I interviewed artist Takashi Murakami with the help of translator Stephen Salel. The result was an almost surreal meta-interview about the possibilities for misunderstanding. Was Mr. Murakami understanding my questions? Was the translator understanding my intent, and communicating it faithfully? Did I understand the artist's responses? This effect was heightened when I transcribed Murakami's words into print. I knew what he meant, but some of the language was unintelligible. I've edited it a bit for sense--and to dispel any suspicions that he's less than brilliant, because he is (brilliant, that is)--but have left some of the awkwardness to retain the strangeness of the undertaking.

Is Superflat considered high culture in Japan?

Japan doesn't have high culture since World War II. Everything is the same class. That's why I come to U.S. I'd like to learn what is contemporary art and find some presentation way. It mean the artist have to find out identity. The presentation for Japanese--it is, I said, fine art, but Japanese people are thinking no, it is subculture. They cannot believe it is fine art.

It sounds like what happened the first time people saw Andy Warhol's work.

The U.S. and New York are really a different culture for me. I can understand when I read a book, but I'm Japanese, it doesn't fit exact reality. I thought, I can use that situation to ask what is fine art? That's why I present in bilingual book, because I have to present for Japanese people too. But it is not just positive reaction. Many people thinking, it is kind of fake. Murakami made a trick in Japan. And then I transport Superflat to U.S. and am asking this Western art audience, how do you think? Is it fine art or subculture thing? The reaction is really different in the U.S. mostly, it looks like freaking art! It's exciting! Not underground or subculture thing.

I think we learned that with Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. We're less surprised when we see cartoon images in museums.

Yes, yes. They're already understanding the cartoon situation... back to Hokusai. Hokusai said his art was fake art. That's why he said he was manga artist. Using the sense of manga that means opposite of honga, means true picture. Manga is comic picture. The U.S. people see Japanese contemporary manga is a really specific culture. And here people understand Japanese fine art now.

Nakahashi's Zero Fighter piece is very historical, and the other art is sexy and funny and more shallow. I wonder if you thought about content when you curated this show, or just form?

(Murakami converses with translator, who speaks for him.)

Translator: After the war was over, the economy of Japan was a shambles. A terribly large black market was created where a combination of drugs and illegal products were being sold. For the exhibition here, with a combination of manga and pornographic manga and various things mixed together, this is sort of an extension of that post-war Japan black market.

Murakami: Nakahashi technique come from British artist David Hockney. He took the photos of the plastic model. Plastic model culture is really popular in Japan too. He took over 20,000 shots of one piece Zero Fighter, a symbol of World War II. This sculpture is not complete, it is really looks weak or something.


Yes, floppy. His piece, just in my opinion, it is really symbolic of Japanese impotence culture. We are proud for the Zero Fighter, but it is impotent. It is nothing to do. And then the pornographic manga is really connected to this because it is based on the Lolita complex. That's why link with impotence, not linked with exactly sex. It is link with a fantasy of sexuality. That's why the Japanese guy love the Lolita images. She's pornographic but metamorphosis, with the really big breasts, it is warm, kind of melting.

Are people in the U.S. uncomfortable because other people paint your work? Because it hasn't been "touched" by the artist?

I understand people is uncomfortable, but if I paint myself, I cannot touch other projects. It is no time. My way is to establish Walt Disney style. I believe Walt Disney is a super artist. This fall a new Disney is opened in Tokyo, it is incredible. I don't know if it is industry, it is a business. Japanese people understand. I think it is true art. Some people say he is artist or not. I think much more than Marcel Duchamp is Walt Disney concept piece, really hardcore. Because he can get what people desire. And then I read he was alcoholic, and he got his ideas when he drank. It is really artist style!