The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Pioneering a new realm of creative design   The world of costume artist Kodue Hibino
2nd NODA MAP production "Gansaku" Tsumi to Batsu
(April – May, 1995 at Bunkamura Theatre Cocoon)
Written and directed by Hideki Noda
Costume designed by Kodue Naito (Hibino's maiden name)
Tsumi to Batsu
Tsumi to Batsu
Photo: Tsukasa Aoki
I’m surprised to hear that that is how you felt. I imagined that working with a traditional art like Kabuki would have been very difficult for you.
For certain, it was difficult at first. The first time I became involved with Kabuki was as a costume coordinator for Sannin Kichiza in 2001, and I started out knowing almost nothing about Kabuki at that time. The professional Kabuki backstage crew must have been thinking, “What is this person doing here in our workplace?” And even an actor like Kankuro, who had done such revolutionary things with Kabuki up until now, was reluctant to change the traditional Kabuki costume.
After that, however, I had the opportunity to design the costumes for Noda-san’s New Kabuki productions at the Kabuki-za theater and such, and I began to enjoy working in Kabuki more and more with each production. It was also a big help that the audiences liked our productions. So, now the Kabuki people are almost too nice to me and I no longer hear the automatic “No” that I used to get when I proposed something new. It is actually a bit disarming (laughs).

There were no “costume artists” before you in Japan, so it is a profession that you have pioneered by yourself.
That seems to be the result. What can I say? It seems that my fate is to be in this position where I am asked to do something completely new with each job. It is not as if I was pioneering with an attitude that “I want to try this, and next I want to do that.” It is more a case of my range of work expanding as I was asked to do one new job after another. It is a job where there is no one I can ask advice from and I tread with fear and trembling into each new realm, but I am the type who can’t say “No” when I am asked to do something. I am also the type that forgets all the hard times once the job is over (laughs).
Given this nature, I believe that it is the ongoing jobs that have been extremely important in training me and honing my skills as an artist and a professional. My work with Noda-san has been that kind of ongoing work that has continued for many years now. Other ongoing jobs have been my series of columns for magazines and now my most frequent work with an NHK (national TV station) children’s program. For this program I do not only the costumes but also the artistic planning, and the pace of the production work demands that I apply the ideas that come to mind one after another just to get the work done in time. It is very good training because it demands quality, volume and speed.

Your newest area of work is industrial design. You have just a broad-ranging solo exhibition that includes not only your in costume designs and work for magazines but also examples of your industrial designs for items ranging from handkerchiefs, glasses, tableware and sports wear to furniture designs. How did you become involved in industrial design?
From the time I was in high school I had the strong desire to find work where I could use the drawing that I loved so much and also a strong feeling that I didn’t want to create things that weren’t useful. When you think of an artist, there is an image of the freedom to do whatever they please and everything is allowed, but there are a lot of useless “art works” in the world that aren’t even worth having around. I don’t want to create things like that.
So, I think it was natural for me to begin designing everyday items, for which usefulness is a prerequisite and I know would be used. But this again was not a case where I asked to do it. Rather it was the handkerchief company and then others that asked me if I wanted to try doing some designs. I’ve doing handkerchief designs the longest now, since 1993, and I didn’t begin doing furniture design until after the year 2000.
I feel that the drive behind my creative activity is a making my daily life sound and fulfilling. If my life is not right, and that includes the fundamental of daily life like a clean and orderly house and well-prepared meals, it affects my mental equilibrium and can lead to indecisiveness or lack of confidence in my work. It pleases me that I have been given the opportunity to design the things that I use in that important base of daily life.
Now that I think of it, in my third year of college when I had to choose my major I thought that I would like to try interior design and took some related courses. I made some wastebaskets. The other day when I happened to meet an old friend from our Diamond Mama days, she said that she used to be envious of me in those days because I always looked like I was enjoying myself so much. At the time graphic design seemed to be the free medium while industrial design appeared to have more restrictions. But now that I’m doing it, I feel that industrial design is actually the freer of the two.
Actually, the thing I like least about stage costume design is putting them on people. During the costume creation process there is a costume parade where the actors actually try the costumes on and then they give me their opinions sometimes (laughs). Even though it is still in the creation process and the designs are not finished yet. That’s what I don’t like. With product design I can do the whole design process by myself, and that suits me better.

Someone said that many of the artists of your generation from the 1980s create in order to escape from all kinds of existing values and meaning. That is something that is expressed in Noda-san’s plays as well. Do you feel like your visual expression is also part of the “escapist” generation aesthetic?
“Escapist generation” is indeed an apt expression. It is an expression that really rings true for me. When I think about why I have always worked alone, it is because I don’t want to have to be working with people of the generation before me or the generation after me. I have just had the bid realization that I am part of the uchi Benkei (lion at home, mouse abroad) generation (laughs). If you say that the reason I have been able to work this long with Noda-san and be this influenced is because we are of the same generation, it really hits the mark for me. The word generation has a heavy sound to it, but when I consider the influences and the encounters it has brought my way and how they have made me what I am today, I can’t help but feel very fortunate.

Finally, I would like to ask you what your “ability to design” is amidst all this crossover of genre that you are actively involved in today?
I believe that it is simply “believing in yourself.” If I were to lose faith in myself, I wouldn’t be able to design anything. It goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the daily life aspect. I can’t separate work from my lifestyle, from being comfortable in my life, from creating an environment where my partner and I can spend quality time and enjoy ourselves. I believe that that daily-life base is indispensable for the kind of belief in yourself that leads to good work.
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