Flight of Fancy

Craft & Design
Flight of Fancy
STRANGER THAN FICTION: Hachiya poses with OpenSky.

Kazuhiko Hachiya is famous in Japan for his quirky, entertaining creations. He is also about to become the first person to fly in an anime-inspired jet.

The 42-year-old Tokyo-based artist is in the final stages of making the jet-engine version of OpenSky, a one-person glider with a 32-foot wingspan based on a popular Japanese film. “My biggest goal is to create something that moves or bemuses people,” he says. “If that meant I only made one big thing, that would be OK.”

It took Hachiya three years and a whole lot of spruce wood and fiberglass composite to make the first version of OpenSky, inspired by the fictional plane from Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. “It’s a hybrid between a vintage wooden glider from the 1930s and today’s airplane,” he says. His first test flight, which lasted several seconds, took place in the spring of 2006 with the help of a bungee cord and a nearby university soccer field.

To understand factors like weight, wingspan, and control, Hachiya practiced riding hang gliders and trikes, then launched a half-sized remote control version before takeoff. The full-sized OpenSky only carries a pilot weighing less than 130 pounds, but this isn’t a problem for Hachiya. “I weigh 115,” he says. “And I only plan on letting myself and female pilots take the flight.”

Hachiya worked full time at a design consulting firm until 1995, when he won a $100,000 fine arts award and decided to go independent. Since then, silliness has become an unofficial requirement in all of his works. “People always ask me if I’m an inventor, but I’m not. Inventions have a practical component to them; none of my pieces have that.”

A demonstration of Inter DisCommunication.

In 1993, Hachiya made the Inter DisCommunication Machine, a simulation game in which two people interact with images of themselves as seen by the other, using two head-mounted video cameras and winged backpacks geared with transmitters.

“You switch perspectives with your partner,” Hachiya explains. “Sometimes I tell players to kiss or shake hands; they freak out because they feel like they’re kissing themselves.”

But it was PostPet, a simple desktop application that combines an endearing virtual pet with a person’s email inbox, that put him on the map in the growing niche of Japanese media artists. PostPet was commercialized in 1997 and has sold more than 1 million copies to date.

Some also know Hachiya for the Thanks Tail, a joystick-controlled robotic dog tail that attaches to the rear of any car and wags at other drivers. In Japan, a quick wink of the hazard lights means thank you, and flashing hazards indicate traffic ahead. The tail serves a similar function.

OpenSky isn’t the only Hachiya project that looks like it’s straight out of a fictional world. PostPet’s cute, 3D characters were inspired in part by a manga called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and the AirBoard — a jet-powered skateboard that hovers a few centimeters above the ground — is a lot like the Hoverboard from Back to the Future II. “I really get a kick out of turning fantasy into reality,” Hachiya says.

Kazuhiko Hachiya: www.petworks.co.jp/~hachiya

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Lisa Katayama

Lisa Katayama is a Tokyo-born journalist living in San Francisco. She is he author of Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan and has guest blogged for Boing Boing.

View more articles by Lisa Katayama