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‘A Japanese Doll’ is a moving meditation on vindictive violence and a friendship doll exchange

A Japanese Doll

Sam Nakahira, 8 pgs, samnakahira.com

However brief, this work packs a punch. It’s something of a historical chronicle, telling a story about the exchange of friendship dolls between Japanese and Americans in the 1920s, a practice promoted by Sidney Gulick.

The text is poetic — short staccato lines narrating the inevitable trajectory and mistreatment of the Japanese dolls by Americans as history takes its course. A youth’s misbehaving and bullying, “A child’s malice / Quick as a snake / The oriental girl on the ground,” eventually matures into violence. “Adult hands ripping, shredding the delicately crafted kimonos off the pale white bodies. Crushing a doll’s body with a clenched fist. Crushing a Japanese hand extended towards America in friendship. Burning, drowning, tortured, stabbed.” The exchange of cultures championed naively by Gulick crumbles until nothing more remains than American jingoist bigotry. Burgeoning friendships are supplanted by a stewing hatred, and Nakahira’s dolls stare blankly at the violence raining down upon them, the only emotion in their shared panels being the rage of the American. Sparse and emotive, Nakahira’s eight-page zine does what some artists struggle to do with ten times the space. I’m looking forward to seeing more.