This is all about Backy, Bocky and Bill the Devil: Tokyo-based Furi Furi does such cutie cute character design – and apart from their popular plastic toys so much other colourful art from TV characters to even USB sticks. For their 10th anniversary this summer, PingMag asked founder and creative director Mr. Tei about how that all started…
Written by Chiemi
Translated by Junko
Well, Mr. Tei, could you briefly explain to us about Furi Furi?
Now, we are a team consisting of six people, and we’ll work with pretty much anything based around character development. Having said that, there’s not much out there these days that’s not related to creating niche characters. Which makes it rather difficult to explain in one single word what we do.
I heard you majored in oil painting at Tama Art University. When did you get interested in character design?
When I saw Virtua Fighter on a large screen for the first time: it looked like some type of pop art and that was just so cool. But it wasn’t until a bit later that I really got into that world. After I graduated from university, I was taking it easy, experimenting with modern art for a while. However, when my parents’ house in Kobe collapsed during the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995, I thought, “I have to get a real job!” In somewhat of a panic, I bought an employment magazine called From A, where I came across Sonic The Hedgehog. That’s when the light came on in my head! It inspired me with all the ideas I needed; which were to become the base of Furi Furi today.
Wow, that surely sounds like an abrupt turning point. Did you start Furi Furi right after that?
No. I’m talking about a time when creating things on one’s own Mac was still unthinkable. So, I found a job at a subsidiary company of SEGA. A year later, I moved to a company that created 3DCG, and enjoyed making a lot of stuff there. But, I was always disappointed to see my name on the final product in tiny letters. So, I said to myself: “Hey! If I want to move up, I better start my own design company.” In the mean time I made a website, and e-mailed everyone I knew saying, “Today, the Furi Furi company was born somewhere in the virtual space. It’s a design unit!” A Japanese design magazine called Design Plex found that interesting and did an article. That was when things started to roll.
Now, show us some of your recent works, please!
flash animation, “SHINOBI BLACK&WHITE” © Furifuri Company
Let me start with a flash animation that we worked on last December called “SHINOBI BLACK&WHITE.” You can find it in the latest version of the DVD series of Stash.
[Watch the animation below.]
As I recall, this clip was also shown at the Shizuoka Contents Valley Festival back in January…
Next comes “FAT BEAR”, a USB memory stick we completed last November. Without the kind cooperation of Solid Alliance, the original producers of the Sushi USB memory, our product would have never seen the light. We’d really like to produce much more of this stuff in the future!
And lastly, right now we are producing a toy called “Backy and Bocky” for the Taipei Toy Festival in July.
“Backy and Bocky” – what interesting names… (laughs)
It’s been three years since we’ve launched our own original toy, so we’re having a lot of fun with it. We hope people from are enjoying the characters we develop the same way, and it would be awesome if they’d like it as much as we do and go like: “Cooool!” (…laughs… )
This is “Backy.” © Furifuri Company
And a “Backy” Balloon. © Furifuri Company
Speaking of toys, we also launched “Bill the Devil” for an exhibition in Taipei that was held until this June. We designed a fan-shaped flier, hoping to grab their attention with it. Taipei is really hot, you know…
Furi Furi member during a live painting in Taipei. © Furifuri Company
The “Bill the Devil” sculpture. © Furifuri Company
This July, we are going to launch an animation ID for Fox Horror TV using Flash; this will consist of 15-second segments and run over the next 10 months. For that, we created a new character. Our next aim is to come up with an original animation program using all this.
You really do enjoy working in various fields, don’t you? Now that Furi Furi has experienced working worldwide, would you say there’s any difference between the art scene in Japan and other countries?
The creative scene in Japan is very closed. Who-you-know plays a crucial role in landing projects, and companies tend choose a designer by popularity – and not because his/her work is amazing, unfortunately. However, what’s popular in one country doesn’t necessary fly in another culture, and the sponsors become dissatisfied eventually… I think it’s time to change this perception or we’ll never have true creativity originating from Japan.
Is it true that you’re trying to enter the Asian market sometime soon?
We have sent one of our team members to Singapore this month to start building an Asian base. I am afraid we won’t be able to expand our business globally, relying solely on this one base out of Japan.
Well, somehow his smile resembles the one on his characters… Mr. Tei from Furi Furi. Photo: HIDEO CANNO
I am third generation Chinese living in Japan, with my father being Chinese and my mother being Japanese. That is why I attended the Chinese school in Kobe. One day, I was confronted with a so-called identity crisis: “Who in the world am I?” After graduating from university, I traveled around Asia looking for an answer. Now I know that I am neither Chinese nor Japanese – just an overseas Chinese. “Overseas Chinese” are people who are free from belonging to any country, thus having developed their own identity. Their community is at the places they live with their family. So, I wanted to make that kind of community in Asia and chose Singapore as a place because I enjoy the multi-racial and multi-cultural flavor that the country has to offer.
To come to an end, what is your ultimate goal?
I want to set Furi Furi Asia in the right direction. I have no money and no connection though… (laughs). But if you really want it, things just turn out okay somehow, don’t you think? Doing nothing is absolutely no fun, and I always wanted to create something good even if it means occasionally raising my voice. I mean, in the end I just want to make things that people can enjoy.
Thank you very much. We wish you all the best for succeeding in Asia!