Kaiju at the Morikami Museum

Written by Myles on Friday, October 08, 2010.

I wasn't even sure I was going to make it, but I'm glad I did.  It led to a unique situation for me - the first viewing of my collection by a fellow collector.  Read on...

For months, I had been eagerly anticipating a vinyl kaiju event at a local Japanese museum and gardens (the Morikami), but due to a fastly developing and constantly evolving project at work, I was called out of town for the early part of the week.  Depending on how things went, I might have been away Wednesday night.  Fortunately, we finished up early enough for me to get back home, change, and head back out the door to the event.  However, I had to scrap plans to meet a few other local vinyl collectors who were planning on getting together before the event for dinner.

As stated on its website, "[s]ince its opening in 1977, The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens has been a center for Japanese arts and culture in South Florida, with rotating exhibitions in its galleries, tea ceremonies performed monthly in its Seishin-an tea house, an educational outreach program with local schools and organizations, and Japanese traditional festivals celebrated for the public several times a year." 

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For the past few months, the museum had an exhibition of vinyl kaiju toys owned by Jim Levy, a local collector.  As explained on the website:

"Monsters invade the Morikami Museum this summer as vintage toys from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, inspired by Japanese tokusatsu films and TV shows go on display in the exhibition, Kaijū! Monster Invasion! Classic Japanese tokusatsu eiga, or special effects films, typically utilized an fx technique called sutsumeishon (suitmation) in which monsters of colossal size, termed kaijū, were portrayed by stuntmen in rubber suits moving about on sets of miniatures. Beginning with the release of the film Gojira (Godzilla) in 1954, kaijū of all types have captured the imagination of legions of fans worldwide and have spawned a lucrative toy industry that endures to this day. The exhibition opens to the public June 1.

"The exhibition displays over 100 figures from an extensive private collection. Godzilla, the first Japanese pop culture phenomenon, along with several of the creatures he fought in the many sequels to the original film, appear in the exhibition, which also includes the outlandish opponents of Japanese television superheroes like Ultraman, Chōjin Barom-1, and Kamen, or Masked, Rider. Some kaijū are dinosaurian in appearance; others are based vaguely on insects, sea creatures, or plants; still others combine characteristics of all of these and more. All are included in the Morikami exhibition, seeming to give form to humankind's deepest anxieties in an age dominated by nuclear, biological, and environmental peril.

"Kaijū have been potent expressions of Japanese popular culture for over half a century. While most of the toys were originally marketed as inexpensive playthings, today they are highly sought-after by collectors and nostalgia buffs and command hundreds if not thousands of dollars each. In addition these vintage toys helped to create a worldwide art-toy movement that today embraces popular characters from many contemporary animated films and comic books."

I had actually entertained the idea of contacting the museum many years prior for a similar exhibit of my collection of vintage diecast Japanese robots, but fear held me back.  Fortunately, Jim is more bold than me and he followed through on his concept. 

The exibition was supported by a discussion on October 6, 2010.  As detailed on the museum's website:

"Join Mark Nagata, owner of the largest collection of Ultraman toys outside of Japan and founder of Max Toy Company, and Professor James B. Levy, a longtime collector of Japanese vinyl toys, as they talk about the influence of Japanese movie studio characters like Godzilla and Ultraman on American audiences. They will highlight the myriad of vinyl toys in these shows spawned in the 60s and 70s and their discovery decades later by collectors worldwide who appreciate them for their fantastic designs and artistry. While these toys were originaly mass produced as inexpensive children's playthings, years later they are being appreciated in an entirely different context as beautiful objects reflecting the vanishing art of Japanese toy making. Both Mr. Nagata and Professor Levy will share how they first discovered these wonderful toys, their passion for collecting them and explain the influence these toys are having on artists and toymakers around the world."

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Due to my schedule, I arrived shortly before the discussion began.  Not much time, so I got to work and headed for the gallery, planning on taking tons of pictures for this write-up.  However, a small exhibit in the lobby by the entrance to the kaiju toys stopped me in my tracks.  There were some really interesting paper craft toys on display that (I believe) could be purchased through the museum gift shop (closed at the time).  I loved the fanciful designs of these, called Piperoids.  There was even a flyer listing their "Robographies". 

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I then entered the exhibit area.  I only had time to quickly snap shots of most of the showcases before being notified by museum staff that photography was not permitted in the gallery area. The layout was impressive, with cases in the central portion of the room and on the walls.  A few additional showcases spilled into an adacent room featuring other older antiquities from Japan.

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Within the exhibition room, I saw Jim and Mark chatting with someone holding an unforgettable creation.  I immediately recognized fellow board member Jacksauce (Jack) and his insanely innovative Murderlizord:

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It was quite a surprise - I did not realize he lived in Florida or would even be attending this event.  I quickly introduced myself, and then proceeded to quickly take photos of the exhibit (as mentioned above).  As my last picture was snapped, I was informed that the talks were beginning and I was ushered into the theater area.  There was quite a large crowd present - a real nice turnout.  Jim and Mark were introduced and proceeded to talk about their discovery of these toys, their collecting history, and the manufacturing process.  Mark also revealed an interesting tidbit - he used to draw the Goosebumps book covers!  Now i need to pull out my kids' books and check out the artwork. 

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Jim and Mark were swamped after the talk, so I only got to say a quick hello.  However, seeing fellow board member Jack at the show, I decided to extend an invite to him and his girlfriend Hannah to stop over and check out my collection.  As stated above, this would be the first time that a fellow collector actually got to see my collection in person.  After all the "WTF" exclamations from family members and friends, I thought it would be nice to have someone who might actually appreciate the collection see it.  Jack is mostly into Jumbo customization, but he indicated that he does have a small diecast robot and vinyl kaiju collection.  Hannah was also a kaiju fan with a collection of her own.  They got to handle a number of my toys and get the "feel" of them.  Nipple blades were deployed (Ark Kong reference) and a myriad of diecast and vinyl toys were examined in detail (with protective dust layers and all).  Hannah most appreciated the M1Go Matangos, while Jack dug the Capsule Robo G Jumbo Machinder and Diaclone stuff.  I got a second chance to check out his creation.

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It was a pleasure having them over, and I hope they had as good a time and experience as I. 

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About the Author

Myles

Myles

Myles a.k.a. Kingboy D calls the paradise of South Florida home.  This closet case collector relishes online gaming as well as a zinc fix away from the children.  Myles is a tour-de-force of once lost archives and a collector of all toys pre-loved.