The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Another aspect of Japanese theater communicated through posters
Another aspect of Japanese theater communicated through posters
Experimental Theater Lab “Tenjo Sajiki”
The Lemmings (’82 Revised version)

(1982, Design: Tsutomu Toda, Painting: Sawako Goda)
The Lemmings
Japan Avant-garde – 100 masterpieces of Angura Theater Posters
(2004, Parco Publishing, Japan)
Japan Avant-garde
A fateful encounter with Shuji Terayama leads to poster collecting

Would you tell us how did you first become involved with theater?
It was back in 1982 when I was 19. I discovered the small-theater scene that was booming at the time. The first play I saw was one by Hideki Noda’s Yume no Yuminsha and the third play I saw was the Tenjo Sajiki production of The Lemmings at the Kinokuniya Hall that would be Shuji Terayama’s last work. It was a time in my life when I had dropped out of college and was in a state of moratorium, and the words of Terayama’s play struck me to the soul. I felt that I had finally found what I had been looking for and it changed my life. And that encounter with Tenjo Sajiki was also my encounter with the posters of the angura theater movement.
 I wanted to become a member of Tenjo Sajiki but Terayama died on May 4th of the following year and the company was disbanded. At that time they had a bazaar to sell off the company’s props and posters and such, and as a fan I went and came away with a large thermometer prop that had been used in The Lemmings. When I was 20, my parents cut me off financially when I told them that I was going to make my living in the theater world, so I was really hard up for money. But I was blessed with friends who liked the theater and thanks to their graces I was still able to see about ten plays a month. Wherever I went at that time I would meet Ms. Kujo. It seemed at times as if I was chasing after her.
 One day at a performance of So Kitamura’s Junin no Shonen she happened to be sitting in the seat next to me. She asked me if I wanted to work in the theater since I seemed to love it so much, and she gave me her business card. Thinking that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I contacted her. She gave me a job on the staff of the second of the series of Shuji Terayama Memorial productions at the Seibu Theater, (present PARCO Theater), Aomori-Ken no Semushi Otoko (The Hunchback of Aomori: ’83). That would be my first experience with distributing and hanging theater posters. That led to be being hired part-time to put up posters for Seibu Theater, which started me on the course to the work I do now. While doing that job, I also took part in the Terayama-related productions of Jinriki Hikosha that Ms. Kujo was producing, working as a stage hand and eventually as assistant to the director for the Terayama memorial productions. And the staff that worked with me when I was put in charge of organizing the “Shuji Terayama Complete Film Exhibition” in 1985 are the people who joined me when I established my Poster Hari’s Company.

What activities have you engaged in since holding your own first poster exhibition in 1992?
Thinking that posters could be used to help present an overall picture of contemporary theater, I held a series of exhibitions in Vienna, Prague and Budapest in 1996 with support from the Japan Foundation. Then in Tokyo I organized a “Contemporary Theater Poster Exhibition '66/'96 – Provocative Posters Paint the Town in Contemporary Theater” as a large-scale exhibition showing 500 contemporary theater posters spanning a 30-year period. The newspapers caught onto this exhibit and it ended up having a draw of about 10,000 visitors. This exhibition brought a change in the way our project was viewed and theater companies began to come forward and ask us to keep their posters and people like silkscreen printers with personal collections of posters began to donate their collections to us in hopes that we could put them to good use.
 In 2004 I organized an exhibition titled Japan Avant-garde – 100 masterpieces of Angura Theater Posters, as a selection of 100 of the best posters of the Underground theater movement from the 1960s into the ’80s. For this exhibition I chose many of the most interesting posters from Tenjo Sajiki, Jokyo Gekijo, Black Tent Theater and the butoh of Tatsumi Hijikata, and all of the posters were included in the show’s catalog, which was printed by PARCO Publications as a definitive collector’s item (364mm×515mm size). After an exhibition at the Logos Gallery to commemorate the publication of this book, we exhibited the posters simultaneously at a large number of Golden Town restaurants and bars where the angura posters used to be posted in their day. The editing of the book was quite a task due to the factions within the angura movement and their belief in an avant-garde spirit of never looking back. But, I think it succeeded because of the timing and because of the fact that I was a “third person” who had never belonged to any of the companies of that era. I don’t think it would have been possible if I had ever been a member of Tenjo Sajiki, for example.
 We have also done an ongoing series of exhibitions in the lobby of the Setagaya Public Theater at a rate of three or four exhibitions a year rotating their permanent collection ever since the theater’s opening. And, when we receive requests, we lend out posters at rates that just cover the basic costs. These leases include posters for the sets of films and television, and we organize poster exhibitions to accompany overseas performance tours and exhibitions for theater lobbies. In all, these request amount to leases of about 100 posters each year.

One of the revolutionary large-scale contemporary theater poster exhibitions was surely the Contemporary Theater Art Work 60’s to 80’s Exhibition” held in 1988 at the Seibu Museum of Art (name changed to Saison Museum of Art in 1989 and closed in 1999). Were you involved in this exhibition?
I had already started out Poster Hari’s Company at the time, so we were involved in putting up posters for the exhibition and distributing leaflets, but I wasn’t involved in its planning. That exhibition arose from the suggestion of an Osaka editor named Jun Kobori. One of the characteristics of the Underground theater posters of the day was that they were mostly printed by the silkscreen method. Instead of a woodblock or board, this method used stencils on fine-weave silk to make multi-color prints that were hand printed one by one. I hear that Kobori proposed the exhibition after reading an essay about the appeal of silkscreen posters by one of the leading graphic designers at the time, Katsuhito Oyobe. The resulting exhibition was a revolutionary one that gave a broad overview of the theater posters from the angura era into the era of the popular small-theater companies of the 1980s.

In 2009 you opened your Poster Hari’s Gallery in a converted apartment in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.
When I first launched my poster collecting, preservation and exhibiting project, I actually envisioned something like a poster art museum, as a place where people could go to see a full collection of Japanese theater posters and there would also be information about posters from around the world. I know that isn’t possible for me, but at least I wanted to open this gallery as a place where today’s young people, who are used to experiencing things only on their computer screens, could have the opportunity to see the actual works. For now, my plan is to present a series of exhibits focusing on the individual artists about twice a year from my collection of posters from the 1960s. In addition, I want to organize a variety of live events.
 The reason that I call the posters of the Underground era “Japan Avant-garde,” as a nod to the “Russian Avant-garde” period of art history, is that I want to communicate to today’s designers the fact that it was an era that had a distinct form of artistic expression. I feel that one of my missions should be to communicate to today’s designers that they should have a knowledge of this era as one of the foundations against which they can work today.
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