Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kewpie Evolution: The Tarako Megapost

Rose O'Neill, creator of the Kewpie. (Image from Westport History)

Rare "Kewpie Kutouts" (Stuart Ng Books)

I recently did a little online research into Kewpie dolls. Up until then, I'd thought that a kewpie was probably a fruit, but it turned out that it was in fact a character created by Rose O'Neill in the early 1900's, the drawings of which soon became popular enough for the creations, big-faced cherubic babies with pointed quiffs, to be corporealised in celluloid doll-form, a cutely-abstracted homunculus which quickly conquered the world, even receiving a mention in Anne Frank's famous diary, and being placed in a time capsule at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

One of O'Neill's charming illustrations, reproduced on a postcard from the mid-20th century.

Vintage porcelain blue-winged O'Neill Kewpie Doodle Dog

As early as 1923, the Kewpie's image had been enlisted for its powerful services as a company mascot, representing the Kewpie Hamburger chain in the US. But fast forward a century and the Kewpie image-virus has mutated in ways that would surely have been unimaginable for O'Neill.

An image search for "kewpie" today summons forth a startling array of disturbing and unsettling pictures. Now, even the earliest dolls sometimes looked a bit creepy, as with this googly-eyed jointed doll from c. 1913:

And the dolls being made today are, quite frankly, vegetable-headed cabbage patch horrors.

Nothing, though, quite compares to the indignities forced upon the poor Kewpies when they made the mistake of travelling to the Far East unaccompanied. Like any cog in the Japanese character mascot machine, Kewpie has suffered almost every pop-cultural per(v)mutation possible, with the nadir (zenith?) being reached with these dangling phone charms, rendering Kewpie as a sperm, an old man, and even a poo!

More info about these here.

I have no idea who owns the character rights to Kewpie internationally, but a Japanese food company, apparently best known for their mayonnaise, trades under the Kewpie name and uses the character as their mascot. Lovely. Right? Splendid. Yes.

Lovely. Right?

However, at some point, a diversion into the pasta sauce sector, and the Japanese penchant for having a character's face poking out from inside a cute costume (see Kewpie Godzilla, below), somehow collided to create the Unearthly Beast of the End Times that is Tarako.

Tarako is fish roe, seemingly a sort of womb sack full of fish eggs. This is used in a pasta sauce made by the Kewpie company. Tarako is also the name that has inadvertently been given to the mascot created to advertise the sauce - a bizarre mutation with the Kewpie doll's cute face attached to a fish womb body.

Sad sacks.

What follows are some of the many Tarako pasta sauce adverts, presented here in a megapost for your greatest satisfaction.

There are at least two more Tarako adverts to be found on YouTube, if you're feeling addicted..

In 2006, the Kewpie company hired two young girls to perform the Tarako song for an advert. This new band, named Kigurumi, went on to record a Christmas version of the theme, and to further success..

.. culminating in almost indescribable public performances such as this one:

You can read an English translation of the lyrics to Kigurumi's "Tarako Tarako Tarako" here.

Thank you for reading. If you feel a bit funny now, just be thankful that you can turn off your computer. For some of the afflicted, it is not so easy..

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