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.