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Time Out New York Kids‘ lyrical review of Three Ladies Beside the Sea by Edward Gorey and his emblazoned cohort, Rhoda Levine.
The International Tokyo Toy Show conjures up images of Asmovian defying robot, monsters (usually of the aquatic species), tooth-decayingly cute creatures and an array of insects. At least, that’s what I envisioned before braving the labyrinth train route to Tokyo Big Sight where this year’s International Tokyo Toy Show was held (July 15-18, 2010). The show did offer its fair share of creepy crawly beetle-mania with such companies as Megahouse; the proveyors of edible, gummy insects and Hexbug; creators of nanotech bugs with realistic pinching action.
Although there were a few companies that caught my attention, the show sadly lacked the pop culture cornucopia that I was hoping for. The show was mainly dominated by such toy giants as Bandai and Lego. There was also steady stream of bags amongst the swarms of people bearing the logo for Hot Toys. Hot Toys sells fully articulated and extremely detailed action figures of everything from current icons such as Iron Man and Predator to generic and inexplicably nude male figures labeled by ethniticity. The figure labeled “African American Male” was easily modeled after Obama (complete with a plastic hardpack and politician death stare).
I did find however find a booth that stood out from the towering giants. The company is called Groove, Inc. Groove, Inc. has assimilated the defunct Jun Planning which was known for its wide-eyed collection of Pullip Dolls. Continuing the line of Pullip Dolls and with apparent knack for design sensible trends, Groove, Inc. displayed its latest line of Steampunk inspired dolls accented by the accessory craze of Alice in Wonderland.
Although, the toys at the Tokyo Toy Show were more Toys ‘r Us than Kid Robot, I was grateful that Japan hadn’t given up on robots and bugs afterall.
Artist Konatsu brushes upon both the past and present of Japanese art. Creatures rendered in marshmallowly forms prance around in folkloric landscapes of spidery trees and peep outside of thatched houses. Each print is brought to life against a backdrop of scroll-esque delicacy.
I discovered Konatsu’s work at a mind-spinning store in Shinjuku called Pop Space (be forewarned-it’s not the easiest site to navigate). I happily picked up several postcards of her art from amongst a twirling rack of design cacophony. Pop Space also has a large scale mural done by Konatsu which depicts dinosaur disguised creatures that seemed to be plucked from prehistoric times and curiously lost in an Edo period of cuteness.
Imagine a world where Japan’s artistic eccentricities of the past, the future and the surreally subversive come together for a visual tea party. Welcome to Design Festa! This past weekend, I attended Design Festa’s 31st event (its inception was held in 1994). Upon entering the illuminati tower that is Tokyo Big Sight (back again!), I was immediately greeted by three floors of sprawling artist booths creatively customized to represent everything from an anime metropolis cutout to live miniature Kabuki theatre.
As I walked down each elaborately adorned aisle, I noticed the artistic touches that made this event uniquely and distinctly Japanese despite the event’s international umbrella. I saw prints depicting lonely eyed Japanese schoolgirls strumming guitars blissfully unaware of the Hokusai tsunami behind them. A few booths away, I noticed a cluster of people illuminated by something that resembled a fluorescently lit medicine cabinet. A few of the viewers held tiny vials in their hand. A closer inspection revealed that the specimens in the vials were the color-injected bones of fossilized fish. As I continued to walk through the masses of Victorian maid outfits and furry mascots, I found a booth that was eerily unattended. It showcased tiny, abandoned buildings which I suspected were the flea-circus equivalent of a haunted house. As I declined the offer to receive a cosmetic scab and stitches, I stumbled upon a runway of cherubic Japanese children doing a synchronized dance followed by a Blade Runner inspired fashion show.
Design Festa is the rabbit hole of emergent Japanese artists who push each medium be it wooden robots or water-colored witches. Pick your pop culture poison. The next Design Festa is scheduled for November 2010. This time, I think I’ll see what happens when we step onto the other side of the looking glass booth.
*Some of the photos below link to websites. So clicky-away!
Photos: Optivion & Meghan
If candy was a deliciously animate object, it would manifest itself as Tokyo Disney. The resort’s sprawling backdrop strikes you the moment you step out of the train station. Each facade is made up of an entire palette of pastels seemingly spun from some sort of giant, cocoon of cotton candy. Tokyo Disney is the Willy Wonka of architecture and design.
Optivion and I walked through the gates of Tokyo Disney and were immediately thrown into a headspin. The commercial-esque umbrella stroll of Mary Poppins trailed by a group of young girls wearing Mickey ears on our right. A brilliantly yellow topiary sculpture of Mickey Mouse on our left. The “Something Wicked This Way Comes” twirl of a nearby carousel. I even started to notice some of the fellow tourists. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a furtive figure dressed in an enormous Safari hat drowning in a puffy ascot and prop-sized camera. My first thought was, “how wholesomely cute”. It was a thought that frequently came to mind whenever I saw a costumed Japanese person. The Japanese fondness for accessories is astounding. If it’s time to clean-on goes the matching bandana and apron. If a new road needs to be laid-on goes the blue uniform with matching yellow shoes and hard hat. In a sense, the Japanese people had become something out of a Richard Scarry children’s book.
It wasn’t until Optivion and I were drawn with headlight hypnotism to the Alice in Wonderland sculptures that I noticed that the same “cute” camera-wielding tourist was now a very tired and nervous Disney employee forced to conjole smiles out of serious fun goers.
Optivion and I continued to walk pass vendors selling themed variations of cuteness and ambigiously Westernized food stuff (read greasey ham hocks). The Disney theme parks are by nature exceptionally surreal in incarnating movie magic however Tokyo Disney took it one step further by devoting a whole month to Alice in Wonderland. There was even a spiral-spinning (you guessed it) stomach-clutching tea cup ride. Awestruck, Optivion and I stared up at a Scissorhand-sized heart-shaped topiary gate that enclosed the entrance of the “Queen of Hearts” restaurant. The gimmicky-ness of the restaurant immediately dissolved under the incredible attention to detail. Lured by the life-sized card soldiers and the waitress attired in an argyle chef hat and apron (“wholesomely cute”), Optivion and I resigned oursevlves to touristly gluttony and sat down for a meal of heart-shaped cutlets served with Mickey Mouse cutlery.
Next, we decided to wait for the large parade that was scheduled that day. We thought it would be a small platoon of smiling mascots and glittery floats on wheels. We sat down and surprisingly, secured first row seats near a Medieval sized door where the parade was expected to start.
Suddenly, the green door burst open like an animated pinnata of colors. For the first time, I think my jaw literally dropped.
Afterwards, we rode several rides which seemed like a strange anomaly of new-old. The rides had a certain 1950’s sense of simplicity. The Haunted Mansion had flickering candles and equally flickery holograms while The Snow White ride was like a spooky picnic on a rickety go-cart. Although the park seemed a bit dated compared to the leviathan that is Walt Disney Florida, everything still retained a coat of newness.
It is easy to say that things seem better (or worse) when you’re in a foreign country. By default, everything takes on a filter of comparison and rarely is seen as what it is. Although, Tokyo Disney seemed somehow quieter and more peaceful (there was a lack of obnoxious families screaming at their children or at least it was concealed by the more whisperous tones of Japanese), it wasn’t that much more different than any other Disney resort. Tokyo Disney wasn’t bigger or cuter or superior. It was its own wonderful entity.
The last ride that we went on was “It’s a Small World” which is made up of a large scale diorama of kewpie looking dolls representing each country except for the U.S. (they could have at least thrown in a cowboy or tiny SUV to represent). It was, well, wholesomely cute. It harkened back to a time when things were enough. When the rides didn’t have to be gimmickier or scarier or more advanced. Tokyo Disney reminded me that each world, no matter how brightly you paint it, is linked by a small “time” after all.
Anime Fest. The event conjures up images of thirteen year-old cosplayers with styrofoam swords and swag laden bags hypnotized by the polarity of sexpot dolls and kawaii plushies. As the Tokyo International Anime Fair approached, I thought back to previous convention giants-San Diego Comic Con, WonderCon (based in San Francisco) and the emerging NY Comic Con. I recalled swarms of people-some in elaborate costumes while others wore hand-scrawled indie t-shirts-all huddled together in wide-eyed unison. Carnivorous consumers gathered up gimmicky promos and fawned over the flirtatious hawking of vendors. Novice artists, armed with black-handled portfolios, nervously approached such creative monoliths as Dark Horse and DC Comics for an approving nod. In essence, the U.S. comic (and anime) conventions were a seaport-esque mecca of subculture and entertainment where artists vied for the attention of a cash-pouring and adoring audience.
Optivion and I walked up the Tokyo Big Sight where the Tokyo International Anime Fair was being held. We looked up in awe at the illuminati-shaped building and excitedly went inside, anticipating hordes of cosplayers and random hybrids of Japanese kookiness like samurai robots or toilet seat hats (maybe?). We glided along the people mover like moon-eyed characters in a Spike Jonze video until we reached the main entrance. As we rode the motorized sloth towards the festival, I noticed that in lieu of colorful kids there appeared to be more men in business suits and middle-aged families. It was then that it hit me just how unbiquitious anime was in Japan. An anime festival isn’t a subculture event. It is the culture. Manga was just as likely to be in a salaryman’s briefcase as it was a ten-year boy’s backpack.
We entered the main room and gazed up at an inflated Pikachu and Totoro grinning down like rolly-polly zepplins. After stopping at a sadly scarce Studio Ghibli booth (just a shelf full of a few books for sale), we ran into an independent artist by the name of Sonic who silently held a sign advertising an artist collective called The Artist Army. We oggled over his Tim Burton-esque dolls and after giving several language-impaired thumbs-ups, we shyly asked for a photo.
Look! The sign works. We then passed by an incredible candy-colored display for the impishly cute yeoypawka.
After wandering through aisles of towering booths (one actually resembled a traditional Japanese house), we came across the glorious “Creator’s World” section full of amazing independent animators (mostly stop-action) and artists. We first happened upon the inky Steampunk illustrations of artist Takorasu. We were then drawn to the clever work of animation duo “Woodpecker” . Their booth was adorned like a delirious hobbyists’ attic-full of miniature houses and trees. Woodpecker’s films are interestingly bizarre and strangely comical stop-action scenarios.
Woodpecker’s friendly booth neighbor, artist Michihisa Ohrui, caught our attention with his pink wall and wonderfully handcrafted props. Michihisa is one half of the fantastically fun animation duo (Hashiru Ueda is the other half), Ohrys Bird. Again, after giving a flurry of language limited thumbs-ups, Optivion and I cajoled Michihisa into a photo.
The Tokyo International Anime Fair offered very little purchasable paraphenalia for the consumer crazed and seemed devoid of scrutinizing scouts for eager new artists. It also had few ambling mascots and nary a cardboard clad cosplayer was in sight (there were very few people in costume in general save a few scantily cladded girls and the Goth-ish Hello Kitty mascot for the clothing and accessory line, Hangry & Angry-see the photo below).
It did however have an array of some of the most original and painfully stunning artwork that I have seen in a long time. To see more “Creative World” independent artists, please click on the thumbnails below.
*All photos by Optivion