My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ) is one of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies because it captures the magic of a childhood in the countryside much like my own at a forest’s edge. When I saw the cute 1950’s motorized tricycle van (most likely an early Daihatsu) used to move the Kusakabe family at the beginning of the show, I wanted to build a model of it but so far I have not found an exact one in plastic (several Arii kits do come pretty close). The van was piled high with family belongings and the kids Satsuki and Mei sat huddled under a desk in a rustic manner.
In building this paper kit, I discarded the paper base with the Torii gates in favor of making my own vignette of the van making its way through a Japanese summer countryside. The rural area in Yamanashi prefecture is known for its sunflower fields in the summer so I wanted to combine that with my favorite anime family instead. This is a short but really fun project putting the van together as well as arranging the vignette. After all, that’s what miniature modelling is about, fun and favorite places!
This 1/100 scale paper card kit is made by Sankei under their Minituart series for Studio Ghibli subjects. The finished model if using the original base neatly stores in the same cube box that the kit came in. The cards are already pre-colored to the same color as the object, making it easier for everyone to make a beautiful creation without having to be armed with all the color equipment we plastic modelers have come to live by. For me, this is sort of a vacation away from my paint booth. Sankei also issued a 1/48th scale version of this same subject but I wanted to take the challenge of trying to finish the 1/100 version with as many details as the 1/48th one.
The paper cards themselves are a miracle of detail and accuracy using laser cut technology that rivals plastic parts in some aspects. One has to be very careful and matching the parts to the assembly sequence as a mistake in gluing is nearly irreversible in paper.
The first steps are to build the front fork assembly of the motor-tricycle, making sure that the individual layers fit properly to match the profile. Then the process extends to building the main cabin and flat bed sections. I use a fast-drying high quality paper glue by Lineco. This glue is acid-free and once dried, is amazingly strong when bonding paper layers together. Do a lot of dry-fitting, just like in normal plastic and resin kits.
The paper cut characters are printed in light beige paper. I use Faber Castell color pencils to render the characters into color with minor shading to bring out the details.
A white canopy over the main cab completes the assembly of the tricycle van. I used Prismacolor Silver color pencil to detail some of the metal fittings on the van.
The next couple of days were spent building the tiny paper cargo into the shapes of cabinets, dressers, chairs, wash tub, and even a bicycle! The effort is painstaking but very well worth it as these little objects really lend a lot interest to the tiny model. All in all, I counted thirty six separate objects, from the most complex (the bicycle) to the simplest, little pieces of cardboard “books”.
The instructions are very precise as to where each item fits. Only in such a way will all the stuff will actually sit in the little flatbed. Stray at your own peril!
Although not mentioned by the instructions, because I wanted to faithfully reproduce the look of the 1/48th scale model, I proceeded to “tie-down” the load using brown rigging thread (can be found where wooden model ship rigging supplies are sold). The work was carefully done over a couple of hours. The result speak for itself!
For a finishing touch, I added some slight weathering to the wheels and sides of the van, being careful not to overdo it as this is a peaceful happy move to the countryside, not a ZIL truck on a Stalingrad re-supply mission. The Kusakabe family moving van is ready for the road!
I wanted to build my own base, so I obtained a 4 inch (10cm) diameter wooden base, a section of railway HO/OO scale cork track bed, and Busch’s excellent 1:87 scale sunflower set to recreate the neat Japanese countryside in Yamanashi. I have included a picture courtesy of the GetAroundJP tourist site for reference.
After bonding the cork track bed to wooden base and trimming off the excess with a sharp knife, I backfill the sunflower field with drywall plaster, and imbedded rocks from my railway modeling talus and rock fragment collection. The larger “rocks” for the pond are glued using all-purpose white glue and allowed to set.
While waiting for the plaster to dry, I went about making the 60 stalks of sunflowers from the Busch kit.
I undercoat the whole base with Tamiya NATO Black XF69. Then I sprayed Tamiya Flat Earth XF52 for the sunflower field and also the sides of the pond. I left the road section in NATO black with a little bit of misting from the Flat Earth.
I apply some all-purpose white glue using a brush to the sections of the road shoulder where there will be grass and bushes. The I sprinkle grass powder and foam bushes (these came with the Sankei kit) and similar landscaping products can be found from Busch or Woodlands Scenics.
The sunflower stalks are planted one-by-one with some white glue attached to the ends of each stalk. Then the pond is painted in shades of light to dark green, the koi fish are also painted in with the lily pads added last over the high gloss varnish. There is now a countryside for the Kusakabe family to move through