AA A unique concept that describes the quality of “cuteness” in the context of Japanese culture is kawaii. Moe, too, is a Japanese slang word that refers to a special kind of “adorable,” mainly as applied to idealized young female characters. Can you explain what kawaii and moe mean to you, also to the benefit of a non- Japanese reader who might not be familiar with these concepts? How are they rooted in, and eloquent to, Japanese culture today?
MR Moe is an idea of cuteness that men with particular otaku preferences find in the innocence of young girls, but I think before you can grasp this idea you have to contemplate the nature of post-war Japan as a nation. In the process of reestablishing the nation, Japan was left in an endless loop of constant self-doubt. The resulting sense of impotence, I think, developed into a mental structure where one finds it justifiable to constantly idealize innocence in the abstract, because it is impossible to grow up and bear responsibility, or to believe in something and grow from there. This must seem bizarre in Western society. When I try to be true to myself in creating my work, this reality keeps surfacing again and again, getting morphed, reinterpreted and expanded.
AA Do you find that these concepts are connected to an attempt at escape from reality, perhaps as a form of rebellion against the authority and engagement of the adult world?
MR I don’t believe they can be classified as simply running from reality. Like in the Matrix, it feels like your mind has been invaded and is being controlled by something outside of your power. This is especially true in Japan, where we lost so much of our national identity after our defeat in World War II and where it requires a kind of reckless abandon to have confidence in your own individual existence. The Japanese expressions of kawaii and moe gain speed from this environment.
My own demons feel linked on an emotional level with the direction Japan has taken in the post-war era. At the time anime, manga and otaku culture were first developing, there was still a collective hope for a better future but now, it seems like there is a dark air over everyone and in order to purify themselves from these feelings, they make works which are cheerful and completely absent of shadow. This is a rather unsettling result but in truth, I am trying to express the same thing in my works.
I try to offer up a vivid portrayal of otaku culture, as well as the negative aspects of post-war Japan. Although these things are negative, there is also a certain nostalgia, a vision of scenes from my childhood. From the time I was born, my home had a color television and there was lots of anime on TV. So I had one eye on anime from the time I came into this world. Watching television is free, so even a poor person had plenty of opportunities to see these shows. In some ways, I am trying to crystallize this poor people’s culture and put it on canvas.
Also, anime and manga are more pure and have a clearer sense of right and wrong than the real world. There is an incorruptibility that is maintained there that can’t be maintained in real life, and that is where my longing lies.