Since the first porcelain figurine was introduced in 1985, Melody In Motion has had several owners - Wagner Shokai, WACO Products, Desert Specialties, and most recently, MMC LLC. Founded by Ru Kato, the long standing Chief Creative Director of Melody In Motion, MMC's mission is straightforward: Maintain focus on the heart and soul of Melody In Motion figurines: Entertainment.
It's this refreshing dedication to fun that results in a unique line of figurines that combines porcelain craftsmanship, electronics and mechanical movement. Each Melody In Motion figurine is equipped with a precision motor that drives a tape player and an assortment of gears, cams and levers custom designed to produce graceful, lifelike motions. The complex products - the typical figurine includes 150 individual pieces - have captivated the imagination of collectors the world over. And with MMC at the helm, Collectors will continue to be delighted by fanciful pieces that evoke a smile.
Since the inception of MIM, the driving force behind each figurine has been Kato. Born in Kamakura, an ancient, historical city in eastern Japan, Kato soon learned to appreciate the fine arts from the many artists in his family including his father, a scenario writer for a Japanese movie company, and his late uncle, Academy award-winning director Akira Kurosawa.
After moving back to Japan from the states in 1975, Kato joined and served as Director of Research and Development for the Tokyo-based Wagner Shokai Inc., the manufacturer of battery-operated casino and other novelty and gift products. In 1978, he moved back to New York City to establish the U. S. branch of Wagner Shokai, Inc. In 1982 the company moved to New Jersey, and although still affiliated with Wagner Shokai, the company became an independent entity and changed its name to WACO Products. The company fared well distributing gifts and novelty items (including the Coca-Cola Dancing Can and Rock'n Flowers) to American markets.
The Melody In Motion figurines trace their roots to 1972, when Wagner Shokai introduced a plastic whistling hobo figure that produced sound via a built-in bellows and whistle. Unfortunately, the sound level was not loud enough to be heard in the retail environment and failed to capture the attention of American consumers. It was discontinued within a year.
By 1984, WACO and Wagner Shokai Inc. had found a better way to produce sound. A recording device called "Tape A Message" incorporated an endless loop tape. It was well received in gift markets throughout the United States and Japan. Kato and Eddie Itoh, President of Wagner Shokai, began looking for other products in which they could incorporate the sound technology, and soon hit upon the idea of porcelain figurines. That, in turn, revived the idea of the whistling hobo, and they began searching for a way to manufacture a collectible figurine that combined finely crafted porcelain, high-quality sound and life-like movement. Most people told them they were crazy.
"At the beginning there was no one willing to venture into the idea," Kato says. "We were told many times that porcelain figurines should not move, and that using one motor to move the sound mechanism and the body wasn't practical - that it would cause distortion of the sound."
Kato and Itoh believed in their ideas, and drew upon their entrepreneurial talent and creative skills to turn it into reality. Because each part of the production process required different skills and manufacturing techniques, Wagner Shokai arranged to have different parts of the figurines produced by a variety of subsidiary companies and contractors throughout Japan.
In 1985, the company introduced the first Melody In Motion figurines, Willie the Hobo, Willie the Whistler and Willie the Trumpeter. The line was an instant success, and to date over 150 Melody In Motion products have been introduced, including some created especially for European markets. Many products are limited editions, with an average edition size of 5,000, while others are retired after several years with no pre-specified edition number. Although some of the line's large, highly detailed amusement park carousel replicas are priced at $3,000 or more, most Melody In Motion pieces range from $200 - $300.
All pieces in the collection begin with Kato, who writes a story line describing the concept and movement of the figurine. After drawings are created by an artist, Kato chooses the music for the piece then consults with a music director who writes a score and arranges audio production using live musicians or professional musicians' sound samples. The drawings and music then go to a sculptor who makes clay models for the basic figurine and its separate moving parts, and an engineer who designs the internal mechanism. After final approval, molds are produced and the pieces are cast, hand-painted and fitted with the precision mechanical and electronic parts that bring Melody In Motion figurines to life.
Kato notes that the products are often so popular with collectors that many members of the Melody In Motion Collectors Society own more than 50 pieces each - some as many as 140. He adds that Melody In Motion pieces tend not to be traded as often on the secondary market as other collectibles, simply because people keep them for their entertainment value. "When I talk to collectors, they always tell me they entertain their guests or children and grandchildren with Melody In Motion figurines," he says. "They don't just collect dust, they are played very frequently."
Kato adds, "I love to create something to entertain people. The 'Star' of our Melody In Motion line is Willie, a hobo with a free spirit. When creating, I try to think like a free-spirited hobo so I can continue to create more fun for our collectors. Life should be filled with fun. It's always there; we just don't always realize it. All we have to do sometimes is change our perspective and everything will be all right."
(Excerpts reprinted courtesy of Ken Arnold and COLLECTORS MART magazine and melodyinmotion.com.)