On the ‘Akira’ Manga Mural in Shibuya, Tokyo

The mural depicts a dystopian Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics

The Akira mural, Shibuya, 2019. Courtesy: nansei2

The Akira mural, Shibuya, 2019. Courtesy: Twitter; @nansei2

The redevelopment of the Shibuya shopping district in Tokyo commenced in 2005 and is slated for completion in 2025 – a long time, but not for the project’s architect Hiroshi Naito, who thinks in terms of civil engineering, where time is counted in decades. In such large time frames, cycles become visible. 2020 is an Olympic year for the world, but for many Japanese people, Tokyo’s upcoming 2020 games is also the setting for Otomo Katsuhiro’s manga Akira (1982–1990). Set in a post-apocalyptic scenario typical of post-war Japanese dystopian imagineering, the manga series is Otomo’s nightmare projection of the urban redevelopment and nationalistic fervour which affected Tokyo in the lead-up to the 1964 Olympics.

Post-human karmic cycles have never spun such large arcs. The Shibuya redevelopment was started well before Tokyo’s 2013 winning bid as host city. Since then, much of Tokyo has been terraformed in yet another wave of ‘world-building’ – an art in which Japan excels. The Parco department chain is a Shibuya icon of bubble-era hipsterism, its flagship stores nestled north of the famous scramble crossing. In 2016, the original site was razed to the ground in preparation for a new complex.

Glossy white industrial hoardings bordered the construction site which occupies a whole block in Shibuya. Monthly since 2017, each single hoarding was covered with an image by artist and designer Kosuke Kawamura, utilizing key images from the Akira manga series. For nearly two years, a snaking mural developed around the block.

The result is a breath-taking panorama celebrating the destruction of Tokyo in the centre of Abenomics boosterism and nationalist fervour. A thrilling off-museum real-world intervention, it also acknowledges Otomo’s influence on any contemporary flirtation with Japanese post-war futurism.

Philip Brophy is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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