Narrative In Art

A Cluster of Interesting Thinking

Shintaro Kago

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I Wonder What Shintro Kago is Thinking?

Shintaro Kago is a Japanese guru manga artist. His manga’s are a collection of short stories and comics. He was born in 1969 in Tokyo, Japan.  Not a lot is known about his past, his parents or when he came to America to practice his art.  His first works debuted in 1988 on the magazine Comic Box. His narratives are entertaining indeed, just like any other writer in the narrative medium, but Kago has broken the mold, and done it in a more narrative-bending way for his readers with his mangas.

Fig. 1. Shintaro Kago interview for Vice Magizine. Photos By Tomokazu Kosaga, Published Feb, 2008.

According to an interview with Vice, he has proclaimed himself a “kisou mangaka” (Bizarre manga artist)(Kago Photos). I agree on his self label of being bizarre, because bizarre is written all over his short narratives, making them in my opinion much more entertaining then your traditional Japanese mangas. He is very popular among the adult manga magazines, where many of his works have been published. Vice magazine has credited him as a driving force in rejuvenating the manga comic form by “breaking it up into little chunks of weirdness, self-reflexivity, and super-trippy formal experiments” (Kago Photos).  Manga, his preferred narrative medium is a comic form of narrative that has had a long history in Japanese art culture and, in contrast to American comics, have a much darker tone. Then there is his manga, notorious for their heavy use of satirical overtones that deal with obscene subjects such as extreme sex, body manipulation, and scatology or coprology, which is the study of feces.

Fig. 2. Cover Art by Shintaro Kago for Vice Magizine. Photos By Tomokazu Kosaga, Published Feb, 2008.

His creative methods on how to tell his stories, which he uses in many of his stories, are elements that kept me increasingly interested in reading more of his works than some of the actual story plots themselves. A great example of this, where he artistically has influence over the way you experience the narrative, is The Memories of Others. When you read his shorts stories, they read from left to right, just a little different then American comics or shorts. This story isn’t that complex but the devices he uses to tell it make it much more interesting. The main character starts by complaining that she thinks she has this disease called “panelithis”.  As she explains, it makes copies of every previous panel that she’s been in into the current panel as the story progresses.  As she goes about her usual day, now suffering from this illness, it becomes contagious, and any one she comes across will contract it.

Fig. 3. Pages 2-5 of The Meomeries of Others comic by Shintaro Kago

It’s a cool story device because you get to see every character’s little own story up into the point they interact with her. She gets to see some bizarre habits and misdeeds that some of the characters do before they meet up with her.  This creative method flat out inserts Kago as the author into his story because he is dictating which way you, as the reader, will experience his narrative. American literary critic Wayne C. Booth highlights this undeniable tension between writer and reader in his best known text The Rhetoric of Fiction. To best help me describes Kago’s approach in The Memories of Others I will borrow from Booth: “Everything he shows will serve to tell; the line between showing and telling is always to some degree an arbitrary one.” (Booth 20) I agree with what Booth implies; Kago’s creative approach doesn’t make this story less fiction, it’s still works as a story of fiction, but objectivity is still non-present. Kago has no problem making you aware of his placement in his narrative beyond the text: what Kago is doing in The Meomeries of Others is showing us his role as the writer by creating this repetitive layout within the text, which adds to the telling of the story as a whole.

In an interview with Vice magazine in 2008, Kago was quoted: “Shit and sex are merely the starting points, and unless you can tick those off you can’t even begin thinking about a narrative”(Kago Photos) In all honestly, trying to compare Kago’s narrative style to another artist would be difficult. He doesn’t seem to obey traditional guidelines of any genre, but borrows from both traditional manga and the literary tradition. Many of his works are tragic, experimental, bizarre, and laced with comedic effect.  Maybe not following any particular genre has effectively made Kago a breath of fresh air in the traditional manga art form. The following figure is an example of the tragic form of body mutilation he enjoys using in many of his art pieces and illustrations for his stories.

Fig. 4. Photo by Deb Aoki,, Nov. 2009

For example Abstractions is such a story in which he uses body mutilation, scat, sex, and page layout to really mess with the narrative. In this story he turns what is normal, a 2 dimensional page layout, into a 3 dimensional layout.  Again, it reads from left to right and it takes some getting used to at first, but I will admit that even if the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, the device he used to tell it was intriguing and is nothing I have ever experienced before when reading traditional comics, American or Japanese.

Fig. 4. Pages 2-5 from Abstraction comic By Shintaro Kago.

In figure 4 are the first four pages from Abstraction as it starts out on a regular 2 dimensional panel reading from right to left. As the story progresses, it evolves into what can be described as a 3D box, each individual panel can be viewed from different angels, like open windows on a building.  He’s known for breaking the fourth wall in many of his stories and does so in Abstraction with his intentional use of three dimensions when the reader is expecting only two. By doing this, Kago again is obviously manipulating his narrative to show and tell his story the way he wants you to view it.  Again, another great example of his use of showing and telling.

In this story is where it goes a step further in my opinion. It’s just like what a good director does when directing a film; the director decides if music will add excitement to a car chase or if silence might build up tension in a scene. They control what he or she wants to be viewed in a scene or what is left to the audience’s imagination.  What happens if you start removing fundamental film elements, sound, story, or plot? When does it stop being a film and become just a bunch of random images on a screen? Art critic James Elkins examined this in his work Six Stories from the End of Representation. Of course, Elkins was referring to the fine arts of the twentieth century in his text, but I feel his thoughts in the section “Painting” can be applied to storytelling as well:

Consider the idea that for a painter uninterested in making pictures where representation is adequate to task, creating a painting can be like climbing down a ladder into the dark space. Rung by rung you go down feeling the visible world become more distant – each of those steps, and no doubt many others, are ways of subtracting forms and at the same time gradually letting go of the idea of adequately realistic representation. (Elkins 44)

By removing the convention of 2-d panels, Kago lost the story plot by stepping in with his interference and controlling the way you read the story. His removal of a 2 dimensional linear path for the story isolated and disconnected me from the characters. I lost a sense for a coherent story, but gained more of an attachment for the weird detour he took me on as the story progressed. As the story kept going and losing more representational elements of a linear story, it no longer felt like a story of a girl who dropped her ring in the pond and the boy who jumped in to retrieve it, but became a crazy abstract story of sex, manipulated bodies, and poop.

In the end, Kago does what he does best to entertain us, but in all honesty Kago’s narrative technique is much more engaging that the things he is narrating about. His narrative devices are groundbreaking, and yes, he might not appeal to all, and he may write about extreme story subjects to elicit reader and viewer response, and even make your head spin, but it is undeniable that his narrative is definitely something unique.

Works Cited

“Shintaro Kago.” SHINTARO KAGO TURNS SHIT INTO GOLD – PART 1 Read the rest at Vice Magazine: SHINTARO KAGO TURNS SHIT INTO GOLD – PART 1 – The Vice Interview – Vice Magazine . Web. 7 May 2011. < int/ v15n2/htdocs/shintaro_kago_shit_gold.php>.

Kago, Shintaro. Vice, Feb 2008. Intervew by TOMOKAZU KOSUGA. Feb 2008. Photos. Web. 7 May 2011. <http:// int/v15n2/htdocs/ shintaro_kago_shit_gold.php>.

Kago, Shintaro. Vice, Feb 2008. Intervew by TOMOKAZU KOSUGA. Feb 2008. Photos. Web. 7 May 2011. <http:// int/v15n2/htdocs/ shintaro_kago_shit_gold.php>.

“Vice Cover Art.” SHINTARO KAGO TURNS SHIT INTO GOLD – PART 1 THE VICE INTERVIEW Read the rest at Vice Magazine: SHINTARO KAGO TURNS SHIT INTO GOLD – PART 1 – The Vice Interview – Vice Magazine . Web. 7 May 2011. < shintaro_kago_shit_gold.php>.

“The Meomeries of Others.” Same Hat. Web. 7 May 2011. <http://>.

Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd Ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London, 1983. 20. Print.

Kago, Shintaro. Vice, Feb 2008. Intervew by TOMOKAZU KOSUGA. Feb 2008. Photos. Web. 7 May 2011. <http:// int/v15n2/htdocs/ shintaro_kago_shit_gold.php>.

“Shintaro Kago at Comita.” Same Hat. Web. 7 May 2011. <http:// at- comitia.html>.

“Abstraction.” Gallery:Guru Manga. Web. 7 May 2011. <http:// 0006dpp2>.

Elkins, James. Six Stories from the End of Representation. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2008. 44. Print.


Written by narrativeinart

January 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm

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