Culture Japan

Japanese Death Row Inmate Creates Art Using Character for Depression

Tomohiro Katō

Last week on Twitter, I came across an interesting tweet posted on the official Twitter account of the Kushino Museum. I didn’t quite understand what the post signified at first, but after looking into what the post meant and what significance it had, I understand what made it so interesting. I mean, I understood what the tweet said, but I didn’t understand the entire significance until I looked up what the backstory to the piece was.

For a quick lesson on this, back on June 8, 2008 in Akihabara area of Tokyo, Japan, a 25-year old man by the name of Tomohiro Katō drove a truck into the Akihabara shopping quarter, striking many civilians in the process, before exiting the truck and utilizing a knife to stab others caught in the middle of the rampage. As a result a total of five people were struck by the truck with three of them being killed while another twelve people were injured in the knife attack with another four of the victims dying from their wounds.

Tomohiro Katō was subsequently held on suspicion of attempted murder before finally being charged with the murder of the seven victims and eventually being convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, with his death sentence conviction being upheld by the Japanese Supreme Court in February of 2015.

So, that is the backstory to the tweet that was posted last week. But the more interesting part of the tweet was the fact that the museum is set to display a work of art by Tomohiro Katō – a replica of the promotional poster for anime film The IdolM@ster Movie – that was created using eighty-one sheets of A4 paper and the image being comprised of nothing by the Japanese character for depression – meaning “utsu”.

The Japanese character for depression.

I can’t even imagine the kind of patience and meticulousness that went into the creation of this kind of art. I don’t want to even dabble in entertaining how to comprehend what was going on in the mind of Tomohiro Katō as he created this daunting image, but it is safe to say that this kind of thinking is rare indeed.

As someone who has recently been suffering from both Bipolar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, I can empathize with Tomohiro Katō and what he may be going through, but I don’t want to step into that kind of darkness and try to explain away or justify his actions that cost so many people their lives, just that I understand what may have been going through his mind as he created this piece of work.

Unsurprisingly, the piece of art is being displayed at the Kushino Museum in an exhibition known as the “Extreme Art – by Death Row Prisoners Exhibition” that is being sponsored by an anti-death penalty group. Think of this what you may, but I find it a very interesting piece of art – even if it may be a little dark, twisted, and somewhat perverse.

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