“Nobuyoshi Araki ‘Higan’ “

by Mike Hamilton

Staff Writer

Rat Hole Gallery
Closes Sept. 25

The Rat Hole Gallery by definition of its name is quite tricky to find, hidden as it is in a basement on a backstreet of Tokyo’s Omotesando area. It may be small and concealed, but it clearly still has quite an influence, as its current exhibition explores the works of an artist who has often been called Japan’s most famous photographer.

Nobuyoshi Araki has become well known for both his skill and his controversial style. His large portfolio of work includes images that verge on pornographic, with women posed in compromising positions that would put most feminist’s teeth on edge. More recently, however, since his beloved cat Chiro died last year, his photos — such as those in this exhibition — have taken a more innocuous turn.

The show combines three recent collections of Araki’s work. The first is titled “Kurumado” (“Car Window”) and is a throng of 450 photographs that Araki took while slouched in the back of a taxi in 2010 as it roamed around the streets of Tokyo. The black-and-white images are a solemn portrayal of the modern-day city in which Araki has lived and worked his whole life. Crammed together, covering two walls in the gallery, viewers are invited to pore over them until they gasp in recognition of Tokyo landmarks.

The second collection comprises a selection of 40 images that Araki took in Tokyo during the days that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11. These photos depict a city in mourning: empty streets, dark nights and perplexed faces that became the norm during those uncertain weeks in early spring this year. Amid these thoughtful images, only a self-portrait of a half shaven Araki livens the mood.

The final part of the exhibition displays 10 works from Araki’s “Rakuen” (“Paradise”) collection; a vivid display of flowers that sit alongside toy dinosaurs with the odd naked plastic doll jostled in. They portray a style that Araki fans are familiar with, one so typical of his playful character and his artistic affection for the female body.

Whether the loss of Chiro the cat had an affect on Araki or the artist is mellowing with age, this exhibition certainly has a greater family-friendly feel than some of his previous shows. Nonetheless, old and new fans are unlikely to be disappointed by this selection of images from probably Japan’s most eccentric artist. (Mike Hamilton)

Rat Hole Gallery is open noon — 8 p.m., Closed Mon., Admission is free, For more information, visit www.ratholegallery.com