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
What do you see as the recent trends in posters as an expressive medium?
With the predominance of theater being produced by production companies since the 1990s, we see mostly posters and leaflets that are nothing more than group photos of the actors in the production. It become a question of how much audience a given actor can draw, and the agencies with high-draw actors become more powerful, so the work of the designer becomes little more than taking group photos. And, since it simply becomes a question of how the photos are used on the poster or leaflet, they designs become quite boring in terms of artistic expression. Since 2000, almost all the leaflets and posters use only photographs. I believe that the graphic designers must have gone through a period of trial and error. But, although using photographs has become a must since 2000, a few designers have emerged who produce designs that use the photographs to achieve something beyond the mere name value of famous actors and create posters with expressive impact that approaches that of the actual theater work. People like Shinichi Kono, Satoshi Machiguchi of Match and Company and Gaku Azuma are designers who do good work. So there are some hopes left in the profession.

Are there any companies today that are still producing art posters like in the Japan Avant-garde era?
In Tokyo, companies like Juro Kara’s Karagumi and Akaji Maro’s Dairakudakan still produce B full-sheet size posters like in the past. In Osaka, Ishinha doesn’t produce many posters , but they do produce good leaflets. Their advertising art since 1997 has been handled by the manga artist and graphic designer Gaku Azuma, who produces outstanding work. Although this is my personal judgment, I believe that directors who don’t write their own plays tend to be not as concerned about advertising art. This was also true in the Underground theater era, which is why you saw good posters for the productions of Terayama, Juro Kara and Makoto Sato.

Despite the fact that so many posters with high levels of artistic expression were produced in the 1960s and often won high acclaim as art, did it actually change the position of posters in society and the appraisal of them as a medium for expression?
No, it didn’t. That is something I would like to change. But, in today’s world economic effect takes precedent over everything. It doesn’t need to be that way, and I would like to help restore the possibility that seeing a single poster or a single leaflet can produce an encounter with theater and maybe change a person’s life. Perhaps I say this because I am a person whose life was changed by an encounter with theater.

What can be done to help restore the poster as theater?
One thing is to change the consciousness of the people who create them. In the present state, where the poster and leaflets and the poster hanging are all left up to outsiders and the job is broken up into increasingly more detailed division of labor, the sense of working together with people to create something of value is being lost. When small-theater companies come to Poster Hari’s Company to use our poster-hanging service, we tell them that it is best if everyone gets out on the streets together to put up the posters around town as a communal job, and in the past I even used to turn down jobs for that reason.
 Shuji Terayama used to talk about “systemizing the randomness of encounters,” and in fact we are all supported by people we have met by chance. And I believe that, in fact, posters and theater are both means of “systemizing the randomness of encounters.” The Stenberg Brothers who were famous poster artists of the Russian Avant-Garde said: “Posters offered unlimited chances to experiment with possibilities of artistic expression. We tried every means we could imagine to complete a poster that would make people on the street stop and look.” I wish that people today involved in creating works of theater and graphic designers would take these words to heart.
 I don’t know whether all of the designers involved in theater poster creation and posting back in the 1960s had that spirit. I know that many of them thought that poster-hanging was a bother, and I imagine there were some who just left their assignment of poster lying in their rooms undistributed and unhung (laughs).
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