Crazy for Kaiju

At the opening of “Kaiju vs. Heroes” (from left): Brad and George Takei, JANM CEO Ann Burroughs, curator Maria Kwong, and Mark Nagata, whose toy collection is the basis for the exhibition.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

“Kaiju vs. Heroes,” an exhibition featuring vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toys from Mark Nagata’s extensive collection, is on view at the Japanese American National Museum through March 24, 2019.

“It’s quite literally a feast for the eyes and the imagination,” said JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs at a preview for members and donors on Sept. 14, the day before the show opened to the public. “It also demonstrates how something as seemingly insignificant as a child’s toy … can help to inspire the exploration of identity.

“For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘kaiju’ … it translates into English as ‘strange creature,’ but it’s also come to mean ‘giant monster,’ which refers to the creatures like Godzilla that inhabited the post-war movie and television screens in Japan. And of course when you have monsters, you need to have heroes that are going to combat them. Hence the emergence of pop-culture heroes like Ultraman.

“All the toys that you’ll see on display in the gallery are from Mark’s personal collection. He is a toy designer and a fervent toy collector. Most of you here know that after the World War II incarceration experience of the Issei and Nisei, there was an unspoken shedding of openly Japanese cultural practices in America. Mark, a Sansei, like many of his generation, found a connection to his heritage through Japanese toys and popular culture.”

Inviting actor, activist and museum trustee George Takei and his husband Brad onto the stage, Burroughs announced, “Today is their 10th wedding anniversary. They got married right here at the Japanese American National Museum, across the plaza … George is our special speaker [for the evening]… He and Brad have been unwavering supporters for years and years.”