Art Director Idea Oshima × Hyakko — Always astonished by this funny form of life

Jun 20, 2012 / Interviews

Photography: Shin Suzuki Editing & Text: Madoka Hattori Translation: Seth High

Art director Idea Oshima has produced graphic design work for films such as ‘Hyakumanen to Nigamushi Onna‘, ‘Kamome Shokudo‘ and ‘Renta Neko‘. He has also done the book design for photography publications such as ‘Misao to Fukumaru‘ and books about the popular funny-faced cat known as ‘Mako’. Oshima currently lives with an odd-eyed (his right and left eyes are different colors) feline named ‘Hyakko’. Though Oshima was once a dog-lover, he has become an addict to Hyakko’s charm.

- How did you first encounter Hyakko?

“Hyakko appeared by chance in my garden one day. Until that time, I had absolutely no interest in cats. However, I felt that this was a cat that I could take in. At first, he would kind of come and go from the house. So I wasn’t really consciously taking care of him. After some time had passed, I noticed that he had an infected wound on his belly. Having no idea how to handle it, I decided to take him to the veterinarian. When the doctor was treating Hyakko, he told me that I shouldn’t let him outside until the infection is healed. Because I wasn’t really Hyakko’s ‘owner’, I deliberated about what to do. Having felt a connection with the cat, I decided to let Hyakko live in my house for about two weeks. Though I had planned on sending him back outside after his wound had healed, I found that I had totally fallen for him (laughs). Hyakko became my cat.”

- So Hyakko started out as a stray cat. Did he quickly get used to living in a home?

“From the beginning, Hyakko knew where to find the litter box. Therefore, I think it is possible that he had a previous owner. I also had the impression that he wasn’t very comfortable living outside. He didn’t seem to possess the masculine confidence of a stray cat. When he first came into my house, he would hide behind the bookshelf. Hyakko was also hesitant to let me touch him. However, he gradually got over this.”

- What’s the reasoning behind his name?

“He kind of reminded me of a creature from the old book of ghost stories titled ‘Hyakki Yako’. His name also derives from the word ‘hyaku’ (‘one-hundred’) – as in, Hyakko is unique among hundreds of cats.”

So you were transformed from a ‘dog-lover’ into a ‘cat-lover’?

- Before Hyakko, you had never even thought of keeping a cat?

“Actually, I was always a dog-lover. When I was a child, my family kept a dog. It was a mixed-breed Shiba. One of my closest friends had a Siamese cat, so we would always argue which was better, dogs or cats (laughs). Being a lover of animals, I never disliked cats. I was just never at all interested in having one. After my family’s dog passed away, I never had another pet until Hyakko. Now I’m such a cat-lover that I’m even prepared to fight dog-lovers.”

- Since you came to live with Hyakko, you’ve come to understand how cat-lovers feel?

“My friend used to talk about the appeal of cats, saying that they were mystical and holy. And I would totally laugh at him. Dogs obey their masters and act a little dumb. Cats, however, are a much funnier form of life. Their characters are so natural. This is especially true when it come to Hyakko. Of course, because I’ve never had another cat, I can’t compare Hyakko with others. However, he often miss-times jumps and does other things that make me laugh every single day.”

- Because his right and left eyes are different colors, Hyakko is what people refer to as an ‘odd-eyed’ cat.

“In addition to having different colored eyes, Hyakko is a ‘Hemmingway Cat’. This means that his paws contain 5 digits instead of four. Because he was my first cat, I initially thought he was completely normal. However, after hearing that odd-eyed cats often have internal conditions as well, I took him to the vet for an examination. Fortunately, it seems that he has no other issues.”

- Does Hyakko have any issues when it comes to food or litter boxes?

“For food, I give him the crunchy type of Royal Canin. As for his litter box, a specialty shop imported it for me. The actual litter is ‘Deosand‘ by Unicharm. Sometimes he causes me trouble by messing with his poop. Hyakko also has the habit of scratching the corner of the entryway. To prevent this, I now keep the area covered. Besides these things, Hyakko is pretty well-behaved. His favorite toy is a cat-teaser that he received from Miyoko Ihara, the photographer behind the book ‘Misao to Fukumaru‘. He totally loves jumping and running around after it.”

Cats Attract Cats

- Beginning with ‘Mako toiu Na no Fushigi Gao no Neko‘ (The Funny-faced Cat Named ‘Mako’), you’ve taken on a lot of work involving cats.

“Recently, I did the advertising art direction and soundtrack jacket design for the film ‘Renta Neko‘ (‘Rental Cats). Even when I worked on the ‘Mako’ book, I never mentioned that I myself had a cat. Considering that I never did any cat-related work before I had my own cat, I guess you might be able to say that ‘cats attract cats’.”

- Does having a cat have any kind of influence on your actual design work?

“If you look closely at the page numbers on the ‘Mako’ books, you’ll notice some little bugs. When I was working on the layout, Hyakko scratched at the numbers – probably thinking that they were bugs. This became the origin of the actual design. So I guess that some ideas will come about by merely having a cat next to you.”

- Do you have much interest in all of the cat-related goods that are popping up around us?

“Unlike the ‘product culture’ surrounding dogs, which has brought forth a lot of stylish goods, I sense that cat-related products are still in an early stage of development. There’s not so much out there. I paid very little attention to pet-related goods until I had a pet of my own. Now, I find myself really attracted to calendars and other things on sale at pet shops. In addition, movies such as ‘Cats & Dogs‘ now capture my attention. Even though the story lines aren’t very interesting, I can’t help but watch them all the way through. Just the fact that there’s a cat them seems to make me melt… In fact, having a cat has completely changed the way I view the entire concept of ‘cuteness’.” (laughs)

- From your own perspective, what makes cats so attractive?

“I can’t lump all cats together into a single category. Hyakko is just a single living creature. When I see a stray cat, I am conscious that it is the same kind of creature. However, it is entirely different from Hyakko. Of all the animals that live alongside humans, I believe that cats are quite special. Because my family kept our dog outside, this is the first time for me to really live together with a pet – to share both good times and bad. When I wake up, Hyakko is there. I’ll never get used to this. Touching Hyakko and feeling his weight – each time I am surprised. Just the moist tip of Hyakko’s nose gives me a sense of his fragility. With this in mind, I don’t want to imagine life without a cat. However, because Hyakko is already 14, I think about what lies ahead. We normally live our lives without being conscious of things like our arms. However, if we lost one, we would feel a huge sense of loss. This is kind of how I feel about Hyakko. He has become a part of me. Because this feeling relates only my cat and I, I don’t think it’s possible to really share it with anyone else.”

  • name: Hyakko
  • age: Approximately 14 years old
  • sex: Male
  • lind: Mix
  • Idea Oshima
    Oshima was born in Tochigi Prefecture in 1968. He graduated from the design department at Tokyo Zokei University. While concentrating on graphic design for films and exhibitions, Oshima has also designed fashion catalogs and a number of books. Recently, he has produced advertising art and pamphlets for movies such as 'Le Havre', 'Pina' and 'Tokyo Oasis' as well as Naoki Ishikawa's book titled 'Sekai wo Miniiku.'