“Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” illustrated by Kuniyoshi Kaneko

Over 100 Japanese artists have tried their hand at illustrating ‘Alice’. Stylistically, these illustrations are categorised into pre-WWII “Alice” and post-WWII “Alice”, with the latter broken down into new modern Western “Alice”, “Alice” inspired by Disney, post-Disney “Alice”, nymphet “Alice” and fresh “Alice” visions interpreted from a Japanese female artists’ point of view.1

Kuniyoshi Kaneko’s Alice is a Lolita-like nymphet. He produced these illustrations in 1974 and was considered a pioneer of Japanese Alice being interpreted with an emphasis on her pre-mature sexuality. Alice’s appearance is like that of a posed doll, deliberate and gestural. In that regard she reminds me of David Delamare’s refined mademoiselle Alice.

I like Kaneko’s approach to varying composition and design in his woodcut prints, from conceptual images to portraits and mise-en-scenes. Some illustrations include a line of text which integrates with fragmentary cartoon drawings, all elements working together to consummate the image and its meaning. Others are a realistic representation of a particular scene set in a carefully depicted interior rendered in minute details.  Static cameo portraits (eg. of the Red Queen and Alice alternate with animated character groups (Alice with Twiddle Dee & Dum and the Lion and Unicorn).

Humpty Dumpty’s figure in “Through the Looking Glass” is unusually anthropomorphic with no distortions that commonly convey his egg shape. He rather looks like a handsome businessman, dressed in a sharp suit and ready to impress, if not seduce the blooming young Alice. I wonder if this was deliberate or an inadvertent Japanese “reading” of this character. Another example of a quirk I have not seen in any other edition is the smoking frog in “Through the Looking-Glass” illustration (see the last image below). The only other unexpected smoking character I’ve seen was Alice herself puffing at a Caterpillar’s hookah in Daniel Cacaouault’s Wonderland.

Kaneko (1936 -2015) was a painter, illustrator and photographer best known for his prolific output of paintings and drawings of women in bondage. In 1991 he also produced the artwork for “Alice: An Interactive Museum” – a Japanese cyber game inspired by Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which uses pre-rendered 3D computer graphics. The game is described as follows: The player wanders through a mansion of 12 rooms including a gallery, an atelier, a wine cellar and a photo studio. Each room is interconnected via halls, doors, and secret passages, one of which leads to the outside world. The player must collect all of the cards missing from a 53-card set of playing cards and then decipher the associated clues that appear on the cards. Correct solutions will lead to The Last Room and the end of the game. The artwork on the walls is interactive resulting in clues or surprises.

This game developed by Toshiba-EMI Ltd and directed by Haruhiko Shono, with music by Kazuhiko Katō and artwork by Kuniyoshi Kaneko has been noted as an ambitious artistic piece of software and praised as “a very elegant and richly rendered environment that makes it a browser’s paradise”. Its visual aesthetic has been also compared to René Magritte’s surrealism. I find this ‘Alice’ spin-off fascinating and possibly the only cyber game I’d be interested in trying (as much as a Generation-X dinosaur might get interested in gaming).

Both my Kaneko Alices are small format softcovers published by Shinchosha in 1994. The paper is very thin, books are light as a feather and make for very cozy reading copies for those who speak Japanese. I have included all published images from these editions below. It is evident that Japanese minimalism has influenced these books with far fewer images than one might expect from Alice.

Kaneko produced at least one more set of “Alice” illustrations, similarly to Russian Gennady Kalinovsky who created a black-and-white version and another in colour.  A rare edition these days, Kaneko’s other “Alice in Wonderland” was commissioned by Olivetti (1974) and includes 13 black and white illustrations and 1 colour cover image, is cloth bound in luxurious maroon and published as a celebratory gift edition.

To browse other editions from my collection of illustrated “Alice in Wonderland” click here. To browse other editions of illustrated “Through the Looking-Glass” click here. What are you favourite versions of illustrated ‘Alice’?

“Alice in Wonderland”

"Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" illustrated by Kuniyoshi Kaneko Illustrated "Alice in Wonderland", Illustrated "Through the Looking Glass" Kids Book Reviews alice in wonderland kunyioshi kaneko 24

“Through the Looking-Glass”

"Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" illustrated by Kuniyoshi Kaneko Illustrated "Alice in Wonderland", Illustrated "Through the Looking Glass" Kids Book Reviews alice in wonderland kunyioshi kaneko 25

1“Illustrating Alice”, Artist Choice Edition, 2013 (a reference anthology including an international selection of illustrated editions of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ with various chapters dedicated to various countries where it was published the most).

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