all images courtesy the artist, james cohan gallery and gallery koyanagi, and hara museum of contemporary art
below from the international edition of kateigaho, japanese arts/culture journal, from the 2003 issue:
“Her longer works create the impression of a dream turned into a nightmare. In The Bathhouse, for example, she conjures the world of the traditional Japanese bathhouse, including the boxes where patrons leave their shoes and a wall mural reproduction of Hokusai’s Red Fuji to give the viewer the sense of having actually entered a real bathhouse. She then adds fantastic and disturbing touches that suggest the problems involved in maintaining Japanese identity in the contemporary world. The bathhouse patrons are shown not only undressing, but also unzipping their skin, suggesting that out in the “real world” they may be hiding their true identities. An official-looking notice appears, remarking on the increase of trash in the streets. Immediately, the viewer sees garbage dumped into the bath, suggesting that even traditional Japanese culture is being polluted by the modern world. At the end of the piece, when the drain plug is pulled, the bathhouse disappears.
Japanese Kitchen is even more provocative. As with Bathhouse, this is a beautifully drawn and animated work, with colors and patterns that evoke the art of the premodern ukiyo-e print. But the vision of Japanese Kitchen is far darker than traditional art, evoking a society with problems that seem increasingly uncontrollable. In a particularly clever sequence satirizing unemployment, a woman opens her refrigerator to find a miniature man dressed in a suit and working busily at his desk. Plucking him from the refrigerator, she proceeds to cut off his head, a visual pun on the Japanese expression kubi ni naru (literally, to become a neck), meaning someone has lost his job.
The kitchen itself seems to symbolize modern Japanese society in general. While chopping her food, the woman listens to a radio weather forecast that calls for “clusters of high-school student suicides.” Cockroaches scurry around, suggesting not only pollution but also another pun, this time on gokiburi teishu (literally, cockroach husbands), who, after becoming unemployed, hang around the house making a mess.
These works are original but they also recall more commercial anime offerings. Themes of suicide areprominent in a recent Japanese television series Serial Experiments Lain, while the image of the bathhouse as a polluted modern Japan dominates the recent Academy Award-winning animated film Spirited Away. But Tabaimo takes these themes even further, creating a surreal world in which one troubling vision leads to another.”