Kaiju Comrades – Vinyl Factory and Wrap Up

What follows is my semi rambling blog about my trip to Japan and the Kaiju Comrades 2 art toy show in Tokyo, March 9th-16th, 2010 ….

It’s Monday, March 15th, 2010 … the show has now closed and we have to pack everything up, patch holes, haul out trash at the gallery today. This is the glamorous part of curating a show ( ha-ha ) but before this last fun part, Yo picks me up for a quick bite to eat .. yummy, noodles with daikon radish ;-P

and we’re off to visit Shimizu-san and his vinyl pouring factory.

after a series of trains and a short bus ride, I’m shocked to see Shimizu-san waiting for us on a corner of the street. Like Goto-san he’s in his late 60’s but moves so fast that I almost drop my video camera (!) I hate to even fumble with a camera but can not let this experience pass without some pictures and video 😉 We turn a corner and I see a familiar sight .. what appears to be a nearly falling down building with curled pieces of wood on the front side is Shimizu-sans factory !

I remember seeing this in a Marusan YouTube video .. so it was sorta deja vu. Again, like Goto-san, the place is small, maybe 12×12 feet at best, the actual work area is much smaller.. I can not imagine how he can crank out hundreds if not thousands of pieces each month.
There’s a pile of liquid vinyl to my left, the stack raises at least 7 feet into the air .. this is what is used for the vinyl material.

The Process
I know many of you Toy Nerds will skip all my rambling and go straight for the video .. thats fine, I understand 😉 Please proceed .. in an orderly manner of course .. now for those of you still reading this let me say that Shimizu-san is a craftsman, and a really hard worker. As I stand watching him go about his process i notice that there are no extra moves, each time something is done is an economy of motion.. a twist of his wrist here, a glance at the clock on the wall, a step back to pivot and turn .. a dance he has preformed most likely a million times in his long career.. The hot oil he works over is like a griddle, the iron molds are his burgers, each is moved at times that only he knows is the right time …sometimes the vinyl must be rare , other times well done. As any good chef will tell you, this sense can be learned, but a really master chef is born that way .. indeed Shimizu-san laughs this off, but he is indeed a master at what he does .. and sorry to say one of only about a dozen left in Japan to do so. I ask him if he has an apprentice or someone to take over when he decides to stop .. the answer came quickly, “No” … no one… Like Goto-san, the young have moved away from manual jobs like these in favor of a nice office and 401K .. and who would blame them ? But, still there is a feeling I am witnessing the last of his kind… I watch intently to take in this moment in time… anything and everything… I breath deeply, the smell is very similar to a vintage Bullmark vinyl … I listen to the vacuum pump chugging away … I see heat raising from the vinyl in the molds…I look at Shimizu-sans arms, they are rock hard from lifting 10 pound plus molds, but also have burn marks from hot vinyl… during the summer there is no air conditioning in here .. the heat can reach well over 90 degrees as he works … Than it all stops, he takes his gloves off and hands us a 1000 yen bill ( roughly $10.00 usd ) and tells Yo go get something to drink ! We go outside and down the street to select a beverage, I ask Yo if I should pay.. but am instructed that it is his treat.. another old school way of doing business .. we return and he looks puzzled that I choose water to drink ;-P Within a few minutes he starts up again and once again his
dance begins, right where he stopped. If it were possible to imprint your actions or emotions in a place .. I can imagine his vinyl dance is imprint right there, his moves stuck in time forever…

various molds from different toy makers hang from the ceiling …

First step is to pour hot liquid vinyl into the molds..

The mold in the old days would than be spun in a centrifuge, but now a vacuum chamber is used to pull air bubbles out of the liquid…

once pulled out of the vacuum chamber the mold is placed into a hot oil bath, this heats up the outside of the mold and in turn “cooks” the vinyl on the walls of the mold.. as he watches the clock he knows how long to leave it in the oil bath before pull it out and dumping the excess vinyl back into the vinyl pot…

with the excess vinyl poured off the mold is returned to the hot oil .. the time it spends here depends on how thick the vinyl will be .. the mold is quickly pulled out of the oil bath and dunked into cold water briefly, than the mold is set aside to cool slightly …than like a surgeon, Shimizu-san grabs a long nose piler and short one, and using a firm twisting motion pulls each piece from the molds to a table top. The pieces when handled are hot, almost too hot to hold, and very soft .. the smell is a waxy candle like smell that vinyl collectors will recognize… but not too oft putting.
Within a few minutes the vinyl cools and hardens .. till finally it is hard to the touch.
But Shimizu-sans work is not done, after he’s pulled how ever many pieces for a given mold, he goes back to hand trim all the excess vinyl.. using what looks like pruning shears and a razor blade knife, he trims various pieces with each .. it depends on if it’s a straight cut or just snipping off a bigger piece.. again he does this in quick fashion.. as I watched him do this I remembered how my grandfather would take a knife and peel a apple, like this, slowly turning the toy into the blade, as the excess vinyl twirled off towards his hand and onto the table …
He tells us that in the past, they would bag up these untrimmed pieces and have house wives in the area trim them .. but since most women don’t stay home any more.. well time marches on…

Max Toy mini Drazoran, as pulled directly from the molds, note these have not been trimmed.

Before the mold is ready, Shimizu-san preps them by pouring a thin, throw away vinyl pouring..to coat and heat up the mold.. kinda like that first pancake you make, you know the one that is all light colored and doesn’t taste right, till the second one 😉 He threw this in the garbage … I had to be an Ugly American, and made my friend Yo ask if I could have this piece ( look I am a collector so how could I not ask ! ) He chuckled and said of course, no problem … lucky me 😉
What does Nirvana look like to a toy collector, well this is pretty darn close, I’m holding one of the mini max molds 😉

Video of Shimizu-san at work.

Our time was up and we had to return to the gallery to pack up. Shimizu-san drove us back to the station, but before he did he stopped for a few minutes and returned with a gift for us as a thank you. What class !

Final Thoughts:

My first trip ever to Japan was in 2001, at the ripe old age of 37. Having a toy company and making my own toys was not even in my mind at that point 😉
End of this year will mark the 5th year anniversary of Max Toy Company and nearly 10 trips to Japan.. I think for the most part I have stayed on course and mission with Max Toys…not only to make my own toys, but also to show and tell others about Goto-san & Shimizu-san , the many talented artists and the vinyl scene in Japan.. but, also to make the toy collector realize that this type of toy has it’s roots in Japan…and that it is a dying art form. We need to tell not only other collectors about this art form but to also tell our kids… call them Kaiju Kids (sorry Ralph !) .. I don’t expect them to choose the hard life of a craftsman, but just maybe there will be one of them who takes up the baton of Kaiju painting or vinyl pouring in Japan… one can hope !
So what is in store for the next time, Kaiju Comrades 3 ? well, lets just say we want to bask in the glory of this one (and rest !) but for sure we will return next year.. it will be different, we have our plans and hope you can make it out to Japan to join us. If all goes as planned it will be a very special event 😉
So, after several hours of packing and waiting for the truck to pick up the boxes, the show was finally over… well, not for Yo, as he still had many more days of sending back art and paying the artists ;-( A thankless job at best .. I’m sorry i could not help with this part… Thank you, my friend !
My only trip to a toy store was Kiddyland in Harajuku to get YuGiOh! cards and Bakugans for Max .. oh, I did break down and buy myself a Bandai Ultraman figure 😉

Barely 7 days in Japan, I’ve met dozens of artists, saw old friends and made new ones, saw Goto-san and Shimizu-san, put on an art show and now I’m back on a plane home to San Francisco ! It’s always like that, but in a way has to be .. I don’t live in Japan, and most likely never will ( well I thought about being Shimizu-sans or Goto-sans apprentice, ha-ha ) so each time I return there’s always a sense of urgency … to get things done in the short time I am there… the times are tough and I only hope by shining my small spotlight on them and others as I travel to Japan, that they will be recognized at least in a small way that what they do is an craft and art form unique to Japan.

Thanks for all the positive Toy Karma I’ve been getting and I send out Toy Karma to you and my friends in Japan ! Till next time my Kaiju Comrades !

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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