Taro Okamoto towers above 2011

March 9th, 2011 by Felicity Hughes

Taro Okamoto's struggle to complete the "Tower of the Sun" is the subject of a new NHK drama.

Last year was samurai Ryoma Sakamoto’s year, as a huge surge of interest, largely generated by an NHK dramatization of his life, lead to countless product tie-ins. This year the dead celebrity du jour looks set to be artist Taro Okamoto, who will also be getting his own NHK show in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. A slew of exhibitions are also sure to revive the public’s interest in this iconoclastic painter and sculptor.

The NHK drama is titled “Taro’s Tower,” in reference to “Tower of the Sun,” which Okamoto created for Expo ’70 in Suita, Osaka. The first episode, which aired on Feb. 26, focused on the period between 1967 and 1970 when Okamoto battled to complete the tower in time for the World’s Fair. The structure is one of his most iconic works, and though it’s rather weather-worn, it still stands in the Expo Commemoration Park in Suita, Osaka.

Inside the “Tower of the Sun” there used to be a structure called “Tree of Life,” which represented the strength of life heading toward the future. Staircases winding round the inside of the “Tower of the Sun” allowed you to view it up close. Since “The Tree of Life” no longer exists the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum has commissioned a 1:20 scale model of the art work. Standing just 2.5m tall, the replica, made by model shop Kaiyodo, allows visitors to see details that you couldn’t with the 50-meter original.

Other museums are also holding special events in memory of Okamoto. The National Museum of Modern Art will be holding a 100th anniversary exhibition, which kicked off March 8. The show’s theme — confrontation — references the fact that Okamoto challenged the values of traditional Japanese society. About 130 works, including paintings, sculptures, photographs and design, will be on display.

At Taro Okamoto Museum of Art in Kawasaki, an exhibition titled “100 years old Admirable Taro” will run until April 3. The curators have chosen 27 items from their collection of 818 works. Of particular note is a primitive shrine that Okamoto crafted out of traditional materials in celebration of folk art.

Though the art world is buzzing with Okamoto-related exhibitions, the craze for the artist hasn’t yet shown signs of reaching the same dizzy heights of last year’s Sakamoto boom. As yet we haven’t found any anniversary tie-in products, we did stumble upon these rather groovy Okamoto Children’s Day koinobori (carp kites), which were on sale as limited editions last year. Let’s hope they re-release them in time for this year’s Children’s Day.

“Tower of the Sun” photo by Ryan McBride [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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One Response

  1. Thank you Felicity for this post. I live in Kansai, and I have visited Expo Park (and therefore Tower of the Sun) several times, but I didn’t know any of that stuff, about the past history or whatever. At first I thought the tower was too ugly for words, but nowadays I’m starting to appreciate it. I’m even a proud owner of a TOS keyring!

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