The doe-eyed world of Makoto Takahashi
Fri, Jun 11, 2010
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

Shojo-ga (illustrations of girls) is typically characterized by girls with sparkling doe-eyes accentuated with long lashes. They are usually smiling bashfully, their cheeks glowing pink. Makoto Takahashi is believed to be the originator of shojo-ga--in fact, his influence can be seen in a number of manga from the genre. A new exhibition in Tokyo's Hachioji delves into his nearly 60 years of drawing these innocent girls, which often are considered to be one of the origins of kawaii.

Takahashi, born in Osaka in 1934, debuted as a mangaka in 1957 with Shojo (Girl), and began drawing manga for shojo magazines before starting to illustrate for picture books and other publications. As his name spread, he also began contributing illustrations for use on stationery and other merchandise. The exhibition, Dream and Romance in Takahashi Makoto World--La Petite Princesse de Macoto, at Hachioji Yume Art Museum, examines his world through about 300 items.

A visit to the show quickly confirms the level to which Takahashi has immersed himself in this dreamy girl world. In the work he did for a 1971 cover of shojo magazine Deluxe Margaret, a girl smiles with her hands placed under her face. A girl in Parisienne (1975) also clasps her hands as she smiles at the viewer. Both girls, just like those in his other works, are adorned with elaborate ribbons, lace or flowers.

"Why do I always draw girls? I have this lingering image I had when I was a sixth-grader, right after the war," Takahashi told The Daily Yomiuri in a recent interview. "There was a church of the Allied Occupation Forces near my house, and one day I saw a girl over the fence. She was about 5 and was playing in the garden filled with flowers.

"The girl, her leg in a cast, was called by her mother. She turned around and ran to her mother, her beautiful blond hair flowing. It was such a beautiful scene in such a gloomy time as was postwar Japan. The image stuck with me, and I came to want to paint that girl."

Takahashi, who already was art-minded by that time, was later influenced by shojo-ga from such artists as Junichi Nakahara or Koji Fukiya.

"Although the artists tended to draw women and not girls, I wanted to express the world of girls in a short two- to three-year period of adolescence," Takahashi said. He gradually began drawing everything in one frame, rather than in manga panels, by creating a story within it, using mainly watercolors and oil-based colored pencils to express his subjects' "elegance, gentleness, shyness and sense of cleanliness."

"If you follow the stream of kawaii culture to its source, it will take you to Takahashi," Hachioji Yume Art Museum curator Takahito Kawamata said. "As someone expressing something between art and subculture, he is a very exceptional shojo-ga artist."

Kawamata said that is why his appeal extends to include a lot of young women who enjoy lolita fashion, not just the women in their 40s and 50s who were fans in their youth.

As for why his subjects always are facing forward and smiling, Takahashi said, "I want people to have a dialogue with the girls I paint. I hope the girls will cheer them up when they are not happy, or add to an already festive mood."

Since his drawings have some similarities to manga, he prefers not to make the animals he illustrates look lifelike. Squirrels and birds are drawn smiling or with a brushed face, for example. "I hope these images will lead to a dialogue between parent and child, or whoever sees them. For me, animals and plants are not simple backgrounds, but living things that remind us that we are interconnected."

Kawamata added: "Takahashi's way of depicting flowers beside the girls as if trying to deny any perspective is something particular to this artist."

"There is a lot I want to draw," said Takahashi, 75, who sits at his drawing table everyday. "I want to make drawings of girls in the image of the French revolutionary calendar, [which was used from 1793 to 1804], which starts with venedemiaire, or grape month. I would like to draw girls based on the lunar calender, too, and then compare the two."

"Dream and Romance in Takahashi Makoto World--La Petite Princesse de Macoto," until July 4, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hachioji Yume Art Museum, a 15-minute walk from JR Hachioji Station in Tokyo. Closed on Mondays. Admission 400 yen, with discounts available for students, seniors and group visitors. For more information, call (042) 621-6777 or visit www.yumebi.com.

-The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

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