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Artist behind ‘Momo’ awaits Hollywood film

TOKYO >> Momo, the googly-eyed creature that triggered a viral social-media hoax terrifying children and parents alike, is receiving the Hollywood treatment by Orion Pictures. But how did a sculpture morph into a symbol of horror?

The Japan Times contacted Keisuke Aiso, the special-effects artist who created the sculpture of the girl-like monster. Aiso said he sold the rights to use Momo’s image to MGM, owner of Orion.

“I’d like to see how the film turns out,” he said.

A longtime fan of the grotesque and the occult, Aiso created a silicone sculpture that inspired Momo three years ago. It was an extension of a series of ghoulish artwork he calls the Grudge Girls Collection.

Based on the ubume, a supernatural creature that appears in both Japanese and Chinese folklore, the figure with birdlike feet and human breasts was featured in an exhibition at Tokyo’s Vanilla Gallery in 2016. An ubume is either the ghost of a woman who died in pregnancy or a mysterious feathered creature that harms children.

But unbeknownst to its creator, edited pictures of the artwork were posted online and used to propagate the Momo Challenge hoax, in which the character supposedly asked participants to engage in harmful conduct. The Momo Challenge was soon linked to unfounded rumors of youth suicides in South America, Europe, India, Mexico and the U.S.

The hoax eventually subsided but was rekindled earlier this year when rumors began surfacing in the U.K. that Momo was finding its way into mass media, including the children’s program “Peppa Pig” and popular video games like Fortnite, in videos posted to YouTube. The rumors prompted celebrity Kim Kardashian West to urge her followers to pressure YouTube to take down the content. YouTube said it found no evidence of Momo videos on its platform.

Meanwhile, the original sculpture of Aiso’s ubume was thrown out after being damaged beyond repair. But Aiso said he is making a new ubume using the original mold. The sculpture will be displayed once again at Vanilla Gallery in September as part of his Grudge Girls Collection.

“I’m short of funds for the exhibition, so I’m hoping the movie gets made,” he said.

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