Last year, animated TV show “The Simpsons” spoofed the films of director Hayao Miyazaki. This spring, bootleg Bart Simpson T-shirts line the boutiques of Harajuku.
There’s a weird symbiosis between Japanese pop culture and America’s longest-running TV family, a force strong enough to attract more than 500 artists to the “Bartkira” project.
“Bartkira,” an online art initiative, launched in 2013 with the aim of redrawing all 2,146 pages of Katsuhiro Otomo’s post-apocalyptic manga “Akira” using characters from “The Simpsons.” Bart becomes brash gang leader Kaneda, his buddy Milhouse is human experiment Tetsuo, and the boys’ skateboards replace the futuristic motorcycles from the manga. Somehow it all works, lashed together by the same strange logic that keeps the 1990s cohesive in retrospect.
Now Neo-Springfield is coming to Tokyo thanks to James Stacey, owner of Yokohama-based art and comic publisher Black Hook Press, who organized an upcoming exhibition of the work of a handful of “Bartkira” artists. It sounds like a lawsuit in the making, but Stacey explains when he contacted “Akira” copyright holder Kodansha, “they didn’t want to help, but they also didn’t threaten with legal action, so we decided to go ahead.” Given Japan’s murky stance on copyright, tacit approval can be the best kind.
Donations and profits from the event will go to Naka-Kon, a Tohoku tsunami relief fund for Otomo’s home prefecture, Miyagi, and Save The Children, a charity championed by “The Simpsons” co-creator Sam Simon. DJs at the March 8 opening party will take donations to spin your favorite 1980s jams, while importer Angenna America will serve craft beer.
The “Bartkira” event is one of more than 80 exhibitions taking place during the Asagaya Art Street town fair. Stacey hopes visitors can “share some of the community spirit enthusiasm that is ‘Bartkira.’ ”