A touch of local inspiration

A touch of local inspiration

Japanese collectables Be@rbrick get a benjarong makeover

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
A touch of local inspiration
Be@rbrick Benjarong.

Following the success of "Be@rbrick World Wide Tour 3 In Bangkok" at King Power Mahanakhon last October, Be@rbrick -- the collectable bear-inspired toy figure created by the Japanese company Medicom Toy -- has gained popularity among Thai toy collectors and the general public.

Due to its success, Medicom Toy is now collaborating with King Power Mahanakhon to hold a showcase, "Akashic Records In Bangkok", curated by Tatsuhiko Akashi, the founder and CEO of Medicom Toy. The exhibition displays creatively designed figures and art pieces from select artists and brands around the world, all collected by Akashi.

Akashic Records was first organised at Shibuya Parco, a department store in Tokyo for Halloween in 2020 and was subsequently exhibited at Art Fair Tokyo twice. This marks the first time the event is held outside Japan.

As Be@rbrick is Medicom Toy's most renowned creation, the highlights of "Akashic Records In Bangkok" are three unique Be@rbricks designs: Be@rbrick Benjarong and Be@rmug Benjarong available in seven colours, Be@rbrick Flor@ Golden Shower Flowers and Be@rbrick King Power Mahanakhon. These figures were designed specifically for this event.

Akashi shared that Be@rbrick Benjarong and Be@rbrick Flor@ incorporate unique Thai elements into Be@rbrick design. The development of Be@rbrick Benjarong took two years of discussion and collaboration.

"After receiving benjarong tableware from Artakorn Intakorn, the managing director of Art Works Worldwide, I was stunned by its beauty. The idea of Be@rbrick Benjarong proposed by Intakorn caught my interest. Despite encountering many difficulties, we worked closely with Thai artisans to overcome and the final results were truly rewarding."

Tatsuhiko Akashi, the founder and CEO of Medicom Toy.

At the press conference of "Akashic Records In Bangkok", Siwapong Pinsuwan and Pattarakhun Punyayingyong, the management representatives of Pinsuwan Venture Group which specialises in making benjarong, explained the heritage and intricate process behind the craft. It is a traditional Thai pottery using five basic colours.

Siwapong described the process of making Be@rmug Benjarong and emphasised the time consumed for each step. Intricate hand-drawn patterns on a mug require one day or one day and a half while painting on the mug and drying the paint also takes one or one day and a half. Each piece undergoes an eight to ten hour firing process at 800C.

"The entire process takes three to four days. Each step is done in traditional style which results in final products that are not only meticulous and intricate, but also one of a kind. The whole process requires skilled handmade craftsmanship. While most Benjarong pieces feature a black background, Be@rmug Benjarong and Be@rbrick Benjarong stand out with their unique and valuable platinum background.

Be@rmug Benjarong.

Be@rbrick Benjarong and Be@rmug Benjarong are available for pre-order in seven colours, but customers have to wait for three to four months.

Be@rbrick Flor@ Golden Shower Flowers was inspired by the national flower of Thailand known as ratchaphruek or dok khun. This figure was designed by MAMES, an artist duo consisting of two Japanese artists -- Kentaro Shirakawa and chami. Among Be@rbrick collectors, MAMES is notable for their design Flor@ Be@rbrick.

Be@rbrick Flor@ Golden Shower Flowers is distinctive with its transparent belly that reveals a blooming ratchaphruek inside. The body of the Be@rbrick Flor@ is adorned with vibrant yellow flowers which create a harmonious contrast with the light blue background.

Be@rbrick Flor@ Golden Shower Flowers was inspired by the national flower of Thailand.

Be@rbrick King Power Mahanakhon was inspired by the tallest building in Thailand, standing at 314m. It appears in dark blue with the image of the skyscraper in silver.

In 1996, Akashi traded a desk job at a computer company for a world filled with toys. Inspired by a visit to Zaap, a store full of American toys that made him think it would be fun to work in this kind of place, he later quit his job and established Medicom Toy, which would become known for Kubrick -- collectable toy figures crafted in the images of famous characters from movies, cartoons or books.

It has been 28 years since Akashi established Medicom Toy. When asked if he still finds the work enjoyable, he said through a translator that he still enjoys working at Medicom Toy.

"I do not feel like I am working. It has become a part of my life which makes me want to do this," he said.

Be@rbrick King Power Mahanakhon.

Be@rbrick became popular after its launch in 2001 as a gift for visitors at the World Character Convention in Tokyo. The design is a combination of a Kubrick figure and the head of a bear. Akashi insisted that in his mind he wanted it to be a bear, not something else.

Be@rbrick stands as a captivating case study in artistic and commercial success. It has been said that its success comes from several factors or its unique design, diverse collaboration with different brands and artists, and the allure of limited editions. Akashi acknowledges these contributing forces, but is still unsure of the exact reason for Be@rbrick's popularity. Although Medicom Toy incorporated similar elements into spin off versions of Be@rbrick to look like cats and rabbits, they have not gained the same level of appreciation as the original.

Unlike many successful companies, Medicom Toy does not rely on marketing research to impress their collectors. Instead, the company focuses on listening to their creative staff.

"Creative staff play a crucial role in capturing trends or phenomena in society. Instead of relying on marketing research, these staff search for something interesting and then propose it. There are some projects that were inspired from less known products and artists, yet the staff found them intriguing," said Akashi.

In addition to being available for viewing at Akashic Records, many figures and art pieces at the event are available for purchase and auction. The proceeds will be donated to a good cause.

Figures at Akashic Records.

Akashi hopes that Thai people will visit the event.

"After the exhibition 'Be@rbrick World Wide Tour 3 in Bangkok' was held last October, many Thais visited Medicom Toy stores in Japan. I am very thankful for this. For this exhibition, I would like everyone to come and view the art pieces in person. If possible, I would love to hold this kind of event in the future."

"Akashic Records In Bangkok" runs at King Power Mahanakhon until Thursday. From 10am to 4pm, tickets cost 880 baht. From 4pm to 8pm, tickets cost 1,080 baht. For more information, visit kingpowermahanakhon.co.th.

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