Archive for October, 2009

Kidrobots on the block at Tokyo Designers Week

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

If you’re into vinyl figurines, get yourself down to the gardens of Meiji Jingu Gaen  for Tokyo Designers Week’s 100% Design. Part of the container ground exhibition includes an exhibit of Kidrobot figures that have been customized by leading designers and creative types, including SU from Japanese hip hop group Rip Slyme and fashion designer Junko Koshino. Organized by Puma and in keeping with Tokyo Design Week’s green theme, the artists were asked to think about the words “green” and “Africa’” for inspiration.

Kidrobot dolls have been hugely popular across the globe since launching in 2002. The figures are now highly regarded as art works in their own right with 13 figures making up part of MoMA’s permanent collection.

If you fancy putting in a bid, visit Design Channel. Profits go to CARE charity in Lesotho, Africa, which helps farmers in the drought-stricken country make efficient use of water resources.

An artsy Octoberfest weekend in Tokyo

Friday, October 30th, 2009

A map for the Kunst Oktoberfest gallery tour

A map for the Kunst Oktoberfest gallery tour

This may be Tokyo Design Week, but there are a number of interesting art events worth your time as well. Some are best seen this weekend:

1) This Saturday only is the Kunst Oktoberfest, a free bus tour of an impressive number of interesting contemporary art galleries. Simply hop on and off the buses as they snake through Chuo-ku to places like Ginza’s Gallery Koyanagi and TOKYO Gallery+B.T.A.P and Bakurocho’s CASHI and Radi-um von Roentgenwerke. The buses give you around twenty minutes at each gallery before whisking you away to the next spot.

Oh, and did I mention that there will be free COEDO beer on the bus? Here’s a review of last year’s. The map you see on the right can be found on the Japanese press release here.

2) ULTRA 002 just opened at Spiral in Omotesando. What makes this contemporary art fair unique is that is focuses on individual directors instead of the galleries they work for. Here you get to see a single person’s vision in ways other fairs can’t provide. Runs until November 3rd.

3) One of the most talked about contemporary artists in the world right now is Cao Fei. Her ongoing “RMB City” project just opened at the Shiseido Gallery in Ginza and is worth a look. The videos you see there all take place in a virtual city she created in Second Life. This even includes an interview about the project with both the artist and interviewer represented by their avatars. Read The Japan Times review here.

4) The artist Ai Wei Wei is another Chinese contemporary heavyweight whose show “According to What?” is on a global tour, and will be at the Mori Art Museum for only one more week. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. More info on Ai Wei Wei here.

A peek inside an otaku’s inner sanctum

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Danny Choo in his element

Danny Choo in his element

Out on Amazon today is a very funky book titled “Otacool Worldwide Otaku Rooms.” The project, organized by self-confessed otaku Danny Choo is for the moment only published in Japan by Kotobukiya. Otaku around the globe responded to Choo’s call to submit images of themselves posing alongside their precious figurine collections in their homes and the best of these images were put together for the book.

Continue reading about "Otacool" →

Ka-ching and bling for Hello Kitty at 35

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

This music player is decorated with 300 crystals

This music player is decorated with 300 crystals

Celebrating her 35th birthday this year, Hello Kitty’s popularity shows no signs of abating. Just like Madonna, she seems capable of endlessly reinventing herself to appeal to fresh audiences.

This sparkly Hello Kitty music player, for instance, on sale from Oct. 30, should appeal to streetwise girls with an eye for bling. Decorated with 300 Swarovski crystal elements the gadget goes for ¥13,800 — no cheap, yet not exactly high end either. The price is an indicator that while many designer brands seem to be taking a big hit on the high street, Japan’s love affair with Kitty is still going strong. Especially considering that the functions of the player are a little less than stunning; it offers only 2GB of storage, that’s space for only about 480 songs.

Sanrio, who produce Hello Kitty products, have unleashed a plethora of new items this year. From suitcases to foldable chairs, it could even be possible to furnish your house entirely in Hello Kitty paraphernalia.

While Kitty’s dominant color scheme tends to be pink, she can come in many guises − and not all of them cute. This gothic Lolita Hello Kitty was created by Japanese designer H Naoto in honor of the character’s 35th anniversary. “Hello Kitty can wear Laura Ashley but also punk rock leather. She has a wide audience, and she’s very flexible because everything goes with white,” said Kitty’s chief designer Yuko Yamaguchi in an interview with The Times back in 2004.

Kitty is a popular souvenir, especially when she dresses up in special costumes to indicate the area she was bought in, for example, in Fukushima she’s been transformed into a red cow (akabeko) and dressed up as a deer in Hokkaido.

While commemorative events appear to be drawing to a close in Japan, the Three Apples Hello Kitty Exhibition in Los Angeles at the Royal/T Art Space, has just begun and continues until Nov. 15. Hello Kitty’s chief designer Yuko Yamaguchi is flying to London today for a whistle-stop tour of department stores around Europe where she will be on hand to sign products for fans.

A mouthful of tech marketing

Monday, October 26th, 2009

It’s been an interesting few weeks for Japan’s tech watchers. First there was the CEATEC show, Twitter Japan launch and Engadget meet-up, and now the battle for operating system supremacy rages throughout Tokyo.

Windows 7 was rolled out last week, but had at least two PR blunders on national news. At the same time, hard-core geeks circulated a picture of Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, in front of a Windows 7 promotional booth, the joke being Torvalds’ smile in the face of rival, Microsoft’s (alleged) attempt to mute coverage of a Linux conference happening that same day.

Continue reading about the OS wars →

Moving portraiture by Julian Opie

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Julian Opie's "Clare with Landscape"

Julian Opie's "Clare with Landscape"

Last week SCAI the Bathhouse opened a new showing of recent works by Julian Opie (until Nov. 14). Unlike last year’s solo exhibition at Art Tower Mito, this show focuses on portraiture work, which can be just as engaging as the  walking and dancing LED figures that many people now associate him with.

Opie collects Japanese art, both old (ukiyo-e masters Kitagawa Utamaro and Utagawa Hiroshige) and new (hand-painted anime cels). You’ll see similarly flat and vivid color schemes in these portraits, but they are far from static.  Take “Clare with Landscape” (right), for example. Depicted on a vertical LCD screen, at first glance the subject stands as regal and motionless as a Rembrandt or Rubens. But then she blinks. Her bracelet then twinkles in the light and her earring sways slightly, as if to her own pulse. The landscape behind her is alive as well, with clouds lazily crossing the sky and the sound of crows and passing cars.

Opie has also recently utilized Lenticular printing to give 18th-century portraiture styles a modern spin. Many of his subjects are larger-than-life.  Seen here, wavering slightly as you walk from one side to the other, their faces stare down on you with a depth that is both intriguing and somewhat unnerving.

SCAI the Bathhouse is a beautiful 5-10 minute walk from Nippori Station, past the Yanaka Cemetary.

Julian Opie’s site and wiki

A small interview on Youtube from the “This is Shanoza” series

Transformers down to desktop proportions

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

USB sticks and mouses transform into 'giant' robots

USB sticks and mouses transform into 'giant' robots

To coincide with the release of “Transformers Revenge” on DVD Dec. 18, Takara Tomy are launching this nifty Device Label range on Oct. 24. Characters Jaguar and Tigatron transform into USB sticks while Grimlock and Dinosaurer each transform into a mouse. Though it’s not likely to strike awe into the hearts of boys and men, the tagline could easily be “Robots in Disguise as Mouses” (yes, according to Oxford Dictionary, that is the plural for a computer mouse).

Transformer toys were originally created in Japan in the ’70s by Takara under a different product name. Hasbro partnered with Takara and hired American writers to provide the toys with a back story and the Transformers name. The original Transformers TV series made in 1984 was a cross-over project between America and Japan with the storyline and dubbing done in the States and the animation produced in Japan. Since then a huge number of sequels and spinoff shows have followed, some of which were exclusively made in Japan. While Hasbro produces Transformers toys in the States, Takara Tomy makes Transformers for the Japanese market and the two companies collaborate on storylines for the show.

Read more about Transformers →

Bento packaged for the global spotlight

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

How to make an Astro Boy charabento, as show in "Face Food Recipes" and available from Mark Batty Publisher. (Christopher D. Salyers photo)

How to make an Astro Boy kyarabento, as shown in "Face Food Recipes," available from Mark Batty Publisher. (Christopher D. Salyers photo)

The recession and a growing interest in cost-cutting ingenuity have resulted in an unprecedented amount of bento coverage in the international press. From The Guardian to The Washington Post, major newspapers are spilling plenty of ink over this humble yet refined Japanese tradition.

It’s easy to see why. Bento provide an extremely photogenic platform to explain larger cultural and economic realities for the beleaguered working classes, who in an effort to save money choose the DIY approach to lunch. However, in the New York Times’ opinion blog, “Room for Debate,” several well-known creative minds move beyond proletariat concerns to wax philosophic on the nature of bento and how they represent Japanese society.

John Maeda links traditional boxed lunches to the Japanese “less is more” principal, while Muji creative director Kenya Hara argues that bento preparation is an act of focusing on the beautiful and simple in an ugly, chaotic world. Denis Dutton highlights the love and care placed in a bento’s creation, while Nick Currie (aka Momus) sees bento as a triumph of aesthetics over efficiency.

It would be more than a stretch to call the interest in bento a new trend in Japan. After all, people have making boxed lunches for centuries, and even the buzz around bento boys (弁当男子), those working men who – “gasp!” – prepare their own lunches to save money, goes back at least a few years. But now the kyaraben version of bento are arguably becoming a global art form, with kyaraben contests, budding kyaraben Facebook and Flickr groups, and yes, a Kyaraben iPhone application.

Bonus links:

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