Listen to the Recess! Clip
Keba, Keba Transcript
Keba Keba is Japanese for Gaudy Tawdry, and it is the title of artist Takashi Murakami’s first picture book for children, with a story written by pop musician Yujin Kitagawa. This bright, colorful book, appropriate for readers of all ages, features both Japanese and English texts and emerges at a pivotal time for America’s scrutiny of Japan’s self-expression.
Murakami is both an artist and an intellectual; he has written on and created works employing the concept he calls “Superflat,” which is to say, “completely Westernized.” Murakami has speculated that “The world of the future might be like Japan is today — super flat.” Murakami’s art is inspired both by animation and children’s culture. But while he has created stuffed animals and monstrously sized inflatable characters, Keba Keba is his first work intended for children.
As the book begins, we meet Keba Keba — a round, colorful, exceedingly generous, though friendless creature. Keba Keba gives his yellow to a baby chicken who has been bullied, his favorite color red to the sad sun, his blue to the crying sky, and the rest of his colors to some frail, unhappy flowers. While Keba Keba is giving his colors away to the colorless strangers, he becomes thinner and more faint — but at the same time incredibly happy. In fact, Kitagawa’s story continuously emphasizes Keba Keba’s wonderful feelings. Yet Murakami uses a climactic, wordless illustration encompassing two full pages to show Keba Keba in shades of grey. His eyes are closed, he is thin, exhausted — super-flat.
Fashion designer Marc Jacobs, whose comments are featured on Keba Keba’s book jacket, says that this story is a lesson about the need to give generously and selflessly in order to receive true joy. Certainly this is one message children can absorb. But it’s also possible to see the book as offering a more cautionary tale for contemporary youth. The story ends with a colorful world, but KebaKeba is not in this world anymore. And he never does make any friends.
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Friis-Hanssen, Dana. “Takashi Murakami Declares The World is Flat.” Twisted: Urban and Visionary Landscapes in Contemporary Painting. Rotterdam: Nai Publishers, 2000.
Kitagawa, Yujin and Takashi Murakami. Keba Keba (Gaudy Tawdry). Japan, Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki, 2003.
Murakami, Takashi. “Impotence Culture-Anime.” My Reality: Contemporary Art and the Culture of Japanese Animation.Des Moines, Iowa: Des Moines Art Center, 2001. 58-66.