Monsters invade Morikami 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.
Kaijū! Monster Invasion! runs to October 17. The exhibition is funded in part by the Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation and the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation.