They both create signature art work that is easy to recognize. They both found fame on the streets of Osaka. They both grew up in the Osaka suburb of Sakai. They are almost the same age. And they even went to the same school. But that is where the comparison ends. It is the differences that matter most. Mori Chack is self-confident, outgoing, energetic. Takashi Nishimura is quiet, shy, and quite laid-back. He likes to observe. He doesn’t enjoy being the center of attention.
It shows up in Nishimura’s work. Small cute characters–he looks at them as ‘animals‘–with names that are careful word plays. They are more figments of his observations than his imagination. Each week a new character is born. They kind of happen to him he explains. “Sometimes when I sit on a train, talking with a friend, I suddenly get an idea for a character. Another time it happens when I am just relaxing at home. But usually I just watch, talk, pick up a few words, and create a character from that.”
What Nishimura actually does is visualizing the words he hears around him. Sometimes a single word. Sometimes a combination of words. Sometimes a complete proverbial saying. Inside his head the words come alive, and create new meanings that turn into images.
This actually makes his work very difficult to understand for people unfamiliar with the Japanese language. On the surface, Nishimura’s illustrations appear to be cute but childish drawings. But to people familiar with the Japanese idiom they are words that have come alive.
Take the illustration on the left for example. It shows a weird looking fellow with half-saucered eyes, a bald head with an arrow sticking out, and another arrow sticking out of his leg. It’s called Ochimusha Bucho. In ancient times a samurai who had lost a battle would have his characteristic hair knot on the top of his head cut off. He would let the rest of his hair grow. It was a shameful symbol of defeat. In Japanese it is called ochimusha, a ‘fallen warrior’. Bucho is a manager in middle management. “I was sitting on the train one night when I saw a man who looked just like that,” Nishimura recalls. “He was a salaryman (an office worker), and looked broken. So I created a salaryman with one arrow in his head and another in his leg who looks terribly defeated. He is the fallen warrior manager, the Ochimusha Bucho.”
Another time Nishimura was talking with a friend when the friend mentioned that someone they were talking about was mean: ‘Aitsu wa haraguro’. Haraguro means ‘mean’ in this case. But hara also means belly, and guro (from kuro) means black. ‘He is mean’ becomes ‘He has a black belly.’ “I wondered what that would look like, so I drew a man with a black belly.” This became Haraguro-kun. In English, ‘Little boy blackbelly’ sounds like nothing, in Japanese it sounds hilarious.
Men who are still virgins are called ‘Cherry boy’ in Japan. You can imagine what Nishimura did with that word. They look very innocent and prude in their tight pink baby suits. Big ears signify good fortune in Japan. So Nishimura came up with Fukumimi-chan (Little Happy Ear), a tiny character with gigantic ears.
This visualizing of words makes him a true son of Osaka, no other city in Japan worships the spoken word as much as this industrial town. It churns out comedians by the thousands, and its people have a passion for verbal warfare. Osakans therefore love Nishimura’s visual puns. When he sits once again on the streets of Osaka with hundreds of postcards of his drawings of his creations around him, you can hear the people laugh in recognition. Then they decide which of their friends will get which card: “This one is for Keiko. This one for Mayu. This is for Miho.” They immediately recognize themselves and their friends in Nishimura’s collection of characters.
Nishimura calls his collection of characters: Nishimura Gundan, Nishimura’s Army Corps. Together they battle a wonderful war of words.