like that?

TM: I don't know. Oh yeah. No. Yes. That memory...almost every day I remember because this lady's boyfriend is very handsome and also his color sense is very good so everybody understands him...everybody. And then this lady wanted to say, "And my boyfriend has very good color sense." And then why? So she comes behind me and [says], "Oh...your color sense is so bad. It looks like brown color and the black and white is stupid." But why? So I came to the universities. I wanted to make training because I have no skill and that's why. But I cannot say for her and that was a very big complex deal now. So that's why you see the Louis Vuitton... monogram that is a kind of myself... I can use but at the same time you have no sense for the color so I know that.

PI: I hope she's seen your more recent paintings.

TM: I don't know. So this guy is a professor in the university and getting married. Maybe she's still kind of proud of him. I don't know.

PI: How did being in this country change the way you looked at Japan or change you?

TM: I think no different the change for when I watching at Japan. The different thing is what is art I understood because contemporary art is what is my big question. Because in Japan contemporary art just came from the West and misinterpretation...

The MoMA was having a [Anslem] Kiefer show. I was crying. I don't know why. And also at the same time I saw the Jeff Koons show in the Sonnabend Gallery but I couldn't understand...what is this porcelain of stuff, like a Michael Jackson and Pink Panther stuff and super confusing. But Sonnabend Gallery is [a] frame and scale I understood so I have to look at what's the reason why this artist is showing up there because Jeff Koons name I mention because he was making basketball stuff but so much far away that piece was. So my first experience in New York City in the art world is completely a mystery, everything. My brain was an explosion. It is, "I cannot come to this world," so I almost gave up. That is my impression first time.

PI: But it sounds like it confirmed your idea you could make big pieces or you could do something quite like that.

TM: Yeah. That's why I have an obsession for making a big piece, because that first big shock for me during the Julian Schnabel stuff and Kiefer and many, many artists at the moment was having big pieces and I was very inspired, still until now.

PI: And I feel your big pieces are almost a way of saying something very direct to Japan about what it's not doing. Do you feel that you're talking to your society through your art?

TM: I don't know. I can say I don't know because I am a very big fan [of] Hayao Miyazaki's film; his political statement is kind of [a blend of] the communist he was...and is actually left wing...and he was maybe in the 1980s [then] gave up. And then his career was started so that's why his storyline is very wavy and not happy in anytime but looks like happy end...[that's the] kind of environment I'm really understanding. So that's why some of my pieces, when I'm making up my concept and narrative point, I'm making [it] very honest...honestly to say something...so that's why my statement is what is myself and the Japanese people: confusing. Not segmented like straight away, just open the very, very confusing landscape.

PI: And maybe lost the confidence after the war, it seems...the Japanese culture?

TM: But you know, honestly Japanese young people hav[e] a strange confidence. I don't understand where from this confidence and also maybe my generation also the same thing. That's why my standing position in Japan is very bad, like "Takashi's saying the Japanese like shallow stuff too much and Western people are laughing at that, Takashi's piece." A very bad example is "Masturbation Guy" so this is not true. This is too much operation for bad form.

But you know, when Western people came to Japan and they're watching at convenience store they can see the kind of pornographic manga stuff a lot, not [like a] photograph but like manga, so that is really strange. [They get that] the sexuality came not from reality...[but] kind of the imagination...[it] came from the manga...This is much big difference so that culture is my background so that's why I have to making myself to make...how can I say? Western contemporary art new. How can I say?

TM (interpreter): So when I try to talk about all that through contemporary art, language and grammar, it looks as if I'm only talking about the shadowy part of the society but that's [not] what I'm trying to portray.

PI: So do you feel your art is misinterpreted maybe more in Japan than here?

TM: I don't know. But the Japanese people are having...I said confidence...so that means we don't need the West [or] something. Kind of the, "We can create ourself." But this is not true... like now the Japanese culture [is] having a very strange wave I think. You understand, right?

PI: Yeah. Because I live in Japan so...

TM: That's why Haruki Murakami is very popular and [at the] same time kind of the highest level...the cultured people hate him.

PI: Yes.

TM: So that's kind of the complex[ity] [present] anytime to having our culture.

PI: But Hayao Miyazaki, whom you admire so much, is an interesting example because he's so deeply Japanese and he's summoning all the old Japanese spirits, the kamisama, but his films translate to every culture in the world. He's so universally popular, isn't he?

"DOB in the Strange Forest (Blue DOB)," 1999 by Takashi Murakami, fiber-reinforced plastic, resin, fiberglass, acrylic and iron, 60 x 152 x 137 in. (152.4 x 386.08 x 347.98 cm); Courtesy of the The Broad Art Foundation. Image ©Murakami

TM: But you know, his standpoint is pretty good because animation culture itself is a very [good] fit with our culture so that's why now my project is making exact animation stuff, kind of the Japanese animation style. So this is [to] try to [know] how to understand each other, [the] Japanese audience and me, so this is a big trial.

PI: Now I think one thing that people don't understand when they see your work is how much time and effort has gone into it. I think sometimes you spend ten years on one piece and I wonder if you want to show us a work and tell us about your process and how much went into it?

TM: Okay. So...yeah. Yeah. Oh. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. [looking at work on screen]

PI: That's "Arhats"?

TM: I don't know. This is a process. This has a process?

PI: Yeah. But so this is a recent one from a few years..."Arhats" is after the Fukushima?

TM: Yes. But this is a hundred-meter painting but when it was created it looks like in eight months is a pretty short time so but because...I don't know...that I have attention so I know I want to make it a challenge...

PI: A challenge?

TM: Yeah. I don't know. A hundred-meter painting...I [was] never thinking about that and when one day I got that idea...a hundred-meter painting is pretty unusual, so that's why [I thought] okay so this is a goal. This is a concept, and then 500 "Arhats," and after that I'm looking for what concept is good fit for this very long painting and then I found it. And I am grateful [for being an] art university student...mostly the nihong Japanese traditional painting school department people. For copying the many, many Japanese traditional painting shapes then.

And then I was kind of the patchwork [for] so many different images. [There were] a few artists...few students...very good making drawings [who were there]. Those people [did] pretty good drawings and then I choose the pieces and I'm cutting for the shape and the kind of patchwork stuff. But I couldn't sleep for like three or four months. So that's why [I was] very nervous...can [I] make in a timeline or not? And the budget thing, and then I have to build for a new big studio [at the] same time so many things are a big struggle.

PI: And probably it's a lot of stress to have so many people working there.

TM: Yes. Yes. And also at the moment working with me, the student, after I finish[ed] this painting and over 95 percent is gone, is like, "Takashi...fuck you." And kind of I understand...I understand and like, "Thank you so much and fuck you too," right? So very you know, kind of like bad mood. You know, this is an artist battle, right? So when I was [a] student...[I went] to so many part-time job but I never say, "Fuck you," but okay...so when I get the success like this is not my job or something like that but big, big stress I can give to them. That they got I think.

PI: And I get the sense your vision has changed a lot since the earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima.

TM: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

PI: It seems like you're much more sympathetic or like your art is more about healing than confronting now.

TM: Yeah.

PI: Yeah? Is that true?

TM: Yes. Because my career was almost learning in the process what is contemporary art so sometimes it's actually in the history...came from the history...and sometimes because in the 1990s the world was going to the kind of money game, like "what is capitalism." So that was my theme. But after the earthquake my idea came back to when I was [a] kid...that feeling like a very big fear about environment [and] radiation stuff and kind[s] of catastrophe so we still have [the] big possibility [of] big earthquakes in Tokyo. One day to come [there was] an earthquake, a huge catastrophe in my neighborhood... and then I understood. I have no religion, still now, but I go to the Shinto kind of temple on New Year's...Happy New Year...I do.

But kind of my religion, the feeling is [like] Hayao Miyazaki's movie[s], like I believe [in] nature or [we] came from the space something and I believe the UFO or something like that. So this is my religion because you know, Steven Spielberg's movie is almost [like] religion [through] an alien's movie, right? So I believe him but at the same time [the] kind of the complexities of why Japanese culture was destroyed, everything after World War II... at the same time the religion is almost destroyed. But after the earthquake I'm super understanding [of] that moment...so people want to be getting some story. So story is very important. What is a story is kind of making a dream and making a future so we can create the future but [the future] is not true.

So we need a story that is a religion, I thought. That's why I took the idea, the 500 monks and Arhat...that is why I choose this theme. 500 Arhat is Japanese religious[ly] created because it came from China. And this painting...first we understood first time to showing at Qatar in Doha City Museum. Qatar also the part of Asia but we don't know each other very much. We get the oil and the gas from this country very much but we misunderstood too kind of the culture distance. That's why 500 Monks and Arhat is a very good example to want to be communication but still far away in a culture.

"Hustle'n'Punch By Kaikai And Kiki," 2009 by Takashi Murakami, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on aluminum frame, 118 1/8 x 239 3/8 x 2 in. (300.04 x 608.01 x 5.08 cm); Courtesy of The Broad Art Foundation. Image ©Murakami

PI: Because when you go to a temple in Kyoto, there's a version of this. You often see the thirteen Arhats in a classic Kyoto temple, don't you? So you're taking again something deeply traditional but putting it in a new direction.

TM: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. At the moment was yes...Kano or someone...it's a big show...500 Arhat painting show in Tokyo but that was same time [as] the earthquake moment. That mean[s] the opening was delayed for two months so that [was] very good timing.

PI: Also I've heard a lot of people in Japan talking about ghosts after Fukushima and there's even a Buddhist priest in the Fukushima area who's helping people get ghosts out of their system.

TM: Oh really?

PI: Yes. And I feel that ghosts are important...

TM: Please talk about this thing...I've never heard that.

PI: A lot of people lost their minds just before the event and after and they're wandering around surrounded by their ancestors who are gone or half-gone or they don't know, but suddenly the priests have found what you're saying, which is the need for some medicine and people have lost even more sense of reality and whether they're living or dead. And also the spirits that we see in the Miyazaki films that are inside the trees and the forest kind of coming up into the people more since that.

TM: Yes. I understand.

PI: Like your mother said about the rain when you were small...full of other things. Now if making a hundred-meter painting is a lot of stress, making a movie must be even more?

TM: Yes. Very much. Very much because I cannot control myself, so the movie industry people [are] completely different so that's why the communication grammar is still in the process because [of] my ways...[like] why my assistant was thinking, "Fuck you, Takashi," because I said just my job is to say no. It's not say yes. So I can, "No. No. No," every day to finish up the painting. [Now] just I want to be saying, "Thank you so much," but I have a big stress because this is not my piece so kind of my process is very painful maybe. So on the movie you experience the same thing, right? I did each cut and each process...music and after recording and editing.

I was [giving my] hundred percent but cannot succeed, cannot satisfy so that's why I cannot say, "Oh. This is great...just okay." That reaction is pretty cold so that made very difficult communications [for them and for me]. But I'm enjoying because this is my dream. And also I remembered about when I [saw] a movie...the Soviet Union...the movie director Tarkovsky...so he was making Stalker...you know, the Stalker movie? So the storyline is traveling for the bomb is actually the Soviet Union was having a big experiment for the atomic bomb. At the place was very dangerous so and then Tarkovsky making a storyline...don't want to say attack for the government but in a storyline this is the people are very dangerous and the mutation.

But at the same time [a] very dangerous and a very logical political situation can make a very beautiful story. That is a mysterious thing and also the people can believe what is created from people...human being[s]. So and I think I had been over ten years trying to make a storyline to make [into an] animation but I couldn't. But [with] Fukushima stuff [I] immediately can make [it], linked with kind of the very hidden...the story in the politics. So that's why I can make a movie right now.

PI: And did you see Tarkovsky's movie The Sacrifice?

TM: No. Sorry.

PI: Oh. I hope you can because that has an event very similar to Fukushima...a sudden big shock and everybody's life is changed.

TM: Oh. Okay.

PI: But so you were saying it was your dream for a long time to make a movie, ever since you were a kid?

TM: No. No. It's when I was watching the movies...the very famous animation movie, Galaxy Express 29 was kind of a children's movie. When I was a high school kid I was crying very much and I went to the movie theater like ten times...I don't know why. At the same time Hayao Miyazaki debuted in a TV program and I was super inspired from that. It is two title, like I don't know in English...like Conan or something...like Hayao Miyazaki making an animation TV program was super nice. And then okay, so I want to go into that, this industry but just now I could make a small movie but that is a dream. And also still [a] very super difficult operation.

PI: But what does a movie allow you to do that you can't do in painting, apart from telling a story?

TM: The painting completely follows Western contemporary art rule[s]. It looks like kind of the tennis and golf and football and the baseball, something like that. Contemporary art having very strong rule so that's why I follow the rule. So that is you know, my feeling...making a painting or sculpture...looks like using a Japanese cute but still [within] a rule.

PI: But with the movies you're making your own rules?

TM: You know, I want to...looking at movie[s]...its grammar and rule[s]. When I go see a new movie, it is great but [this] great stuff can [be] combine[d] with Japanese kaiju movie--how do you do the scenario grammar [for that]? So that is one of my goals but I don't understand how you do grammar so I want to understand very much.

PI: Because you put all this work into making "Jellyfish Eyes," but I think you're already in post production of "Jellyfish Eyes II"?

TM: Yes.

PI: And then you're planning a third one soon.

TM: Yeah.

PI: So this is going to take up a lot of your time for the next few years.

TM: Yes. Very much. Like [out] of seven days...like three days...four days making a painting or sculpture and the other three or four days is making a movie...kind of 50-50 right now.

PI: You're doing them at the same time?

TM: Yes. Almost the same time. In noontime having a meeting and the nighttime and the early morning is making a painting...something like that.

PI: So this confirms what I heard about you, which is you never sleep.

TM: No. No. No. You saw that downstairs. I slept.

PI: Five minutes maybe. Because you were on a plane coming from Tokyo last night, right?

TM: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I couldn't sleep. That's why I stayed up, you know?

PI: I would be like asleep for a week.

TM: Big jet lag right now.

PI: So where you shoot the movie is not so far from your studio in Tokyo?

TM: Yes. It looks like very close to the Fukushima area so because right now that area is very popular in the shooting of films because people escape and the government want to be pushing for the promotion. So that is very helpful for kind of the location hunting.

PI: You're giving them jobs...giving them money?

TM: Looks kind of the representation for the site but [at] the same time I'm very fear[ful] about the radiation effect, like breathing. It is very close to the Fukushima stuff. But you know, like now so maybe this talk is kind of the Ustream or some live stream, right?

PI: Yeah.

TM: So Japanese people are thinking about, "Shit, Takashi...you have to stop to this issue," because now is a big kind of...

TM (interpreter): So I know one thing that it's been talked about a lot is one of the mangas...a well-known manga called Oishinbo, it's about gourmet eating and cooking and in the Manga there was an episode where someone goes to the Fukushima area for reporting and he gets a nose bleed and that was really bashed as portraying Fukushima badly at a time that is very hard. So there was a lot of backlash and even the Prime Minister Abe came in to criticize it so there's this atmosphere where people think you're not supposed to talk badly about Fukushima. You shouldn't bring that up and it's kind of like Fukushima is the ____zone.

PI: Yes. Yes.

TM: But you know, I am artist. I have no kind of responsibility about the politics [of what] I am making because this is not in politics. This is just touching with the children, for the children, because I was kept feeling, "What is a war?" And my father explained about the war history. That was a really good example I think.

PI: And actually you've used the word politics quite a lot tonight so I get the sense that part of what you're trying to do is show people reality...that we can't hide.

TM: When I was 26 or 27 was [the] Soviet Union Chernobyl explosion...and at that moment I was active for something, like go[ing] to the conference...kind of the field work...two years. And no change. Cannot make a change in my way in politics so I was not successful. That's why I gave up. And then at the moment I decided, "Okay...so my standing position is, 'I gave up and stayed back from the reality.'" And then my job is just a kind of art piece and kind of the fantasy stuff because when I see a Goya drawing and painting [in which the] Spanish army was killing for the people, we understand that [as] history, the reality. But at the moment he couldn't do anything in reality, [he was] just reporting. So that is [how] I thought [about] my job. This is, I say, some kind of a political issue but at the same time, I already gave up about [my] kind of access with reality.

Left: "Oval Buddha Silver" 2008 by Takashi Murakami, sterling silver, 61 1/2 x 31 3/4 x 30 3/4 in. (156.21 x 80.65 x 78.11 cm); Courtesy of The Broad Art Foundation. Image ©Murakami. Right: "Flower Matango (b)" 2001-2006 by Takashi Murakami, fiberglass, resin, oil paint, lacquer, acrylic plates, and iron, 157 1/2 x 118 x 98 1/2 in. (400.05 x 299.72 x 250.19 cm); Courtesy of The Broad Art Foundation; Image ©Murakami

PI: And I think one thing that you've worked very hard on is trying to encourage an art atmosphere in Japan. You're working with a lot of younger artists, Chiho Aoshima and Mr. and others...you have a Geisai Art Fair...and maybe your sense was that there wasn't enough interest in the arts in Japan when you were growing up, say?

TM: When I was debut[ing] at art event...the Belgian curator Jan Hoet, he came to Japan and the Atrium was making an event for that, a kind of competition. So Jan Hoet [would choose] from several artists; a hundred artists [brought work] for the one place but he chose my piece and then I can debut for that. That's why I think if I can mak[e] a gift to the young people...to the chance for the debut...so that's why I started but I don't know now. But honestly myself, I'm still really enjoying because anytime I can find out a new idea [that] came from the young people.

PI: When you were saying about how you found yourself crying when you were looking at the Ansem Kiefer piece and then I think you were crying watching the Miyazaki TV...do people cry when they see your work? Or do you want them to be shocked or angry or happy?

TM: Exactly Japanese people is angry so I...

PI: Angry at your work?

TM: Yeah. I know very much but so I don't know that [people cry]. But when I see my movie, every time I'm crying myself. So this is really embarrassing but honestly I'm crying because the young boy, the actor is very good. I follow this guy..."Oh this is great." Because when I see a documentary about Julian Schnabel...he created the movie...and that making the documentary, he was crying in shooting the film and it's exactly serious crying..."Oh this is great. Cut. This is great. Oh my God. This is great." And I'm watching this documentary is, "What the hell?" He has too much big kind of confidence for himself, but now I am the stupid guy.

PI: And that same boy is acting in the next two movies?

TM: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But you know, he was ten years old and at part two, I was shooting at the twelve and thirteen years old. That means change the voice and change the face...everything will change so cannot keep the child. Looks like how change for adult. That is in the storyline also for that.

PI: It's a complicated story. You wrote every part of it yourself. You wrote all the dialogue and...?

TM: Yes and no. Yes meaning main storyline I created and I give to the scenario writer and kind of the director. And I told you about my job is say, "No," so many, many [times]...the scenario writer and many kind of the image I say, "No. No. No. No. No," and a thousand, thousand pieces he'd say no and a [yes to a] few good pieces and then we choose, "This is a good piece. This is a good piece," and then can make editing all the good pieces. And then we can make a shape for the movie. Part two was a very, very complex process. Like I employ five directors and I employ several editors and the scenario writer was four people so kind of change, change, change and then two months ago I did the whole scenario but already finished up the shooting of the live action so after that is I have to making post production and CGI.

PI: So editing is one of the hardest parts of the process for you?

TM: No. Because not my job, like editor's job. My job is say no. So kind of very painful process. I want to make happy face... "This is great," but this is few moments and so conversation is pretty hard. But honestly my newest short film, like a Pharrell Williams featuring the "Jellyfish Eyes" theme song, so that short film was pretty nice process so I had been four years so the computer graphic design studio in Hokkaido, like I employ for that 50 people and three years just say no but this time is...I can smile, you know. "Oh. This is great. This is great," because this crew is very patient for kind of three years...over three years, and that he got learning for my grammar maybe and also he got good skill. That's why first time to good communication with the people.

PI: Yeah. It's good because in this country, just say no is associated with politics but you've managed to get it into the arts as the reigning principle. And it's interesting because I'm also guessing when you're making films, it's important for you to be spontaneous. And Japan can be quite a rigid society so probably you have to teach your colleagues how to act differently from the way they normally do.

TM: This is a really good point. Like Japanese people doesn't like inspiration...kind of everybody have to follow that one grammar so my style of thing is say no is kind of getting new idea, I want to try the new idea. So yes, very difficult situation. But I met many, many people working with this movie series so now we almost are choosing for the good people and then maybe in the near future [it'll be in] much more good shape I think.

"Of Chinese Lions, Peonies, Skulls, And Fountains," 2011, acrylic on canvas stretched on wooden panel, 118 x 236 1/4 inches overall; Courtesy of The Broad Art Foundation. Image ©Murakami

PI: Do you think Japan itself is changing?

TM: I don't know. I don't know. It's very militant. But you know, when American people ask the same thing, "America has changed?" and the culture[d] people say, "Cannot say yes." So kind of really complex but I hope much better but not linked with Tokyo Olympic stuff. Tokyo Olympic was horrible. It's crazy.

PI: But maybe linked with becoming more international. Do you think Japan ought to be more part of the larger world?

TM (interpreter): So the reason why I said it's stupid is because in Japan the construction industry is everything in terms of pushing the society forward. So to make the construction industry prosper seems to be the only way to revive Japan so I understand that but with the coming of the Tokyo Olympics and stuff like that. But when you have that kind of project and there's also a lot of corruption and everything and it might come to the same conclusion as 30 years or 40 years ago so that's why I say that's stupid.

PI: I think in Miyazaki movies too, the construction industry is usually the villain...the bad guy.

TM: New one?

PI: Old ones like Mononoke.

TM: Oh. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Oh. Yes. [Lukun?] movie, right?

PI: Yeah. That one too. Yes. Now I think believe many in the audience have Tweeted questions so I'm going to share the questions that have been sent to you. This one is, what kind of materials do you use and how do you use them? It's a difficult one.

TM (interpreter): So for canvas I use the Belgium-made linen and for the frame to stretch the canvas on I'm using the aluminum frame that's made in LA.

TM: This is true stuff.

PI: I think that's the right answer.

TM: Yeah. Harrison is the company name.

PI: Have you shown your art in Fukushima and do you plan to?

TM (interpreter): So when the Tohoku earthquake happened I actually, with the support of Mr. Francois Pinault of New York Christie's and also with the help of fifteen or so artists...generous support of fifteen or so artists...I did a charity auction for Fukushima and I raised through this charity auction about 6.4 million dollars' worth of money and then I donated the money to three different nonprofit organizations in Japan. One was the medical nonprofit and the two were more social work-type of organizations. And for a Japan foundation I donated about 1.8 million dollars' worth of money that I raised. And with that money this June they are about to open a museum for outsider art. So it's been over three years and now sort of that kind of thing is coming into fruition in Fukushima.

TM: Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thank you.

PI: So I think we have maybe just three or four more...what do you think of artists using anonymous personas like Banksy?

TM: Yeah. Banksy is very cool, right?

PI: Cool.

TM: Complete opposite of myself right? Wearing stupid stuff. I'm very kind of jealous about him. I love him.

PI: This question will make you happier then. Where can I buy your hat?

TM: This production cost is kind of over a thousand dollar...production cost. But they're kind of very small manufacture...making by the 75-year-old guy, made by hand like in one week.

PI: Oh. Yeah. Limited edition?

TM: Yeah. Like I present for the film one piece and I have two.

PI: Okay. What is your advice for youth who want to enter the art world?

TM (interpreter): So I think more than my own generation, for the younger artists now it's actually easier to enter the art world and quickly start earning money doing art. So the industry has become a little bit maybe like a 1990s rock music industry. So in a sense that's great it's easier to enter but in a sense you don't have to think too much. You can become recognized and become famous, start to profit and maybe that will result in short-lived career in the art world. So even though now it's easier to enter the industry, I suppose because the art industry itself is growing so big, my advice would be to be careful perhaps.

TM: Not advice, but I'm kind of like big jealousy, honestly.

PI: And somebody asked, do you feel satisfied when you complete a painting?

TM: Sometimes yes. For example like on the 500 Arhats painting was kind of really good feeling because long process and a very big struggle but the painting is standing alone. So sometimes [a] painting cannot stand alone but kind of that this painting is my child, so that is really a good feeling. But now also can't get to something like that feeling often. Painting is good but movie is not good.

PI: Never satisfied?

TM: No. No. But just one piece, right?

PI: I want to thank you all very much for coming but especially thank you for flying all the way from Tokyo to share yourself with us.

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About the Author

Pico Iyer is the author of several books about cultures converging, including "Video Night in Kathmandu," "The Lady and the Monk," "The Global Soul," and, most recently, "Abandon."
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