Wonderfest Japan Summer 2008 part 3

Ok today I continue the recap of my trip to Japan. Wrapping up Wonderfest … did I say it was hot ? 😉 We had a great time even with the heat… glad to see and meet up with Kajimoto-san of Toygraph who of course brought along his “hot” Space Troopers figures, he showed me a special head version from a retailer coming soon… I think will be a sell out (aren’t they all ?) and progress on a special Max Toy version was coming along fine, while this was happening we were paid a visit by Akumatsu-san President of Marmit, who by the way brought me this super giant Hedorah figure as a gift ! Holy Crap !, painted by Target Earths, Sato-san … wow…I gave him some See’s candy..seems like a fair trade..just kidding. Needless to say I was very humbled by this gesture !

I usually plan ahead of time my trips overseas, since I have a limited amount of time once I arrive. But there’s always that special thing that pops up that one can not plan for. Last trip was my trip to Toho Built studios, and Toho studios .. still amazed by that one.. the day started like all the others this trip, hot and only getting hotter.. on the agenda was lunch with Yajima-san of Dream Rockets and Max Toy Correspondent Yo Miyamoto. Meeting up at a Dennys, I ordered my favorite egg over teriyaki hamburger and we started talking toys, of course…despite the Denny’s having air condition I was still sweating, ugh …
while conversing I watched some fierce thunder storms drop buckets of rain outside when Yo asked if I would like to see a paint factory ? Huh ? Paint factory.. like where they make paint ? No, like where they paint the toys ! Heck ya … so we set off who knows where on a subway train. Of course i am totally clueless when it come to travel in Tokyo and did not realize this meant an hour of various trains… which took us about 2 hours away from where I was staying.. anyways we arrived under dark and stormy clouds as a small car pulled up to pick us up. Inside a small older Japanese man greeted us and we pulled away. Into a maze of small modest homes and twisting streets we finally pulled up to a small home and quickly got out and walked down a very narrow and muddy alley. Behind this home was what appeared to be a small shack made out of plywood and tin sheets… we opened the screen door and squeezed into a small room, no a tiny room with barely enough chairs for the three of us. As we sat the older man who drove from the station emerged with some iced coffee and took his seat in front of us. Suddenly it dawned on me that this was the paint factory and this man was the one we came to see ! I was than introduced to master painter of toys, Goto-san. He smiled much and his eyes had a certain sparkle in them … I’ve seen this sparkle before.. usually when someone passionate about toys or something they do has …

As my eyes adjusted to the low light I gazed around this room… I began making out a set of airbrushes, paint cans, and toys all around… really everywhere, from floor to ceiling… and the ceiling I could touch and i’m only 5 foot 6 inches tall 😉 It was explained to me that I was lucky, he was in the middle of a big order but because of the rain he was in a holding pattern .. so he was more than happy to talk to me about painting toys ! Whoa …the first thing I asked was how many guys helped him paint.. he laughed .. “No just me”, he said ! How long he had been at this .. Oh only about 50 years ! what ? .. yep, started at 16 .. he’s now 66 years old ! He’s worked in larger factories back in the day when companies like Bandai did smaller runs of toys, but like a lot of things those days are over and that production is now overseas. But he told us of the days when companies like Bullmark would have many homes do their production work .. each home would either paint arms or legs or put them together .. each home doing a separate part in the process… for me to hear these stories first hand was a memory I will keep forever.
I asked Goto-san how he could paint hundreds of figures and not get bored ? He said this is what he does and thats the way it is, he paints. Ok now I really feel like a wimp for not being able to paint more than 30 figures at a time !
I noticed his hands are stained with paint, no gloves I ask ? Nope.. how about a mask? Use to but not anymore..no mask ! Sheesh … this guy is like the Ultraman of painters ! … a friend later called him, Paint Grandpa ! I’m probably not at liberty to say whom he paints for, although he said it’s Ok for me to say 😉 as he has been on Japanese TV and on a major toy makers web site, but Toy Politics being what they are today, lets say you and I will have examples of his work in our collections.. and you didn’t even know it ! He goes on to say that he works very closely with all his clients, from simple suggestions of color to full on coming up with the entire paint scheme of a toy. Did he want more recognition for his work which to the average fan goes unnoticed … “Yes, he said ! ” and laughed … I think what I want the fans to take away from my meeting with Goto-san is a lot of soft vinyl toys made in Japan are still made by lone guys, like Goto-san, still hand painting them, one at a time. I realize that even in China they are all hand done, but the difference here is this is one guy doing these runs.. from prepping to painting to hand brushing details. And though he does this on hundreds of a particular toy, each in fact is a work of hand made art.
Our meeting ended and we were all awed by this humble mans strength and positive attitude… I take away a wonderful memory , some painting tips and the chance in the near future to work with this true master of paint.
As we filed back out into the rain Goto-san jumped into his car and took us back to the train station. I felt sheepish that not only does he take the time to see us but has to drive us back ! I don’t think Goto-san will realize how much this meeting meant to me. We all road the train back and barely spoke, I think we all knew we had a special experience and that we are witness to the end of an era. There will be no new Goto-san in the future, even if a younger guy wanted to do this, the fact remains that you’d have to paint thousands of toys a month to just barely pay your bills, this on top of having a strong work ethic and stamina …. many traits of a by gone era in my opinion. As I am able to have these special meetings on my trips to Japan, I take away many, many special memories, that I hope to tell to others but also to somehow keep alive in my current toy company.
Next up , Ultraman Festival and a wrap up !

About toykarma

Over the years Mark Nagata has collected thousands of toys and a fair amount of titles. The man behind San Francisco-based Max Toy Company is widely known as: Toy Collector. Illustrator. Magazine Founder/Publisher. Toy Designer. Artist. Author. Husband. Father. But the one description that might fit best is an unofficial one – Kaiju Toy and Art Ambassador. In the Japanese-inspired art and toy area, as well as throughout the larger toy collecting community, Mark is welcomed and recognized for his personal passion and commitment to supporting artists all around the world and the unique works they create. Beginning as a collector in his youth, Mark has had for years a keen eye for great art and a personal interest in collecting that he has spread through a variety of outlets. Trained at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, Mark honed his skills working for himself and for some of the most notable businesses in the country. As a freelance commercial illustrator, he completed works for such prominent companies as Lucasfilms, DC Comics, Hasbro Toys, IBM, Sony, and numerous advertising and design firms, both national and international. Mark’s colorful style graces over 40 cover paintings for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps book series – Give Yourself Goosebumps. After hundreds of assignments, Mark made the decision to move in another direction, and that choice has led to whole new career as a successful businessman. For four years, the owner of one of the largest Ultraman toy collections in the world co-published Super 7 Magazine showcasing the finest in Japanese toy collecting. “I’d been collecting Japanese toys all along and suddenly realized it would be cool to have a magazine of some type devoted to them,” Nagata says. Mark’s devotion to presenting collectors with a selection of original figures inspired by classic Japanese toys from the 1960s and ‘70s as well as new versions of licensed Japanese characters is at the heart of Max Toy Company. Named for his son, Max Toys specializes in custom and limited editions of “kaiju” (Japanese monsters) toys and artwork. Many of the original toys produced are hand painted by Mark, a tradition that goes back to Japanese toy makers of the past. “Since our target is the soft vinyl Japanese toy collector, which is a very small niche, our runs of toys can be extremely small,” Mark says. “Runs range from 500 pieces of one toy to just one for a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind custom figure.” Through Max Toys, Mark has taken great pains to widen the reach of his two passions – toys and art. He played a significant part in the development of the first group kaiju show in the United States. Held at the Rotofugi Gallery in Chicago, Illinois in 2007, the “Toy Karma” Show featured detailed work from artists from Japan, the U.S. and South America. Participants marveled at the custom-painted toys and art on display. “Toy Karma” led to Mark being asked to be one of the artists spotlighted in the “Beyond Ultraman: Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier” exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The October 2007 show, held jointly with the Los Angeles Toy, Doll and Amusement Museum, marked the first time – in a museum setting – that the influence of Japanese toys on California artists was explored. The exhibit featured more than 30 of Mark’s original paintings, toys and a selection of his vintage toy collection. Mark continued to be at the forefront as interest in Japanese-inspired art and toys expanded in 2008. Prestigious art houses Philips De Pury and Christie’s in New York and London sold Mark’s hand-painted custom kaiju toys in its auctions, spreading this unique art and toy movement into new and uncharted areas of the art world. In 2009, Mark once again took his love of toys and art overseas this time to a receptive and welcoming audience in Tokyo, Japan. Here, Mark curated the “Kaiju Comrades” Art Show, once again bringing together artists from various aspects of the kaiju toy realm in this first-of-its-kind toy art show. The following year found Mark in Barcelona, Spain co-curating with Emilio Garcia “Kaiju Attack,” the European country’s first kaiju art show. As the growth of kaiju art and toys increases worldwide, Mark continues in his unofficial role of Kaiju Toy and Art Ambassador. He has written and had his artwork and toy designs included in several books and magazines, both domestic and international. In 2010, Mark served as guest lecturer on kaiju and the toy-making process at the Morikami Museum in Florida. The San Francisco resident and his art can also be spotted in the first volume of the “ToyPunks” DVD and the “Toys R Us” DVD, while the video for the number one song by Owl City “Fireflies” featured Mark’s popular Kaiju Eyezon character. During this same time period, Mark has spearheaded the “Toy Karma 2” and “Kaiju Comrades 2” shows and has plans for future shows both in the U.S. and overseas. “Max Toys allows me to produce original artwork, new toys and work directly with a lot of talented artists,” Mark says. “Max Toy is a synthesis of toys and art, both life-long passions.”
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