What if you could be someone else for a day or two? A Japanese retailer named Shuhei Okawara has an answer for that question at his shop. According to Reuters, Okawara has been preoccupied with creating hyper-realistic human-face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the features of someone else, these masks are created by a 3D printer and are less about shielding you from the coronavirus spread and more about letting you pretend to be an entirely different person. The legal, ethical, and social implications of such design are, naturally, multifold.
The mask models a face (again, not yours) in three dimensions, thus giving the entire covering a highly realistic shape and contour. If you wore one of these masks and threw a bit of your hair around to hide the physical edges of the covering around the forehead and lower half of your face, you could almost pass for someone else. For Okawara, it was an entertaining activity with more basis in fantasy fiction than actual reality.
"Mask shops in Venice probably do not buy or sell faces. But that is something that’s likely to happen in fantasy stories," he told Reuters. "I thought it would be fun to actually do that." And they don't come cheap. One mask by Okawara is priced at $950.
Who do these faces belong to? — This is where Okawara's mask gig involves economics. Okawara's shop, Kamenya Omote, features face masks belonging to actual people. Though they remain anonymous, Okawara told Reuters that he "bought" the face for each mask from a model. It's a purely transactional exchange as one face was "sold" to Okawara for 40,000 yen or $388 approximately. You can get a pair of black rectangular sunglasses from Études for slightly less.
For now, most of Okawara's clients are interested in the artistic application of these masks. Toy around with fiction, that sort of playful thing. But we won't strike out the possibility that these masks could soon become a clever way to thwart surveillance technology that has mushroomed during the pandemic.
Okawara, who began this strange project in October, is planning to commission models for face masks from other groups and backgrounds, not just locals in Japan. It isn't the first time that someone has come up with realistic replicas of human faces. But Okawara's design is a little too real, a little too believable. And — with no disrespect meant to the polite shopkeeper — a little too creepy.