Encountering Ero Guro

For my Ethnographic study, I have decided to choose the art style of Ero Guro, which is wasei-ego (Japanese combination/shortening of English words) of the words erotic grotesque. Beginning in Japan in the 1930’s, it was an art movement dedicated to depravity, usually depicting scenarios of extreme violence and sexual hedonism. While influenced by earlier styles such as Shunga and Muzan-e, it was informed by the beckoning nihilism of a nation between world wars and also influence from other modernist movements worldwide. From its original proliferation in the 30’s, it has continued to influence both Japanese and non-Japanese up until present day.

My own personal first experience with the style was illustrator Suehiro Maruo’s gruesomely satirical works that filter atrocities of war through horror tropes and pop culture touchstones. I felt his work oddly compelling from the first moment I saw them in a very peculiar way. Being a major fan of western horror movies, seeing such representations of the creatures and tropes of these films obviously interested me. However, the jarring use of historical touchstones against these representations was definitely somewhat shocking. His pieces are definitely intended to illicit shocked responses as they deal with the more controversial aspects of history in a starkly aesthetical way.

Considering my initial response to such texts, my plan is to further investigate more artists working within the style of Ero Guro and similarly look at how their medium reflects their response to Japanese histories. I’ve chosen to first unpack the Ero Guro movement by making extensive research into literature on the movement itself. From here I will then be able to research the various artists and writers working within the movement and hopefully gain a greater understanding of the impetus of such work.

From these findings I hope to create a digital artefact that can be relied upon as a repository for information on the phenomenon as most information I have found on the subject has been sparse and somewhat obscurely located. Therefore, I think creating such an artefact is justifiable as it will be providing information to a relatively rare phenomenon. This artefact will likely be a tumblr or similar style website allowing for links, information, images and video for interested parties. Being a movement that expanded into several different mediums, utilising a website would be best to demonstrate this best. It would also be able to age-restrict access due to the explicit nature of some of the work being shown.

Some of my initial thoughts on investigating further into the Ero Guro subset of works included:

  • Considering this is work from many years ago, it is still pretty shocking
  • Blending of Japanese real world horrors against western medias fictional horrors
  • Seemingly radical even now
  • Obvious connections to manga and anime
  • Nudity used in a non-titillating way, more to further shock
  • Challenging common decency and social norms
  • Fantastical nature, use of supernatural elements/imagery
  • Never less than extreme

Relating Ero Guro to my own experience with western culture is worth noting as well as, in many ways, we don’t have anything as extreme as this. While the art world may have forays into such territory, none is done in such a deliberately pulpy way as in ero guro. Considering cartoons are the most pervasive element of the movement as well, the closest parallel I could draw (unintentional) would be the work of underground comic artists in the 70’s and 80’s. Figures like Robert Crumb, while pushing the comic form further into radical adult territory, still weren’t creating such extreme works as exhibited by artists such as Suehiro Maruo.

While it may have progressed to become more transgressive, it still took American underground comics a far longer time to reach the same level of absurd vulgarity present in ero guro from an early age. With my research, I hope to delve further into the reasons as to why the phenomenon became so and what the main impetus is behind such extreme works of art. I hope to branch further into the different medias of the culture as I’ve only witnessed the works of visual artists so far.

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