TOYOHASHI, Aichi Prefecture--It might not be a "galaxy far, far away," but "Star Wars" fans should pay homage to a modest factory here with six employees in an area of rice fields.
Fine Molds Corp. is the only firm in Japan that is authorized to manufacture plastic models of the spacecraft that appear in the U.S. science fiction movie series "Star Wars."
In his office, Fine Molds President Kunihiro Suzuki, 53, has an amazingly detailed model of the Millennium Falcon ship on display.
In 1999, Suzuki asked anime movie director Hayao Miyazaki to allow Fine Molds to make plastic models of a flying boat that appears in his film "Kurenai no Buta" (Porco Rosso).
After the two got into a serious discussion on aircraft, Miyazaki finally gave in to Suzuki's request.
With the completed plastic models of the flying boat, Fine Molds received high marks for its technological skill and its name immediately spread throughout Japan. When the company put on sale in 2001 fighter spacecraft that appeared in the "Star Wars" films, it also received much acclaim.
Suzuki didn't start out to make plastic models, and instead, got his start as a cabinetmaker. After graduating from a technical high school, he became a disciple of his father, also a maker of cabinets. After about one year, however, his father told him, "You are not suited for this job."
"A meal that tastes bad is over once you've eaten it," his father said. "But a job that you dislike gets stuck with you until you die."
At 29, Suzuki began to design parts for plastic models in his room. He did not put his efforts toward popular standards for plastic models, such as the Imperial Japanese Navy's famed battleship, the Yamato, which was a big seller among the public.
Suzuki instead focused on designing parts for tanks of the former Imperial Japanese Army that mainly plastic model fanatics would take an interest in.
He hunted down former Japanese soldiers and interviewed them for details. He also obtained blueprints for those tanks. He even went so far as to travel abroad to measure the lengths of actual tanks still in existence.
Once he gets the details down, his factory is equipped with state-of-the-art laser beam processing machines to turn them into exact scale replicas.
However, Suzuki said with a smile, "The management situation of my company is constantly like walking a tightrope."
As far as the models his company produces, Suzuki still dislikes following precedence.
The plastic model that will be put on sale by Fine Molds in the spring is that of the Aichi Prefectural Government Office in Nagoya. He said he was intrigued by the castle-like structure of the building.
Suzuki's criteria to decide whether to manufacture plastic models for sale are "whether I want it or not."
"I make plastic models, thinking that I am a customer," he said. "That, in my view, is what it means to have the customer in mind."
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