In the world of the Japanese artist who calls himself Mr., nobody dies, nobody gets hurt, Band-Aids are purely decorative and war is just a game. Girls rule the roost – young teenagers bursting with enthusiasm and budding sexuality. In the show “Nobody Dies,” his exuberant adolescents are presented as anime-style cartoon characters, but also as flesh and blood actresses in a 37-minute film with the same title as the exhibition.
In the film (written, casted and directed by the artist, who also composed the lyrics, designed the sets and costumes, and played a cameo role as an incompetent policeman), a team of five fresh-faced schoolgirls plans their revenge on an enemy team who humiliated them in a war game. They draw up strategy like a video game, conduct target practice with bloodthirsty zeal, and go home to frilly bedrooms filled with stuffed animals. Mr. offers a window on to the excesses and contradictions of contemporary Japanese youth culture, from computer game-inspired violence to an encyclopedic knowledge of labels, right down to the best brand of ammunition one should buy. The same actresses star in a series of photographs, smiling giddily in their school uniforms or in their ridiculously bright camouflage wear, brandishing automatic weapons which look startlingly authentic, if only one ignores the pink rhinestone decorations.
Their cartoon equivalents are adorable with their round faces, wide eyes and ever-present bunny charms hanging off their schoolbags, which makes their panty-revealing skirts and ersatz submachine guns all the more incongruous. In one painting, two girls are tumbling in the grass on their way home from school. One is pinned underneath the other, smiling helplessly, a shoe gone astray. The scene could be interpreted as child’s play or something more erotic. Indeed, Mr.’s intention is often ambiguous, as is his role – whether ironic onlooker or obsessive participant. But he is a constant presence in his own work, as the director behind the camera, steering its voyeuristic close-ups on his actresses’ young curves, or in a painting, spying on a sleeping child. Even his chosen pseudonym adds to the enigma, with its anonymous, everyman feel.