Murakami Over Manhattan. Pop Art Kaikai & Kiki Thanksgiving Day Parade Floats.

Japanese pop and anime artist Takashi Murakami added some modern art to the world’s most popular Thanksgiving Day Parade. Studio mascots, Kaikai and Kiki came to life as 30-40 foot tall “balloonicles” in this year’s 2010 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade joining Snoopy, Sponge Bob, Buzz, Kermit, Spidey and other perennial favorites.

Murakami Kaikai & Kiki Thanksgiving Day Parade Floats

Back in 2008 Macy’s began communicating with Mr. Murakami, who, in the global art scene is known as much for his inflatable sculptures of psychedelic anime-style cartoon characters as for the Louis Vuitton handbags and Casio watches he designs. But at that time he was preparing for a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum and could not immediately contribute to the parade.

This year Mr. Murakami sent word that he wanted to create balloons of Kaikai and Kiki. In response to e-mailed questions, he explained that the characters “in many ways represent the aesthetic philosophy behind my work.” Kaikai, a childlike character in a rabbit costume, and Kiki, a companion with three eyes and sharp fangs, are examples of Mr. Murakami’s signature superflat style.

Murakami anime

They are cute yet fearsome,” he wrote, “modern and yet connected to the past. They embody eccentric beauty.

The Macy’s parade studio in Hoboken, N.J., had only a few months to work on the designs with Mr. Murakami. Of particular concern to John Piper, the vice president of the studio, was whether the balloonified characters, with their gigantic heads and teeny-tiny limbs, would be able to achieve what he called free lift — meaning, Mr. Piper said, “that there’s enough helium inside the balloon to not only compensate for its weight but to make it fly.”

At an accelerated pace Mr. Piper and his team exchanged sketches with Mr. Murakami and his staff, and over the summer Mr. Piper chaperoned two small clay sculptures of the balloons on a trip to the artist’s Tokyo studio. (The sculptures, Mr. Piper said, traveled in “a very big, very sturdy piece of luggage, inside of which was a whole other steel structure to absorb any shock.”)

The completed balloons were flown for the first time this month at a Macy’s testing facility in South Dakota, but Mr. Murakami — who accompanied them in the parade wearing a flower costume of his own design — had not seen the finished works until Wednesday. Nor, for that matter, have the thousands of children who will watch the parade live — or the millions who will watch on television — Thursday morning, and have likely never heard of Mr. Murakami.

Takashi Murakami in his Thanksgiving Day parade costume

Mr. Hall acknowledged that Kaikai and Kiki’s mix of cuteness and weirdness was pushing boundaries for Macy’s. “There are details about them that, I think in isolation, as they’re described, sound kind of grotesque,” Mr. Hall said. But, he added, “the final thing is not so bad.”

kaikai kiki brand
“Kaikai” and “Kiki” characters ©2000 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.Courtesy of Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd

Ultimately, Mr. Hall said, Macy’s criterion for its parade balloons is “not a question of: Will the kids recognize it?”

“Our rule here,” he continued, “is whether the kids understand it or not? Will the kids like it?”

Watching the inflation of Kaikai and Kiki on 81st Street, Tami Marsden and her son Alex, 6, were less sure about what they were seeing. “We don’t know who that is, but he knows Kung Fu Panda,” Ms. Marden said, indicating another nearby balloon. “I thought it was a Pokémon thing.”

She added: “I hate to say it, but boys really don’t like anything that’s pink.”

Designing and Making the Balloons

Here’s a look at Superflat artist, Takashi Murakami,  designing and making the two balloons

The initial proposal to Macy’s:

Murakami's proposal to Macys for the helium Balloons
Murakami’s proposal to Macys for the helium Balloons
Murakami's initial production sketch for the Balloons
Murakami’s initial production sketch for the Balloons
Murakami and Macy's designer John Piper inspects the balloon maquette at Kaikai Kiki's Miyoshi studio in Saitama, Japan.
Murakami and Macy’s designer John Piper inspects the balloon maquette at Kaikai Kiki’s Miyoshi studio in Saitama, Japan.
murakami thanksgiving balloons
Takashi Murakami examining the clay molds
Murakami painting the clay molds
Murakami painting the clay molds
Murakami's final clay molds of Kaikai and Kiki
Murakami’s final clay molds of Kaikai and Kiki
above: completed models of Kaikai and Kiki for the floats, courtesy of Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd
Completed maquettes of Kaikai and Kiki for the floats, courtesy of Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd
iki and kaikai murskami parade floats hero IIH(H
At 3-stories tall and 40-feet long, the Parade’s newest art balloons are the largest renditions of Kaikai and Kiki to date.

Kaikai’s and Kiki’s balloon likenesses are about 40 feet long and about three stories tall when filled with helium.

Japanese artist Murakami watched as balloons of his Kaikai and Kiki characters were readied for the parade. Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Japanese artist Murakami watched as balloons of his Kaikai and Kiki characters were readied for the parade. Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

murakami floats

above: Murakami’s inflated Kaikai and Kiki, ready to be released.

Ready to entertain millions in the Parade of magic are superstars from music, stage, and screen who will make special appearances and perform for the nation at Macy’s famed red star mark on 34th Street. Stars joining the festivities this year include India Arie, Big Time Rush, Betty Buckley, Ann Hampton Callaway, the casts of Broadway’s American Idiot, Elf, Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet, the Big Apple Circus, the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street, Miranda Cosgrove, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots, Gloriana, Michael Grimm, Arlo Guthrie, Keri Hilson, Eric Hutchinson, Juanes, Victoria Justice, Gladys Knight, Mannheim Steamroller, Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih, Power Rangers Samurai, Joan and Melissa Rivers, Crystal Shawanda, Jessica Simpson, and Kanye West.

For 2010, the Macy’s Parade will once again follow a route first taken last year as the procession winds down to Macy’s Herald Square. Beginning at 77th Street and Central Park West, the Parade will travel south to Columbus Circle, turn onto Central Park South before making a right turn to march down 7th Avenue to 42nd Street. The Parade will then turn east towards 6th Avenue where it will march down the Avenue of the Americas. At 34th Street, the Parade will make its final turn west marching in front of Macy’s Herald Square. The Parade will step off promptly at 9:00 AM and end at noon.

Joining returning favorites, the following new stars of the Macy’s Parade line-up will delight millions of spectators in their first proud procession through the streets of New York City.

NY Times images courtesy of Nicole Bengivano, info and images from PR Newswire, Macy’s and the NY Times.