I’m a bit late getting to this topic, but over on the Japanese internet, there has been a decent-sized debate raging about the art director/graphic designer Noda Nagi and her cover for Halcali’s album Ongaku no Susume (viewable here) blatantly ripping-off fine artist Aida Makoto painting “Aze Michi” (viewable here).
Noda’s work could be easily passed off as a “tribute” or “homage” to the original, but her detractors see this as one in a whole series of suspicious borrowings. Noda’s artwork systematically steals artistic elements from other sources, like Bjork for example, which if done with the right “ironic wink,” could be fine, but the bigger question is, is it okay for Noda pick up fat paychecks and numerous awards in the commercial arena for art direction that is heavily based on works by contemporary artists?
The Japanese press, of course, generally stays silent about these kinds of controversies, even though a Newsweek-type “Separated at Birth?” piece probably wouldn’t hurt anybody. Meanwhile in the virtual sewers of 2-ch, tempers are flared and Noda is called things like “the Rip-Off Genius.”
Taking a step out of the ideological battle itself, I’m interested in reappraising past declarations of the general Japanese philosophy towards artistic imitation and theft (i.e., pakuri). When viewed from the outside looking in, it often appears that Japanese artists have no ethical qualms about blatantly ripping off other works, and the Japanese media also doesn’t seem to mind. However, there is enough resistance on the Internet and in maverick magazines like Cyzo to assume that anti-pakuri is actually the more subversive position. Since we’ve just lived through a couple decades of postmodern art intentionally questioning the notions of creativity and authenticity through copying/sampling, we are quick to confuse Japanese pakuri with the Western ironic version. The simple truth is that many Japanese creators are ripping off other works for their own benefit, hoping they don’t get caught — confident the Japanese media won’t expose the truth and the Western media (or the original artist) won’t discover the copyright violation.
As an “art director/graphic designer” working commercial jobs, Noda is straddling the line between the two approaches, and I personally can’t make a final judgment on her pakuri problem without knowing how much she acknowledges her own technique. There are plenty of Japanese, however, who unequivocally think she’s building her career on the backs of other fine artists. With the Internet massively liberalizing the space for public comment here in Japan, one can only assume that those engaged in commercial pakuri will soon have to answer for themselves.