Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: November 2005, 24

Thursday, November 24, 2005

07:47:00 pm , 3468 words, 17780 views     Categories: Translation

Yoshiaki Yoshinaga on Nekojiru

May 10, 1998.

Nekojiru is dead.

Cause of death: Suicide.

Born: 1967. Height: 153 cm. Weight: 37 kg.

Plain looking. Short-cropped hair.

She was she first suicide I knew.

Coming as it did right after the suicide of hide, lead singer of X-JAPAN, also by hanging from a rope tied around a doorknob, some fans and press speculated about the possibility of it being a copycat suicide.

I wanted to get down on record a few things I knew about Nekojiru.

Nekojiru as I knew her: A close friend, gone forever.


I first met Nekojiru in 1990.

I was just starting out as an editor and a writer. Things were going great. I was full of spunk, fascinated by everything, exhilirated by my work.

A movie nerd approaching thirty, I was free of worries, dabbled in drugs, and felt totally open to life.

One of the magazines I read at the time was Garo.

If I ran across a manga I liked, I'd call the editors to get them to introduce me to the artist and get him to draw illustrations for my magazine.

Takashi Nemoto and Hajime Yamano were favorites from Garo. I knew both personally and commissioned work from them often.

At the time, Hajime Yamano drew manga about poor, stupid losers in a gritty, realistic millenial theater of desire.

His way of relentlessly exposing the insignificance and smallness of the human creature in his manga in a despaired, nonsensical tone won him the ire of sensible people and a cult following.

Self-styled renaissance man and misfit, reading a manga artist like Yamano was for me a healing activity.

"Exactly... That's exactly how it is..."

A common refrain when I read Yamano's manga.

Years after his manga had stopped appearing in Garo in the 90s, one day Garo published a piece signed "Yamano + Nekojiru Mama". It was Nekojiru's debut.

The title: Nekojiru Udon.

A father cat barges into an udon shop holding a kitten in his mouth, and asks the udon seller to neuter the kitten. The udon seller is taken aback at first but finally grabs a knife and stabs kitty. Kitty dies. A customer walks in and places an order: "One kitty udon." The Udon seller perks up: "Comin' right up!" The end.

Cute cats doing gruesome things.

The characters were drawn with a wobbly, hesitant line that gave it a curiously powerful impact you didn't get from better drawn work. I remember being slightly dazed for a while after reading the manga.

"Wow, Yamano-san has started up again."

Right away I knew I wanted him to draw a crazy cat manga for my magazine, so I gave him a call.

Our meeting took place the next day in a cafe. He had brought his wife, whom he introduced.

She was thin, short, boyish. The type of character you'd expect to see in a Moto Hagio manga.

"Actually, that cat manga was drawn by Chiyomi (Nekojiru's real name), though I'm helping out a lot. It's a joint effort."

Nekojiru seemed a bit shy that day. But she left a good impression on me.

"My wife is usually pretty blunt with most people. She'll say it right to your face if she doesn't like you. So I just hope the meeting goes well..."

Despite his fears, Nekojiru and I hit it off right away.

We got together relatively frequently after that, but I don't remember seeing her wearing a skirt during the whole time I knew her. She probably didn't own one.

Plain was the perfect word to describe her.

Following her debut, Nekojiru quickly established a strong base of support among a handful of people in the industry. One music writer I knew told me, "I interviewed her once, and it was love at first sight."

Nekojiru was like a fragile little animal in need of someone to protect her.

But behind this endearingly feminine side lurked a curious darkness. Something strange and dangerous had taken root in the depths of her soul. I was speechless when I realized the chasm of opaque desire that separated us.


"I want a knife."

Nekojiru occasionally mumbled this under her breath.

Nekojiru was apparently gripped by a compulsion to arm herself with a weapon.

She would stand there in her army jacket with a completely serious look on her face and say: "I want a knife." What she wanted, really, was something to protect her from the world.

Once I got to know her, I felt I understood better how she could have come to the point of wanting to arm herself with a weapon.

To Nekojiru, the world around her was a dangerous place full of awful and repellant people and things. She couldn't let her guard down for a moment, so she escaped into her own world. When even that wasn't enough, she wanted a knife.

There were a few other special things about Nekojiru.

She was unrelenting in her criticism of others to the point of selfishness.

She could hardly eat anything. No fish, no meat. At restaurants, she would only order soup.

Once when she came to our house, my wife offered her an avocado.

"Try it. It's good."

Nekojiru seemed mystified by the strange fruit.


Nekojiru took a bite of the avocado.


A moment later, pieces of avocado were flying across the room.


Nekojiru was perfectly satisfied with food you could suck from a straw.

It's not that she was picky about food. She just didn't care about food.

In the end, she didn't care about living.

And, like my wife, she wasn't picky about gender in matters of love.

Nekojiru's first love was a young woman.

In her later years, she was on good terms with my wife.

We'd drop by her house often as newlyweds. It wasn't long until they were good friends.

We visited each other at home, and we talked on the phone.

You could sense that Nekojiru had only accepted my wife because of me. And to my wife, Nekojiru was like a family pet. She was constantly petting Nekojiru.

Seeing them glued to one another was prone to give rise to misunderstandings. They were like two young maidens in a film by Renoir - dazzling, beautiful, and erotic.

And now both of them are gone.


At one point I contracted Nekojiru to draw two pages of manga for a travel magazine I was editing.

I sensed it was best not to make too many demands, so I left it up to her to decide on the content. My sole request was for something in the vein of her debut; something with cats.

I was reassured by the knowledge that Yamano was in fact the co-creator and manager of the cat manga.

"After all this time I'm still amazed that she gave you the OK. Usually she never does." Yamano confided later.

Why Nekojiru gave me the OK, why she accepted me, I don't know. Usually she rejected anyone who approached her, and accepted only the people she had picked.

By some miracle, I was among the elect. Perhaps it was because we were both right-hemisphere types. Or perhaps because she sensed a kinship with me due to my childhood traumas.

I had some serious traumas regarding my relationship with my parents.

It was like Nekojiru's laser vision had bored right through my surface layers and into my soul.

That intuition impressed me. I was fortunate enough to bear witness to several other instances of her intuitive prowess as time went on, and came to look on her as something of a shaman.


One day I got up close and personal with the shaman in Nekojiru.

It was back when I was living in an apartment the north side of Tokyo, drowning in hard drugs every day. One day Nekojiru informed me:

"You'll be dead at 35."

I went completely pale.

Why am I going to be dead at 35? A drug overdose? A hit and run? I don't want to die.

I couldn't stop thinking about her ominous prediction.

She had seen the shadow of death hovering over me.

But her premonition, it turns out, had in fact been directed at herself.

Why did Nekojiru, a shy and antisocial person, warm to someone like me?

I also enjoyed talking to Nekojiru.

Nekojiru had almost no friends, and she spent most of her time alone. Exceptionally, she was friends with an Israeli stallholder. She couldn't speak a work of English, but they got along well.

Nekojiru didn't have any salaryman friends, and she didn't seem to want any. She was strict about acquaintances, and hard to please. For some reason, an Israeli stallholder and a freelance writer were OK.

When I asked her what she thought of the manga-ka Takeshi Nemoto, she was respectful:

"He's a sempai who draws interesting manga."

Not so much a friend as an elder she respected. Nemoto himself had a good eye for judging people, and he had seen her potential since even before her debut.

After her debut, as before, Nekojiru was unconcerned by the business side of her work. She had no interest in worldly ambitions like making money and getting famous.

But a humble woman she was not. I knew nobody as unpredictable or as selfish as Nekojiru. She knew exactly what she wanted, and took it.

Garo didn't pay for manuscripts, so anyone who drew for them knew not to expect remuneration.

Having only drawn for the pages of Garo, Nekojiru later confided that she was grateful to me because I was the first person who had paid her for her work.

I had become something of a big brother to her.

Yamano was a father and a mother to Nekojiru. She addressed Yamano as mom, and she addressed me as big brother.

We were like a real family.

It was short-lived, but it was real.


Nekojiru, Masaaki Aoyama and Saki Tatsumi. All three knew one another. All three are gone.

I eventually asked Nekojiru to draw manga for Abunai 1-go, a magazine Aoyama and I edited.

That's where Nekojiru got to know Aoyama, which is what led to him writing the afterword of her book Nekojiru Dango.

However, that had been arranged by the publisher. Nekojiru knew Aoyama through me, but they were never close.

In the early 90s, Nekojiru still wasn't too busy, and she was able to work at her own pace.

At the time I was in the habit of going over to Nekojiru's house and spending the night listening to techno/trance music. After discovering techno music, we often went out dancing at dingy clubs frequented by foreigners, or to Goa trance rave parties. We really loved the scene.

I'd go over to Yamano's house and the three of us would spend the night talking and tripping to the music.

This was before Saki and I got married. Nekojiru and Saki would drink, I would smoke weed, and we'd spend the night "music-tripping".

At the beginning I had to explain everything to them: "This is dub. It evolved from reggae. It's perfect with ganja." or "This is German Trance. It's all weepy sounding, with tinny synth."

Wrapped up in ourselves, we sat around all day doing nothing, just listening to music.

Sudden barks of vacant laughter, followed by endless reams of useless music trivia, and talk about our favorite artists, life and death.

Time flowing before our eyes , we were passengers on a ship of time bathed in a rain of music, riding into the light.

Seen from the outside, we must have looked like a bunch of degenerates.

Fearful but confident, at one with the universe, filled with ecstasy, we spent psychedelic days and nights dancing as if possessed. Worries about the future disappeared momentarily.

Nekojiru was open to just about anything at the beginning, but soon enough she got to know the music and developed preferences - "I like the faster stuff" or "I like the more screechy sounding stuff".

Finally, after listening to various things, she said her favorites were Aphex Twin and Hallucinogen, a Goa trance unit.

Hallucinogen is one of the best Goa trance units for tripping to LSD.

The only drug Nekojiru did while listening to music was Jack Daniels.

She couldn't stand the more melodic, emotional, weepy types of music.

The music of one of my favorite artists, Jam El Mar, seemed to please her at first, with its drugged-out sound and complex musical structures, but she later did a 180 and said she hated it because it sounded too "gay".

Near the end we usually wound up listening to whatever Nekojiru wanted.

Goa trance being dance music, I would often move my arms to the music, and I remember Nekojiru staring and looking very amused whenever I did.

Nekojiru never danced. She was the kind who sat still and went into herself.

I remember once, when we were listening to music, Nekojiru was in a particularly good mood and gave me a gift of a religious painting she had bought while on vacation in India, even though she was fond of the picture. She could be generous that way. We used the painting for the back cover of issue 2 of "Abunai 1-go".

Nekojiru went on vacation to India in 1994. I had said I wanted to go with her, but I wasn't able to get time off, so she went alone with Yamano.

In Benares she saw holy men called Sado who would sit around all day smoking cannabis. "Why can't Japan be that laid back?" she asked me.

Nekojiru had never done drugs in Japan, but she tried cannabis in India and rather enjoyed its gentle intoxication.


Unsurprisingly, the reason Nekojiru got together with Yamano was because of his work in Garo.

Nekojiru personally came knocking on his door and forced her way into his life.

She had just graduated from beauty college, so she was around 18 or 19.

Though practically a shut-in, Nekojiru had made up her mind that she wanted to help Yamano with his manga. The problem was, Nekojiru's drawings looked nothing like Yamano's. Yamano's manga was drawn in precise detail, but Nekojiru could only draw simple figures that looked amateurish, almost childish. But her drawings nevertheless had a mysterious appeal.

Yamano had sensed something special about her drawings, so on instinct he collaborated with her on a story, just to see what would happen. That was how Nekojiru's debut came about.

From that point on, every once in a while she drew new episodes in the Nekojiru Udon series, and I commissioned one-pagers and illustrations from her for my magazine.

This was in the early 90s, before she had to worry about deadlines.

The stories were about Nyatta and Nyako beating a dog for no reason, or seeing a homeless bum getting drunk on a bus, running to tell their dad, and the homeless bum puking on dad... I enjoyed them because they were true to Nekojiru's feelings.

The editors asked me to "make it more accessible," but I sensed that these cats had real potential to take off, so I let her do as she pleased.

Before becoming famous, Nekojiru lived an irregular lifestyle, staying awake for thirty hours at a time or sleeping all day. It must have wreaked havoc on her circadian rhythm.

Nekojiru had a cat. Her way of training her cat was a bit hard to stomach. When he did something he wasn't supposed to do, she lashed him with a whip. She sometimes used an amount of force with her cat that was clearly animal abuse. As a result, the cat didn't listen to Yamano or I, but never failed to follow Nekojiru's instructions.


Nekojiru could be surprisingly persistent when she wanted something or someone.

Usually nobody interested her, but when someone did, she was unstoppable.

"I once forced a guy I liked to take my student notebook," Nekojiru told me.

Her first target was the lead singer of the funk band EP-4, Kaoru Sato. The second was Yamano. Later in her life she even fell for Aphex Twin.

Looks were important to Nekojiru. Richard D. James, AKA Aphex Twin, though not handsome perhaps, has a sort of boyish good looks. His music was very personal - beautiful at times, violent at others. His music made you wonder, "How much of this is planned out, and how much of it is pure instinct?" It was playful and free, not to say random.

Nekojiru fell for Aphex Twin through his music. Her feelings had become quite serious by the time the Richard D James Album came out. In accordance with her testament, they were joined forever in Nekojiru's casket.

Though Nekojiru could be aggressively go-getter with people she liked, most people interested her no more than food did. Her disinterest was impartial - pop stars mattered no more to her than did fans of her work. She was unpleasant to everyone equally; pure in her selfishness. She liked few things, and expressed her feelings concisely and emphatically: "I don't care." "I don't like it."

Despite a recommendation from Hyde of L'arc-en-Ciel on the cover of one of Nekojiru's books and widespread suspicions of her suicide being a copycat of X-Japan lead singer hide's suicide, the fact was, Nekojiru wasn't interested in pop stars like them. She could be just as much of an idol worshipper as anyone, but her idols weren't the popular kind. She had her own clear set of preferences that had nothing to do with popularity or musical quality.

"I love Jack Daniels nya~~!" read a line in her manga. Nekojiru loved to drink.

Once when we were at a restaurant, Nekojiru got drunk, and when the owner brought out a dish of grilled sweetfish on the house, Nekojiru became furious and made a big scene because "We didn't ask for it."

Otherwise, things rarely got out of hand when we got together to drink at Nekojiru's place in the early 90s.

But by 1997-98, at the peak of her popularity, Nekojiru had started to drink heavily.


Nekojiru had one other defining trait.

She couldn't lie. It was physiologically impossible for her. That's why she said it loud and clear if she didn't like something.

Once we were eating with a friend at a sushi bar that we frequented because we often came up with interesting ideas there. As we sat quietly eating, suddenly Nekojiru blurted out, "This roe is disgusting. I bet it's fake!"

The noisy restaurant went dead silent. The cook stood rooted to the spot in front of us, knife hovering in the air in mid-chop. Taken aback and uncertain what to do, I froze up.

Once the initial shock had worn off, the cook was able to respond, "I can assure you it's real..."

To try to save the situation, I gave it a good laugh to try to pass it off as a joke.

Nekojiru was always honest - sometimes to the point of rudeness.

Once she called up the editor of a major magazine in the middle of the night to make the following request: "I want a different liaison."

"Why?" the editor asked.

"Because he's fat."

The editor couldn't believe his ears, so he asked again and again for the real reason, but she wouldn't give any other reason.

Without solid justification for doing something so drastic, the editor must have been quite put out. In the end, I think she got her request.

Nekojiru could be impulsive in an endearing way, but also self-centered. But she didn't do it to be mean. She didn't have anything against fat people. Her body seemed to experience a kind of sympathetic resonance and began to sweat uncontrollably whenever she was around them. She was unable to cope with the slightest stress that others could easily endure.

She was too sensitive.

I imagine the editors of the big publishing houses must have had their share of problems with her. Kid gloves must have been the order of the day.

Can't stand most people, gets depressed when she has to be around people she doesn't like... What a small-minded, unkind person she must have seemed from a distance.

Natural and ingenuous to the point of arrogance, Nekojiru was baptised the "Child Queen" by Yamano. The title fit her to a tee - pure and easily hurt, without the immune system to protect herself, yet haughty, turning her nose up at this and that.

After molding her environment in her own image, all that was left for her to do was to shut her eyes and turn inward.

To be continued. Translated from Jisatsu Sarechatta Boku 自殺されちゃった僕 by Yoshinaga Yoshiaki 吉永嘉明 (11/25/2004, Asuka Shinsha), a book describing in simple, direct words three of the author's acquaintances who commited suicide within the last seven years: Nekojiru, Masaaki Aoyama, and his wife.