Just how did a Japanese artist begin drawing characters from Father Ted and publishing them every day? Noel Baker finds out from Dublin-based sketcher Shota Kotake
What’s that? A Japanese artist with a pronounced, almost devotional appreciation of Father Ted? Well - that would be an ecumenical matter.
To Dublin-based Shota Kotake this cultural reference is part of everyday language. Born in Niigata, Shota may as well have been born on Craggy Island. How else to explain his recent artistic endeavours, specifically his ‘a Ted a day’ schedule, in which he publishes a Father Ted-related drawing every day “until I get fed up”?
Shota first moved to Ireland to study in 2004, following a suggestion from his father, but his experience of Irish culture had already been piqued in the 2002 World Cup when Ireland played Cameroon in their first match. While the country was convulsed over Roy Keane’s absence, Shota was seeing “these Irish fans with green jerseys and crazy hats”.
“They were having fun on the way to stadium and we had a good craic watching them as well,” he says. “I heard that the express train from Tokyo to Niigata carrying Irish fans sold out of alcohol.”
Still in his teens when he landed in Ireland, his discovery of Father Ted was, well, almost a religious experience. Living with his host family in Ranelagh in Dublin, aged 15, he was watching TV when he chanced across the hapless Fr Crilly.
“I saw the scene where Ted falls asleep at the wheel with Jack and Dougal conked out in the back of the car and when it faded to morning the car is still driving safely and Ted wakes up thinking he just dozed off,” he recalls. “I flicked the channel right after that, but that whole sequence was etched in my brain.
“I think the biggest difference in my Father Ted impression to others is that I encountered it as an image. I had no idea that was called Father Ted or even that was a sitcom until few years later. I thought that was a part of TV drama or film because they’re driving through the night and that looked more serious than a comedy show I can imagine. An idea of comedy is not attached to my first impression of Father Ted. Therefore, Father Ted is more like a picture of characteristic priests rather than a comedy show.” By then the show had grown beyond its initial cult status to enjoy enduring widespread acclaim. Just think of all the phrases that have entered the daily lexicon – the money “resting in my account”, how “they’ve all got lovely bottoms”, and the aforementioned “ecumenical matter”. Shota believes the show is “very, very Irish”, but that “everyone can find their similarity or root in one of the characters to reflect themselves. That’s why Father Ted has gone global.” He doesn’t think Father Ted has been shown in Japan, but then again, he’s been living here for 11 years and he says: “I am not quite Japanese anymore. I speak in an Irish accent.”
Shota graduated in 2012 from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), having studied sculpture; his grad’ piece was part of an exhibition at Dublin Airport.
Shota doesn’t have a favourite priest to sketch, but says: “I do like the facial structure with aging on middle-aged and old men which is orientated to my Japanese Wabi Sabi sense.”
However, as characters, he loves Ted, as “he’s got all sorts of desires and ambitions in every area.”
And like everyone else, he loves the nefarious Fr Fintan Stack, memorably played by Brendan Grace. “Everything he says is a sound argument,” Shota says. “He is selfish and annoying, but there’s so much force in his short lines which makes me unable to argue.”
Shota has received emails from Ted creators Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan expressing their admiration for his work, and while he is wary of contacting the actors who played the priests on the show, he has seen his work retweeted by the likes of Joe Rooney (Father Damo) and Brian Eno (Father Brian Eno – yes, the Brian Eno). It has also opened up connections to Ted fans from around the world, like the woman said to be translating Ted into Spanish or the blogger who re-imagines Craggy Island as purgatory.
Shota’s work is not all about Ted, however. “I am obsessed with Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) in the film Locke. He’s my ideal model of a professional craftsman and as a man as well. Sticking to details when it comes to your profession, trying hard to do the right thing no matter what people think or risks you have to take, even if it’s not the happiest way.”
Shota has also been influenced by Shuji Terayama, a Japanese poet and artist, who said the following quote which Shota has taken as his motto: “I want to be an unforgettable person rather than a person to be remembered. Because you have to forget to remember”.
Shota plans on continuing with a Ted a day “for three years as the show falls into three seasons in three years. Then I apply to the Guinness World Records .”
Shota admits to a certain level of bafflement at the attention his Ted project has brought, but also says he’s not surprised. In addition, he has no truck with naysayers. “I am dead serious on this project,” he says. “If you don’t like it, tough. I’m having my fun and that’s all that matters.” Now, where have I heard that before?
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