Kekaha artist introduces boy-hero to Japan

Kekaha artist Chris Fayé received a tremendous reception at Spa Resort Hawaiians, Japan’s largest Hawaiian-themed recreation and amusement complex, for her new animation character that will serve as a mascot for the park.

Art Umezu, county film commissioner, took vacation time to travel with Fayé to Japan for the opening of the park. “I’ve worked with Spa Resort Hawaiians and Iwaki City for nearly 18 years. I escorted Chris to introduce her artwork to SRH and Iwaki City … it was a wonderful cross-cultural event for Kaua‘i,” Umezu said.

Iwaki City has taken a deep interest in Hawai‘i and specifically Kaua‘i. “Our histories have interesting similarities that make for a natural kinship. Iwaki City was once a coal mining town — their industry was lost when coal went out of favor. And just like Kaua‘i’s agricultural industry that eventually turned to tourism, Iwaki made the same change,” Fayé said.

Traveling by bus, three hours outside of the neon-night of Tokyo, Iwaki City is “a paradise getaway — a slice of Hawaiian culture in the middle of Japan.” Fayé said.

The character Fayé created took months of collaboration with the design team at SRH. “They visited my studio here on Kaua‘i and even without a mutual language, we worked hard on communicating the vision for the young mischievous boy named ‘Kaimana’ and his yet-to-be-named pet turtle.”

Fayé’s character is used throughout the park as a friendly mascot, giving aloha to Japanese amusement park visitors.

“I was asked to create a boy-hero. Someone young children could look up to and find mysterious. He was supposed to be cute, fun and someone who would get into adventures. I chose to draw a traditional ideal of a Hawaiian child,” someone you might meet swimming at the waterfall or chasing birds on the island, explained Fayé.

The experience working with the Japanese clients deeply touched Fayé, “Typically you design for a client, they pay you and that’s it. I was shown how deeply the Japanese honor the creative process, and were interested and invested in my work from beginning to end. They really didn’t even have to fly me out for the opening, but that shows their regard for the artist.”

The Spa Resort Hawaiians offers first rate hula and fire dancers led by Kumu Hayakawa, who often visits the islands with her dancers. “They actually place at the O‘ahu dance competition — up against real Samoan dancers. That’s saying something. They have taken the hula very seriously and their dancers are extremely impressive,” Fayé said.

Japanese culture is extremely adept at adopting and evolving international pop culture phenomena. From hip-hop dancing to couture fashion, Japan takes what is and pushes it to the next level, often adding a mysterious authenticity to what they produce.

In the case of SRH, Fayé said this perfection of cultural appropriation is apparent in the dance show performed three times per day. “In some ways, they take hula more seriously then we do, and they make a sincere effort to learn and perform it authentically. They really embrace the whole Hawaiian culture.”

The ribbon-cutting was spread over three days, with national television crews making it a high-profile event. The new film “Hula Girl” directed by Miyuki Ishihara was also premiered and Umezu hopes it can tour Kaua‘i. “The film won all major categories last month at Japan Academy Awards and is now distributed worldwide. I had it shown at last year’s Hawai‘i International Film Festival. I’m hoping to have it shown at our historic Waimea Theater this summer.”

Umezu also reported that, “Fuji TV Network (Japan’s largest) will film a special 1.5 hour special TV promotion in Hawai‘i in May about ‘Hula Girl’ prior to its TV premiere on Fuji in September. Although the Big Island was considered for the shoot, they’d like to film the special on Kaua‘i during May/Lei Day festivities, so I’m working out the logistics now.”

Fayé would love to go back and welcomes the opportunity to work with SRH again. “My sister got to go down all the water slides while I was attending events related to the opening … but you can’t beat the natural hot sulfur water piped for miles into the resort and into your very own bathtub — quite nice for an evening soak,” she said.

• Keya Keita, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 or kkeita@kauaipubco.com.

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