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Soft Vinyl Saga: MITSUME and the Art of Japanese Sofubi Toys

Posted by TokyoScope Staff on

A look behind the scenes of the Me-Me and Octopus figure

Japanese artist MITSUME (aka Hiroyuki-Mitsume Takahashi) has created dazzling, eye-popping work in many mediums thus far, including live painting, illustration, manga, and numerous fashion collaborations. But creating his own soft vinyl figure (known as “sofubi” in Japan) has only been a remote possibility… until NOW.

With the release of the “Me-Me and Octopus” vinyl figures, available for sale on the TokyoScope Store, MITSUME has checked off another box on his “to-do” list of creative development. But how did it happen? In this exclusive interview, MITSUME gives us the behind the scenes info on how his figure was made and what the future may hold!

Enjoy!

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TokyoScope: “Me-Me and Octopus” is your first-ever soft vinyl figure! Can you walk us through the process of how it was made?

MITSUME: First, there were discussions with the figure company, and I decided on what I wanted to create. Then I used Adobe Illustrator to make designs of the front, side, and back of the figure. Next, the staff made a prototype using 3D software and I added some modifications and shapes. Finally, we outputted the final shape of the figure using a 3D printer and I added some finishing touches by hand using sculpting material.

How much of a challenge was it creating a work of art as a 3D object instead of a 2D painting or drawing?

I can’t use 3D software myself, so it was a bit difficult at first to convey 3D images to the figure company. Creating a three-dimensional image of a 2D illustration was a more difficult task than I had imagined! In addition, there are many shapes that are impossible to make in soft vinyl. Basically, you can’t make something unless it can be made using a mold. It was also necessary to consider a design that would keep the costs low by reducing the number of joints and seams. It wound up taking a lot of time to complete this design.

What was the most difficult part you had to overcome in bringing this figure to life?

Since the painting on the figure is done by hand one by one, the number of colors we could use was a major point. It was necessary to make one mold for each color in order to paint them exactly. In other words, increasing the number of colors increases the cost. Using too many colors would have resulted in a figure that would have been too expensive to sell. Because my artwork tends to use many colors, it was difficult to come up with ways to still make an impactful figure despite the limitations.

How did you decide on this figure’s character and details? Is there a story or concept behind them?

Many soft vinyl figures look like monsters; their limbs are short, and they have a “pop” retro feel. I instead wanted to make a figure that had thin legs and a more contemporary feel.

I like fresh ideas that no one has seen before, so I tried to come up with something new. For research, I went around to shops and looked at many soft vinyl figures and talked to a soft vinyl artist.

The motif of this soft vinyl figure is the traditional “Oni” from Japanese mythology. These ogres come in various colors, such as red, blue, and yellow. That’s why I was originally considering different color variations.

I found the idea of a cool and fashionable demon, along with the concept of the octopus ring, fun to make.

The octopus ring that comes with the figure is a nice touch. Can you talk a bit more about it?

I wanted to make a soft vinyl item that is not just for people who like soft vinyl… something with more appeal. So, I thought an octopus ring that could also double as a fashion accessory would be unique.

I was also thinking of making the rings separately in various colors and selling them using Gachapon machines. In fact, the octopus ring’s head is made to fit different designs, allowing for multiple variations. If this figure and accessories prove popular with fans, it might still be possible to do still do that!

The "Me-Me" figure also has its head assembled with separate parts, so it’s possible to create additional head designs. If this figure gets a big response, I can continue to develop these ideas.

What’s been your personal history with soft vinyl figures? Did you ever collect them or dream of someday making your own?

Japanese soft vinyl figures are made by hand using craftsmanship and various techniques. Many soft vinyl items are made in limited quantities and are marketed as rare items. It is common for them to sell out immediately at collector events. Within days, they are sometimes resold for double the original price. Soft vinyl is a good medium for an artist and it also has strong appeal overseas. Many Japanese artists who want to expand their business overseas have paid attention to the soft vinyl market. If an artist can make a rare soft vinyl figure, it can stimulate collectors to want more art.

I’ve personally always liked sofubi figures, but until recently, I didn't know much about them. Of course, sofubi Ultraman monsters have been popular with Japanese kids for a long time and they have a kind of retro feel.

Several years ago, a soft vinyl artist boom began, and many creators started to work in this medium. The old retro style soft vinyl suddenly became part of new youth culture.

Recently, my desire to make a three-dimensional object has become much stronger, so I was very happy to be able to make a figure like this. In the future, I’d like to make additional soft vinyl figure series and even action figures of original characters.

Do you have a special message for people who want to buy this figure?

When this soft vinyl figure is sold out, these color versions will not be sold again. People who own early designs will see their value grow. I know this sounds a bit like an investment business, but the art world sometimes has that aspect to it.

So what else are you working on now?

Currently, I am designing some fashion items and making a new art book. There are many things I want to do, such as creating games, VR, picture books, and animation. Little by little, I can hopefully achieve these goals by making the effort.

MITSUME's ME-ME AND TAKO VINYL FIGURES ARE AVAILABLE NOW AT THE TOKYOSCOPE STORE

TokyoScope Staff

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