"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
Standing triumphantly with her skull-tipped lance and animated grin, Takashi Murakami's Kiki is an impressive work of kitsch appeal and manic cartoon humour. Executed in 2000 through a meticulous process of fashioned fibreglass, iron, resin and paint, the sculpture marks one of the first Kiki's to ever be realized by the artist. Originally conceived as one of two 'acolytes' or guardians for Murakami's Oval Buddha, Kiki has become a celebrated force in her own right, featuring prominently in films as well as paintings. Indeed Kiki and her paired warrior Kaikai have become important signifiers for the artist, carrying the name of Murakami's rebranded production and management company, Kaikaikiki. The words Kaiki Kiki were originally appropriated by Murakami from the book, History of Japanese Painting (Honcho Gashi, compiled by Kano Sansetsu and Kano Eino) that studied and celebrated the prodigious Kano style of sixteenth century Japanese painter Kano Eitoku. In creating Kiki, Murakami was artfully playing with these associations and the legacy of traditional Japanese culture. Written on each of Kiki's pink, bulbous ears are Japanese characters derived from Kano, invoking dichotomies such as 'bizarre yet refined' and 'delicate yet bold'. These apparent oppositions are perfectly embodied in Murakami's sculpture, where the cross-eyed gaze, fang like rapacious grin of the larger than life Kiki, subverts the iconic warrior with anime and manga culture, so prolific in contemporary Japan.
Murakami's attraction to the vernacular of manga and anime began with his own early training in the art of Nihon-ga, a mid nineteenth to early twentieth century Japanese painting style that combined Western volumetric and shading techniques with Japanese subjects. In a striking and novel approach, Murakami reversed the chain of influence implied by Nihon-ga, creating his first character Mr DOB. Derived from Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, Murakami transformed this subject of Western popular culture into a stylized manga character. The new incarnation of Mr DOB appears less benevolent than frenzied, importing into cartoon fantasy the anxiety and anger of the Post-War period and the suspended sense of devastation in Japan following the nuclear atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A sense of this subliminal anger and traumatised psychology is evident in the figure of Kiki as she stands astride her animated and cloud-like sunflower orb. The multicoloured sunflower orb that Murakami has incorporated also bursts perhaps ironically with smiling faces. It appears as a reference to the religious homages and sculptural renditions of Buddha, most often depicted floating on a pedestal of lotus leaves with staff in hand. In Murakami's work, Kiki too positions her staff in mock semblance of Buddha's posture; a symbol of Kiki's mock elevation to the socio-artistic hierarchy as 'a god of art."
In 2010, Murakami exhibited his cartoon-inflected sculptures including the warrior couple Kaikaikiki to great acclaim, showcasing them amongst the opulent and majestic surroundings of the Chteau de Versailles. Standing on guard at the entrance to the Louis XIV salon, these guardian spirits: Kaikai with his mouth creased in an engaging smile and Kiki with a gaping two-toothed grin, echoed the komainu statues guarding Shinto shrines in Japan. Traditionally, these lion-dog figures have one mouth open and one closed; intended so that one creature could enunciate the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet (the equivalent of "a"), and the other the last ("um"). Recalling this legacy, Kiki appears like the manic anime guardian of contemporary consumer culture. She is a complex figure that playfully subverts the traditions of Japanese culture, combining it with the commercial aesthetics of Akira, Hello Kitty and Princess Mononoke, whilst simultaneously importing the subliminal psychology of a country once devastated by war.