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Art Space Tokyo: An intimate guide to the Tokyo art world

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Nobumasa Takahashi Illustrates “Tokyo: Portraits and Fictions”

Takahashi Nobumasa, the artist who illustrated Art Space Tokyo, has provided some astounding work for a new book on Tokyo.

French architect Manuel Tardits’ Tokyo: Portraits and Fictions is a meditation on the urban planning and spatial culture of the Japanese capital. Reminiscent of Roland Barthes’ Empire of Signs (1970), the publication spans the genres of history book, travelogue, and architectural critique. Its 85 chapters are short, eulogistic streams of consciousness that cover concepts and narratives ranging from “Steps” to “Urashima Taro,” “Shadow,” “Ubiquity,” “Enclosures,” “Heroism,” and “Superflat.”

Architects are prone to flowery and overwrought writing, and the text in this book is no exception. What might be a bit of a rushed translation into English also seems to add to the awkwardness in some places. So while one could read the book from start to finish, it may be more pleasant to dip in to it at random intervals and digest it in morsels, one idea at a time.

Takahashi’s pen-and-ink illustrations are as always a playful array of crisp lines, wobbly protrusions, and dense compositions. In his hands, Tokyo is a web of silhouetted telephone lines, a cascade of neon shop signs, and a tangle of elevated expressways and railroads cradling the head of the Giant Buddha of Kamakura.

I was also pleased to discover the work of the book’s other illustrator, Stéphane Lagré, a French architect based in Nantes. His grainy photo-collages are an unnerving take on the city. One stands out in particular: a panorama of Tokyo in which Mount Fuji looms large on the horizon and nine white rings ominously encircle different areas of the city. They recall one of the early scenes in Katsuhiro Ohtomo’s Akira (1988), in which the nuclear explosion that destroys Tokyo is depicted as a rapidly expanding dome of light that consumes the metropolis.

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Art Space Tokyo is a 272 page guide to the Tokyo art world produced and published by Craig Mod & PRE/POST.

It was originally published in 2008 by Chin Music Press.

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