Many are the characters that belong to Takashi Murakami’s universe but, without a doubt, there are three that take the main lead of his Works. Mr. DOB, Kaikai and Kiki are a source of inspiration to Murakami and their significance goes further than the aesthetical view. These characters are a mix of Murakami’s ideas, reasoning and feelings that melt with Japanese culture and today’s society of consumerism.
In each Murakami’s work we can find, at a first glance, an image that stands by its beauty, it is colourful and fun. Lack of knowledge, as it commonly happens when speaking of art, makes it easy to tag this Japanese artists works' as simple, naïve or even frivolous. Nothing further from the truth. As we go deep into this world created by Murakami, we find multiple symbolisms that overwhelm for their complexity. To be honest, it may be possible that each artwork done by Takashi Murakami incarnates as much theoretical complexity as its creative process. But we’ll talk about this some other time.
Skulls, flowers or mushrooms build a flora and an environment to put a situation. Mr. DOB, Kaikai, Kiki, Takashi Murakami himself ore even his dog Pom are the true protagonists of each story.
As the viewer acquaintances more knowledge about this artist’s work, he/she can’t but to amaze about the cultural background that he owns. Takashi Murakami is not only a great artist but also a great connoisseur of his own culture, his history and is a great study of many issues such as painting or religions history. If we add to this so cultivated basis a great curiosity by the artist for today’s society, we come across the famous “superflat”. A style of its own that plays with all this elements and the flagship of Murakami’s work.
It is said that Mr. DOB is Takashi Murakami’s alter ego. Its figure has been repeated in many of his works and in them, it is been shown with different forms and number. Mr. DOB can have the most innocent and childish appearance in some works but in some other can be seen as a deformed, shabby and evil being. The number and its metamorphosis are part of this intellectual show that Takashi Murakami has prepared for us.
But, what does Mr. DOB mean? Well, a good translation could be “Mr. Questions”. DOB is the acronym of “dobojite, dobojite” a dada phrase created by Murakami that in Japanese slang mean “why?, why?”. This is the key concept of Mr. DOB, a being that constantly questions his surroundings.
But Mr. DOB is also a collection of ideas and images strategically designed that can slip away unnoticed at first sight. Western culture has quite a big relevance thanks to those huge ears, such as Mickey Mouse’s, and its red, white and blue colours make a reference to the United States flag. A couple of big eyes as the ones commonly seen in Japanese illustration finish this character, which relates the United States with Japan. Mr. DOB is a concept that represents the American influence over the Japanese image and design, emerged after the II World War, moment in which America animation takes Japan and these rebuild it creating their own identity, what we know today as “anime”.
An interesting work to talk about that can throw some light to what has been previously said is the 727 series. In it Mr. DOB is shown as a menace creature on a Nihonga style (traditional Japanese painting) background. This work represents Murakami’s fear and sceptical opinion on colonialism and excessive outbound influence, which could damage ancestral Japanese culture. The contrast between the depth and complexity of the Nihonga style opposed to the simplicity and flat colours of this “superflat”. figure, don’t make but to emphasize the existent juxtaposition of the superficial and banal of today’s consumerism against the multiple layers of a cultural background, rich in textures and tones.
Mr. DOB has its final transformation in Chaos, a mutant being that belongs to a dramaturgy in which the last purpose of existence is destruction and disorder. Takashi Murakami, born in 1962, grew up at a time when Japanese television was being fed by science fiction shows that destroyed Tokyo over and over and cities full of monsters and beings that ruled the planet and spread terror. It was as if Japanese society constantly repeated the chaos suffered after the II World War, as if they wanted to put the audience in a similar situation. To Murakami, this desire of destroying and being destroyed has its representation in Chaos.
As a brief, Mr. DOB is a resource that the artist uses in several occasions and that has different meanings depending on the context it is located. But, one thing we know for sure, is that we can get to know Takashi Murakami a bit better thanks to this big eared character, we just have to look closer, beyond its own image.
Want to know more? Check out TAKASHI MURAKAMI’s UNIVERSE (part 2)