At first glance, the photo above can look like a still from a science fiction movie, but rest assured: The guy and his face mask are very real. While the first thing that came to my mind was, “oh wow that’s creepy,” I was then immediately intrigued.
The guy in the photo is Shuhei Okawara, owner of the mask shop Kamenya Omote in Tokyo, Japan. The mask he’s holding, meanwhile, is a hyper-realistic replica of his own face, 3D printed to a size that’s 105% of the ratio of his actual face so it that could fit almost anyone who decides to wear it. And that’s not the only face he has.
The Project Is Called “That Face”
Okawara has started a project called “That Face,” which makes realistic human masks based on photographs using a mix of a “special technology,” in the owner’s words, and 3D printing. Per Okawara, he uses the special technology to print high-precision photos on a plastic base made of 3D-scanned facial data. The masks are made with extraordinary attention to detail, and include facial hair, eyebrows, moles, and eyelashes.
“The details of the process are a trade secret,” he said in an interview with Vice last December.
Changing the Traditional Definition of a Mask Shop
You may be asking, what on Earth was Okawara thinking when he decided to sell these lifelike masks? In the interview, he said that he enjoyed creating and shifting the image of what people think a “mask shop” is like.
Nonetheless, even though it is a creepily cool concept, Okawara, who is a theatre mask teacher by training, says his masks can be physically difficult to wear. The masks’ basic structure narrow a person’s vision and make it harder to breathe. They are also made of plastic and not silicone, which means you can’t move your eyes, nose or mouth. Okawara still thinks people will buy them, though.
“[E]mbracing that difficulty creates new movements and characters,” he said. “People don’t necessarily want their ideal face, they just want a transformation. People can accept the pain of transformation. Just like a tattoo.”
Buying and Selling Faces
Making the masks is one thing, but Okawara is also in the business of buying real faces to use on his masks and sell later. After he announced that he was buying faces for the project in October of last year, he ended up receiving more than 100 applications, per Reuters.
“Buy and sell faces. A story like science fiction has become a reality. No one yet knows what will happen to a world full of the same faces as you,” the store wrote on its website, according to an English translation provided by Google.
He paid the selected applicant 40,000 yen, or almost $520 for the right to use their face on his masks. Kamenya Omote does not disclose the identity of the people whose faces who are selected for the project.
Humans Still Can’t Look at Themselves Without a Mirror
Okawara said it was very interesting that his project had garnered more than 100 applications. Nonetheless, he doesn’t plan to buy all of the faces people send him. Okawara states that a lot of people don’t want money for their faces, they simply want to donate them. He insists on paying for them, though.
As for why people want to sell their faces, Okawara has a few theories.
“Have you ever fantasised about what it would be like to have twins? Humans still do not have the opportunity to look at their faces without a mirror,” Okawara said. “It’s about the possibility that there is another self somewhere, leading a completely different life. The story of the doppelganger is born of such human desires.”
The Masks Do Not Protect the Wearer from the Coronavirus
It should go without saying, but just in case there are any doubts, we’ll say it anyway: These masks are not meant to protect against covid-19. Just take a look at the nose area: It has holes. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks that fit snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps around the sides of the face.
Can the Masks Be Used To Carry Out Bad Deeds?
Remember how we said this story resembles a sci-fi movie? Well, it also wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for characters in said movie to use the masks to do bad things. (I currently can’t think of a sci-fi movie like this, please let me know if there is one, dear readers). Yet, Okawara said that he doesn’t think his masks can be used to carry out crime effectively. In his opinion, if people abuse the masks, they’ll get caught immediately. Okawara also doesn’t think it makes sense to blame him for any crime committed by people who wear his masks.
“Would you regulate the sale of balaclavas because of the image of bank robbers?” he asks. “The social responsibility of the people who make the clothes may be related to the issue of environmental pollution, but it would be nonsensical if the producers of the clothes were accused of the possibility of the wearer committing a crime.”
It’s Not a Cheap Mask To Make
Making the mask itself is not cheap, which is why the final products have hefty price tags. The store explains that this is because the mask is a made-to-order product, or a customised product, according to a Google translation of the store’s announcement. Kamenya Omote said that because it had already paid the price of the first production, it would now be able to offer the mask at a lower cost.
If You Want a Mask, Okawara Is Taking Pre-Orders
Okawara told Reuters last month that initial inquires suggested the demand for the masks would be high. The masks based on his own face have already sold out once. If you’re interested in buying a hyper-realistic face mask, Okawara is selling them online. His shop currently features his face, priced at about $970, as well as another, called “No.1,” which sells for roughly $1,225. Pre-orders received during the first week of February will start shipping in March, according to the store.
Over time, Okawara plans to add new faces, including possibly from people outside Tokyo, to his lineup.
Be Responsible With the Masks
Curiously, the store includes a note of caution on the masks’ product pages. It reminds people that this is a real face, and it does deserve a degree of respect. The advisory also asks customers to notify Kamenya Omote immediately if they wish to give the mask to someone else after buying it, and to provide that person’s contact information.
“This product is modelled after a real person. The purchaser may use the product of their own free will. However, please use the product with full understanding of the special nature of this product, including the fact that it is a mask modelled on a real person, and that the mask itself has a personality, and act in a manner that respects that personality and does not damage it,” the advisory reads.
Basically, it seems to be a polite way to say, “don’t do bad things with the mask.” Wise words.