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Evangelion Character Designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto Attracts Criticism Over 'Dismissive' Tweet about Korean Comfort Women Statue

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Curators call the exhibition's premature cancellation due to external pressure "the worst censorship incident in Japan's postwar period.”

Neon Genesis Evangelion and Summer Wars character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto attracted criticism from anime fans around the world over a series of tweets he posted on Friday concerning the “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” historical art exhibition at the Aichi Prefecture Museum of Art. The exhibition was cancelled three days after its opening due to complaints it received over featuring Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung's Statue of Peace (2011) sculpture, which depicts a World War II-era "comfort woman" (the euphemistic term for a woman or underage girl forced to work in military brothels servicing the Imperial Japanese Army). In his tweets, Sadamoto called the statue "dirty" and "vulgar," claiming that the art was simply propaganda with no aesthetic value.

Sadamoto's tweets are translated below:

"A dirty statue of a girl. A movie that shows the Emperor of Japan's photo being burned and then crushed underfoot. It's indistinguishable from a certain country's style of propaganda.

"It has absolutely none of the interesting, beautiful, eye-opening, heartwarming, or intellectually stimulating aspects of what we seek from modern art. It's just vulgar and tedious.

"I was expecting something in the tradition of the Documenta or Setouchi Triennale... what a pity.

"I wanted it to be an art event with academic contemporary art at its core: pottery, bicycles, motorcycles, films, comics, fashion, architecture, and all other kinds of things that were showing up in the prefecture around the same time all showcased and spread out like a stamp rally. Remove the crazy [propaganda]-affirming media and the exhibition could still be redeemed.

"I like Korean wave idols, and if something is aesthetically beautiful then I'll say so frankly.

"If the sculpting is poor and it comes off looking dirty, then of course I'm going to have a different impression when I see it in person. My apologies to the model, if there was one...

"I'm not going to completely reject the act of turning propaganda into art, but honestly speaking, it did not speak to me at all on an artistic level."

The top responses to Sadamoto's comments express disappointment. "As a long-time Eva fan, I'm disappointed," wrote one Korean fan in Japanese. Japanese fans also criticized Sadamoto, such as one fan who wrote: "That statue of a girl was created as a prayer for the girls who were coerced and subjected to sexual violence during the war. It reflects a heart that desires an adequate apology. Various countries such as the Philippines also have statues. The statue gives even Japanese women an opportunity to think about women's rights. And you're calling that dirty?"

Some fans even chose to express their displeasure in English:

The backlash against Sadamoto's comments draw from a context of concern and outrage concerning the exhibition's premature cancellation due to external pressure. The curators of the exhibition described the move as "the worst censorship incident in Japan's postwar period.”

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, over 700 complaints against the exhibition were filed. Hideaki Omura, the governor of Aichi and head of the exhibition's organizing committee, told the Japan Times that the committee had received threatening messages, including from one person said they would "bring a gasoline container to the museum," likely in reference to the tragic arson attack on Kyoto Animation's studio 1 last month.

The Aichi Triennale's English website describes the 2015 version of the exhibit as a collection of "works that had been rejected or removed from exhibition by either systematic censorship or fear of causing controversy. Works dealing with themes which have been deemed taboo by public cultural institutions in recent years (such as the issue of the Japanese Military 'Comfort Women', the emperor and wartime responsibility, colonial rule, Article 9 of Japan's constitution, or criticism of the government) were displayed along with the actual reasons given at the time for their removal."

Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung's Statue of Peace was first installed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul on December 14, 2011. The married couple designed over 20 similar statues. Japan objects to the statues being placed in front of its embassies, claiming that the statues disrupt diplomatic relations. The Korean Herald reported that in 2017, the Ravensbruck Memorial in Germany removed the Statue of Peace it had been gifted due to alleged pressure from Japan.

The "Comfort Women" issue remains controversial in Japan. Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye reached a formal agreement in 2015 to settle the dispute and pay one billion yen as an apology, prominent Japanese politicians and historians downplay the scale of the Japanese government's culpability, or claim that the women were not "coerced" into sexual slavery. Earlier this month, Japan removed South Korea from its "white list" of trusted export partners, a move which has been interpreted as retaliation for the South Korean high court's decision in October to allow individuals affected by Japan's colonial era policy of forced labor to sue Japanese companies for damages.

Sources: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's Twitter account via @lifesucksyeah, Artnet News, The Japan Times, The Mainichi Shimbun, After ‘Freedom of Expression’? Official website, Aichi Triennale Official English website

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