Pakuri Goes West-East

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For a long time, I have been writing about pakuri — the use of creative elements from someone else in a similar context as the original without self-acknowledgment of the borrowing. There remains a loud minority contingent who believes that there is Western bias underlying any judgments against pakuri. In other words, they believe that the Japanese do not consider pakuri to be a bad thing.

I have countered this with examples of a Japanese gallery suing a record label for pakuri of their exclusive artistic images, the Japanese net community criticizing Japanese singers for pakuri, and the mainstream media criticizing a Japanese painter for ripping off a Western painter.

Now, we have a more interesting case: a Western band re-creating a work from a Japanese photographer for the cover of its DVD without acknowledgment of the original work.

As stated in this Mainichi article, photographer Miyamoto Ryuji is very upset about New Order’s pakuri of his photo “Tokyo 1995.”

The photographer said he would have accepted the similar photograph if it had been properly labeled.

“If they had used expressions clearly stating that it was a parody, I would have accepted it,” Miyamoto said.

An image of the photo in question is available here.

I am not going to claim that there exists a universal artistic morality about borrowing and sampling, but this episode illustrates two things. One, there is an unofficial code of conduct in the art/culture game. When not referencing “master works” or art that everyone basically knows, there is a general demand for some kind of public recognition — whether in the credits or in the title or in some other reference. Otherwise, the “victim” will likely be upset and may look to find justice in the court of public opinion.

Two, I don’t think Japanese artists are any less upset about being blatantly copied than Western artists. Traditional Japanese ideas about “creativity” — Confucian or otherwise — may have promoted the idea of copying as a means of learning, but I don’t think this philosophy is strong enough to excuse the times when a professional artist copies another. I believe the large amount of pakuri in Japan in the past was related less to that amorphous blob called “culture” and more to the fact that almost no one Japanese ever got caught due to an information gap between Japan and the world. (And also, the lack of criticism in the Japanese media that would point out these stories.) Now with the internet, not only can Western artists find where they have been copied and Japanese audiences can complain about theft, but now Japanese artists can see exactly where they have also been pakuri’d.

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

22 Responses

  1. marxy Says:

    Also, seeing that Mr. Miyamoto turns 60 this year, shouldn’t he reflect the “old Japanese artistic values”?

  2. TJJ Says:

    Well said. I too can’t agree with that guff about the supposed gulf between the east and west when it comes to theories of acceptability of misapropriation/plagarism/theft in art.
    People seem to forget that many ‘western’ (‘non-asian’ is perhaps better) schools of art relied on copying the style of the master too. That’s why it can be so hard to tell, for example, a Rembrandt work from those of his students.

    Copyright and protection of artistic works are relatively new legal concepts even in the west and its just that the east has been relatively slow to adopt them. They’ve pretty much fully adopted the concepts in business and law in Japan now though.

  3. Mutantfrog Says:

    Copyright dates back hundreds of years in English law, to the Statute of Anne. It’s also specifically mentioned in the US Constitution. Article 1, section 8
    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

  4. Chris_B Says:

    allow me to pick a nit: I believe it was the person who did the shot for the package cover, not the band which perfomed said pakuri.

  5. marxy Says:

    Didn’t New Order also steal that track “Blue Monday” from Orgy?!?

  6. amida Says:

    Don’t tell me that New Order has yet another best-of collection coming out… at this point they’re pakuriing themselves.

  7. dr.trevor Says:

    it’s a cool cover though.
    better then the original.. but, yeah.
    i think this type of thing is even more rampant around the world then people even sort of think they realise.. based on what i see from my work..
    i’m just saying..

  8. alin Says:

    1. ‘pakuri’ from art to design (or anything interdisciplinary) is just too wide and too common to be taken seriously really (unless you’re willing to trace bottles of shampoo to mondrian)

    2. miyamoto’s photographed hundreds of homeless boxes and as we know japan offers a rather limited range of urban backgrounds so whatever picture mr. saville (i’m guessing) would have used would have looked pretty close to if not this one then another miyamoto picture. (i have btw myself done a series of some 50 pictures like these in 99 , which is i believe before he made these pictures public :-) , that look pretty close to both of these – hell, it would be hard not to.) and there was yet another book that came out at about the same time as miyamoto’s 0yen house or something that obviously has similar pictures.

    3. look at the new order pic in the context of the other pictures in the package – all dealing with a kind of poverty chic(?) – and it’s clear that the package has at least as much artistic integrity as miyamoto’s stuff, yet going in a totally different direction.

    { the position miyamoto’s in here is fussing over a DESIGNER using a horizontal line according to the golden ratio upon which the pyramids were built – which he himself doesn’t because he believes there’s truth in a photograph. and marxy trying some reverse strategy in his quixotic project}

    4. miyamoto’s book is , or at least claims to be, quite shakai-mondai humanist so i suspect seeing a similar image so decontextualized would have ticked him off , the response too is typical of a modernist-like humanist. what’s the social issue and poverty compared to the Artist’s genius. – The men who put together ‘the Family of Man’ would have done the same.

    5. mixing modern/post-modern with east/west rethoric is very sloppy.

    “Now with the internet, not only can Western artists find where they have been copied and Japanese audiences can complain about theft, but now Japanese artists can see exactly where they have also been pakuri’d.”

    nice and patronising.

  9. marxy Says:

    “nice and patronising.”

    Do you think Miyamoto listens to New Order?

  10. Aceface Says:

    Ahhhh,New Order….
    Back in 1988 “Rockin’on”magazine was making issues through out the year by almost recycling interviews from NME on four Brit bands and almost nothing else.
    The Smiths,Echo and the Bunnymen,The Cure and ofcourse, New Order.There was even a term,”Manche-Kun”whose body may still exist in Koenji,but his soul is way over there in Manchester……

    The newest of their “best” can always count on consumer such like myself.

  11. marxy Says:

    “mixing modern/post-modern with east/west rethoric is very sloppy.”

    Hey, I think it adds a lot to the conversation to finally admit that Japan is not automatically post-modern by default.

    Note though that Miyamoto is not 100% against this borrowing as much as he just wanted some level of recognition. You know, you can be a “polite” post-modern borrower or an “asshole” borrower. All New Order had to do is say “Art inspired by Miyamoto” and case closed.

    “unless you’re willing to trace bottles of shampoo to mondrian”

    Mondrian is “masterworks” at this point, and most pakuri (as I am defining it and as what tends to upset people) is basically artists borrowing for other contemporaries in the same field or obscure old material that no one knows.

  12. Duffy Says:

    Nice observations, Joe. I agree the Ridgeline looks kind of silly, but I’m not a truck guy at heart so it doesn’t get my blood boiling.

  13. Duffy Says:

    Woopsies, wrong blog!

  14. marxy Says:

    Again?!

  15. Duffy Says:

    Uncanny, isn’t it?

  16. Aceface Says:

    Carry on your good work,Duffy.

  17. Nathan Says:

    A few points worth noting.

    The New Order dvd in question has been out for quite some time now. At least a year, if not 2.

    Peter Saville did not take the shot, but did art direct.

    The cover is actually a still from a video clip that was done just for this release, for the song ‘Ceremony’.

  18. alin Says:

    > finally admit that Japan is not automatically post-modern by default.

    i think you’ve got the wrong guy though i don’t remember anyone saying it quite like that.

    > Miyamoto is not 100% against this borrowing as much as he just wanted some level of recognition.

    like i said i’m inclined to think Miyamoto would have to sort of claim ownership over the very act of photographing those boxes.

  19. marxy Says:

    “i think you’ve got the wrong guy though i don’t remember anyone saying it quite like that.”

    True, true.

  20. TJJ Says:

    Copyright dates back hundreds of years in English law, to the Statute of Anne. It’s also specifically mentioned in the US Constitution. Article 1, section 8
    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

    –Yes, as I said, relatively new.

  21. TJJ Says:

    Laws on theft (which is what we are told to believe copyright infringement is) on the other hand, have been around at least since pre-sumerian times, according to archaeological records.

  22. Mulboyne Says:

    http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/04/19/europe/EU-GEN-France-Designer-Plagiarism.php

    “A Paris judge has ordered fashion designer John Galliano to pay American photographer William Klein €200,000 in damages for copying Klein’s work in a recent ad campaign…Klein said he was “hurt” by Galliano’s appropriation of his style…’I am bitter because this glaring plagiarism represents an inexplicable slap in the face to my work,’ he said.”

    When asked if he might consider the work a tribute, Klein compared it with someone sleeping with another man’s wife: “Is that paying homage to your wife?”