Best Friend: The Latest Exhibit from Yukinori Dehara
Dehara Yukinori asks, “Does poor mean unhappy?” It’s the eternal question that baffles everyone and in his recent exhibition, Best Friend - Pretty in Homeless, Dehara focuses on his character named Tomorou. A play on words, the character faces daily challenges, yet befriends other street dwellers and this creates a menagerie of friends and animals.
This is perhaps the 10th exhibition by Dehara with Giant Robot, and the Tokyo-ite has attended each. Although Dehara’s style possesses a rougher, handmade look, his work is sought after by major companies including Meiji Chocolates, Nike, and more. From working with Dehara for each of his exhibitions, it’s a pleasure to witness how his perspectives on being an artist went from survival to looking towards the future as a fatherly and nurturing sempai.
Full audio interview with Dehara.
Yukinori Dehara's exhibition at Giant Robot 2.
by Eric Nakamura, Editor in Chief. Transcription by George Ko. Translation by Yoskay Yamamoto
Photo and Video by George Ko
Giant Robot: What is your theme for your exhibition “Best Friend - Pretty in Homeless” at Giant Robot 2?
Dehara:Visually, it’s about the homeless culture, the characters of the homeless. However, the deeper meaning, or question is what’s happiness in comparison to the amount of money? Does wealth make you happy? Can you be content being homeless?
GR: That sounds really deep. Where did you get this idea?
D: Every day I live in Tokyo I encounter homeless people. Everytime I see them I get shocked; it’s a little surreal. When you walk on the sidewalk, you see people sleeping on it. It’s not really an everyday image, but people in Tokyo walk by them everyday and ignore them; they pretend that they are not there. That creates an interesting encounter and relationship for me that I really want to uncover between the homeless and citizens of Tokyo.
GR: My experience in Japan is the fact that anytime I mention something homeless, people ignore it. Whereas in the U.S. when I address it, people take notice to it more. What do people in Japan think of your exhibition with the theme of homelessness?
D: Even though talking about homeless culture in Japan is taboo, my sense of humor with my characters allowed the subject to be approachable to my friends and neighbors in Tokyo. The comic side of my figures allowed the conversation of homelessness to spark and be encouraged.
GR: Can you tell us about the character, Tomorou, this bearded man?
D: I imagine the name Tomorou as someone who is bright, playful, positive, and optimistic. Tomorou is also a wordplay on the word tomorrow. I always look towards tomorrow. So, the character Tomorou is just a happy guy who completely ignores the current economic state he’s in. He’s just content being who he is and where he is.
GR: Could you explain what kind of a homeless person is in this exhibition? Are they Japanese? American?
D: When I’m making the figures, I don’t really think about a specific origin of nationality. The look of the figure happens during the process of making them. The hair color, skin color, expression of the character, and his outfit constantly changes while I make them. For this homeless exhibition, I wanted to create a universal homeless person, more specifically a Japanese and American homeless person. I feel that American homeless people tend to wear bright colored clothing, whereas Japanese homeless people wear darker clothing. LIkewise, I imagine American homeless people to have white hair, where Japanese homeless people have dark hair.
GR: Switching gears a bit, could you talk about the Japanese vinyl scene? I’ve noticed that’s it’s changed a bit over the years.
D: In Japanese vinyl scene, there’s a lot of young generation vinyl artists. However, instead of them teaming up with a brand or toy company, they are mostly self financing projects and work in a smaller volume. It’s been great even through the American market is slowing done, since there’s a lot of Asian countries such as Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and China that are collecting figures. Everything I’ve produced recently have been purchased from these countries. The vinyl scene in Japan is awesome.
GR: Are there enough factories making Japanese sofubi (soft vinyl figures) for all the designers? I know it’s a frontier that everybody in America wants, but all the factories are pretty old.
D: You’re right! There hasn’t been any new factories opening. It’s just old japanese Ojii-chan (old person, grandfather) running these factories. Their orders are increasing, but their having a hard time meeting the deadline to make these orders.
GR: So what’s the future? Eventually these factories will disappear right?
D: Since all these ojii-chan are eventually going to retire I feel like I have to be the bridge between the younger generation and these factory owners to keep sofubi making alive. My hope is to teach younger artists sofubi production so that this artform does not disappear, but gets passed on. I also hope to bring these factories to my hometown and keep it going. I’m not afraid of sofubi disappearing. It’s a trend now, and I’m still here creating sofubi characters.
GR: As on old school creator in Japan, what’s the advice you give to people who want to make figures and build a career out of that? What’s your advice to someone that’s new?
D: I actually hire 5-6 fresh artists into my studio, so that they can establish themselves and build a career. My advice to these young artists is the following: you can use any medium, like illustration, clay, or sofubi, to create, but you should not only create a piece of work for the sake of sharing it, but also know your market. Know who would want your work. Spend time to find your own market where you can successfully sell your works.
GR: Boom! That just happened, thank you so much!
See Tomorou and other Dehara figures at the GR2 Art Gallery
Address: 2062 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
(It's closing soon! You can get his figures here too.)
The music in the trailer is Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1.
Played by George Ko, CEO of Giant Robot Media