While Japanese Anime has seeped into the western subconscious for a while and just about everybody has a fondness for Toho Studio’s Godzilla franchise, there seems to be a new interest in other Japanese movie genres. In particular, Japanese horror movies such as Ringu and Audition have found favour with an intelligent audience who want to be genuinely scared, and Kinji Fukasaku’s visceral and darkly comic Battle Royale made headlines around the world with its shocking depiction of Japanese society going too far.
Japanese publisher cocoro books have produced a slim volume called Japanese Movie Posters which allow us to look back over Japan’s post-war movie output. In many ways, Japanese movie posters are similar to movie posters from all over the world: sensational, populist and lurid; but Japanese poster designers have brought their own sense of ero-guro —a disturbing blend of the erotic and grotesque—to their designs with scantily clad women and leering Samuri and Yakuza.
Some posters are masterpieces of high-camp kitsch, particularly the frenzied photomontages of the Godzilla and Mothra movies. The poster for Monster Island Battle: Son of Godzilla (1967) seems to have everything: Godzilla, his son, Minilla, an exploding plane, a variety of giant insects and, bizarrely, a musical score across the top. The sheer dizzying assault to the senses makes you want to see the movie straight away!
At the other end of the scale, some of the more recent posters are more subtle, often beautiful and haunting. The posters for Farewell Space Battleship Yamato (1978) and the understated Shikoku (1998) show a different, restrained side to Japanese poster design.
Japanese Movie Posters has a scholarly introduction by Chuck Stephens, contributing editor to Film Comment and columnist for Kinema Junpo and is then divided into seven sections, corresponding to a loose grouping of genres: Yakuza (Gangster), Sci-Fi and Monster, Samurai, Pink ( pinku eiga , or erotic movies), Horror, Animation and New Cinema. Each section has a brief overview to the genre and movies by Tetsuya Masuda (a movie poster expert) and Kairakutei Black (a walking encyclopaedia on Japanese movies who has watched over 365 movies a year for decades, and who pops up in the movie Molester’s Train in the Pink section). At only 96 pages long, Japanese Movie Posters, is at best an introduction and there are some notable movies which seem to be missing such as Mononoke Hime, Battle Royale, Odishon, Tetsuo and others.
While each movie poster has a brief synopsis of the plot and interesting associated trivia, what is lacking is any kind of comment on the posters themselves. Although Chuck Stephens’ introduction is bravely tackles some of the aesthetic and stylistic issues, it would been interesting to explore the posters in the context of what was happening in Japanese society and in relation to Japanese art, design and culture.
But despite these minor shortcomings, there are precious few books on Japanese movie posters available in English and for film buffs, designers or Japanophiles this is an essential purchase for your library. Cocoro’s parent company, DH Publishing , has the aim of introducing Japanese culture to the west, from traditional wabi sabi to modern otaku , and Japanese Movie Posters will go a long way to stoking that curiosity, interest and appreciation.
Japanese Movie Posters: Yakuza, Monster, Pink and Horror (2002)
by Chuck Stephans, Tetsuya Masuda, Kairakutei Black
Publisher: cocoro books
Format: Paperback, 96pp