If the atomic bomb forever burdened Japan with apocalyptic visions, and if the postwar prohibition of armed forces repressed martial pride, then the country’s wild, often violent cartoons are like manic confessions of doomsday fears and samurai fantasy. In this busy, well-selected exhibit of manga (comic books) and anime (films)—in which unmuscular youths wreak destruction—chaos feels like catharsis. The artists jam-pack their finely composed sequences with angular motion, cluttered backgrounds of dense ink, and explosive color. In his raucous manga about two boys battling mobsters, Black & White, Taiyo Matsumoto prominently divides his panels with borders cutting across the page at acute angles, jaggedly cropping the scenes, which (as in much of the work here) constantly shift their points of view. The thrills don’t come so much from logical drama as they do from your sense of visual displacement.
That’s especially true in the landmark and influential Akira, a 1988 animated film from Katsuhiro O-tomo, which, for many U.S. moviegoers, first demonstrated that Japanese comics weren’t all saccharin-cute like Hello Kitty. Set in a post–World War III Tokyo, the elaborate plot unfolds in an expressionist fervor of shadow and rich bursts of Disneyesque hues—even the blood is luscious—exhausting you with dizzying motion. And you might get the shakes when watching Masaaki Yuasa’s anime of love and vengeance, the appropriately titled Mind Game—a spectacularly insane mélange of sketched settings, photographic images, and every cartoon style under the rising sun. (Excerpted in the gallery, the anime films run full-length on select dates.) Not that everything is frenzied: Droll depictions of Japan’s company-man culture appear in the simple Dilbert-like drawings of Hitoshi Odajima, and also in Yuichi Yokoyama’s geometric sequences of enigmatic factory assembly. Aficionados may have seen it all before, but for newbs, the exhibit is likely to dazzle.
Yohei Nishimura: ‘Spent Heat’
Book burning doesn’t usually earn you high marks in artistic circles, but under the guidance of Yohei Nishimura, the act produces startling beauty. Let’s be clear, though: Nishimura, a longtime ceramicist, isn’t taking a match to paper—he’s placing books and magazines in kilns at temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees, for up to 10 hours.
What happens is truly astonishing: The paper congeals, shedding most of its ink, and the works shrink into pale, delicate, deformed versions of their former selves. In various shades of white and beige, with the pages still identifiable as layers and the darker covers curled up on top like decoration, these tiny sculptures, at first glance, resemble desserts of phyllo pastry or carefully prepared sushi.
But after you learn the titles of the American publications that Nishimura fired for this exhibit, you start to see how the new shapes suggest, weirdly, some aspect of the original texts: Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, for example, became a creamy white purse with a snap-like brown streak (the cover’s remains), and the 1971 guide Playboy–Sex American Style was reduced to what resembles a gray figure, arching up to display itself. An issue of Time magazine is the most colorless piece here, and Esquire, ironically, melted into what resembles taffeta. You can see these works as somber takes on that same nightmare of nuclear holocaust, but Nishimura’s wholly original minimalism is less a consideration of death and fire than a study of transcendence. Cavin-Morris, 210 Eleventh Ave, 212-226-3768. Through April 25
Designers get paid to think about what the rest of us take for granted, so now that you’ve spent another winter with that clanking, hissing hunk of metal under the window, here’s a chance to check out some possible alternatives. Yes, I mean radiators—on display in this wonderful little exhibit of slick, modernist designs, most of them European, and all with a sculptural presence. They include Francesco Lucchese’s pink doughnut, which might have come off Kubrick’s set for 2001; a few works that resemble Ellsworth Kelly paintings in 3-D; a wall panel that also heats removable satin pillows; and Stefano Ragaini’s version of the garden hose, a flexible steel tube you can drag anywhere. Hot water has never looked so cool. Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, 212-299-7777. Through May 17