'In Japanese we have this adjective, kikikaikai, which we use for strange things or phenomena, things that are frightening, disturbing or make us uneasy. But in this case, I was not referring directly to that expression but to another one which, although based on the same sounds, is written with different Chinese ideograms, kikikaikai. This term, that was used by an art critic in the late 16th Century... embraces several different notions: bravery and power, with all the seductiveness those traits may have and at the same time a keen sensitivity. This was the mixture of qualities that was considered elegant at the time, aesthetically speaking... And since I found the expression kikikaikai had a very attractive sound and because the names suited them, I baptized these two characters Kaikai and Kiki. With these three characters - Oval, Kaikai and Kiki - I wanted, I think, to create my own "gods of art"' (T. Murakami, quoted in Takashi Murakami Kaikai Kiki, exh. cat., Paris and London, 2002, p. 87).
Carrying the same name as Takashi Murakamis' company, Kaikai and Kiki stare out at us, holding black skull-tipped lances and functioning as manic guardians as though sprung into three dimensions, larger than life, direct from a cartoon. As the final work from the edition of five realised, the present work embodies the culmination of Murakami's highly attuned technical skill perfected since the work's inception in 2000. Fashioned and dressed to sculptural perfection from a combination of Inox (a form of stainless steel), resin and paint, the attention to detail is extraordinary. Murakami originally created Kaikai Kiki in 2000, as 'acolytes' for his Oval Buddha, but over the years they have become a force in their own right, featuring in his paintings and films as well. The words Kaikai Kiki were coined from the phrase Kikikaikai, a term used in the book History of Japanese Painting (Honcho Gashi, compiled by Kano Sansetsu and Kano Eino) to describe the work of the 16th Century Japanese painter, Kano Eitoku who was known as the genious of the Kano style. The ears of Murakami's characters bear Japanese lettering stating these terms, which have their origins in the descriptions awarded to Kano's work as kikikaikai, 'bizarre, yet refined,' and 'delicate yet bold', and in the hopes that these figures will emanate these complex dichotomies. Indeed, they have become such an integral part of Murakami's pantheon of cutesy yet mutated cartoonish characters that he renamed his company after them. Murakami's blend of contemporary cartoon culture references the styles of anime and Manga, as is clear in the rendering of Kaikai Kiki.
As well as taking his aesthetic cue from the Disney-infected world of popular entertainment that is so endemic in contemporary Japan, Murakami's own art historical roots are as evident in the current exhibition of his works in the Château de Versailles, where he follows in the footsteps of Jeff Koons in being invited to exhibit in those opulent and historic surroundings, as they are in Kaikai Kiki . Indeed Kaikai and Kiki have been placed on guard within the Louis XIV salon at the Château de Versailles in the present exhibition. These guardian spirits, one with the mouth creased in an engaging smile and the other wide open in a gaping, two-toothed grin, echo the komainu statues, the lion-dogs that guard Shinto shrines in Japan, where in each pair one has its mouth shut and the other open. Traditionally, this was because one was meant to be enunciating the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet (the equivalent of "a"), and the other the last ("um"). By continuing this tradition, Kaikai and Kiki, like the guardians of Shinto shrines, reveal themselves as the manic anime equivalent of the Alpha and the Omega that threads its way through so many of the world's religions. In this way, Murakami is managing to bridge the cultural gap between 'old' traditional Japan and the very different, hi-tech, gizmo-saturated country inhabited by so many Iotaku, or geeks, today. The old spirit has found a new incarnation in these manic, entertaining warrior figures who embody so many of the qualities considered worthy in the samurai era yet who are clearly presented in an idiom that reflects the era of Akira, Hello Kitty and Princess Mononoke.