Japanese contemporary theatre poster exhibition showcases graphic design contribution to performing arts scene

“Contemporary Theatre Poster Exhibition: Memories of Theatre, Memories of the Era, Memories of the City” runs at Hikarie Hall in Shibuya from May 1st to May 6th.

The exhibition features 150 examples of theatre poster design from the latter half of the 1960’s to the present. There are contributions from many well-known artists like Tadanori Yokoo and Genpei Akasegawa, as well as posters for popular companies like Otona Keikaku, Asagaya Spiders, Tokyo Sunshine Boys, and more. Entry costs ¥1,000.

japanese contemporary theatre poster design postwar graphics tadanori yokoo

Japanese theatre poster design is interesting in its own right and has attracted attention from scholars. In particular, the angura scene featured some of the most influential artists and graphic designers of the period, and who were active members of the troupes.

Yokoo, Kiyoshi Awazu, Aquirax Uno and Masamichi Oikawa all cut their teeth during the 1960’s and 1970’s, creating bold and anarchic posters for the latest offerings of Shūji Terayama et al.

japanese contemporary theatre poster design postwar graphics tadanori yokoo

Just as the stage work was reacting against Shingeki and the mainstream in terms of form, tone and space, so too did the posters and graphic design react against the cleaner, more international design that was prevailing in Japan at the time, perhaps typified by the (superb) design for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

For the best introduction, I recommend Angura: Posters of the Japanese Avant-Garde by David G. Goodman (Princeton Architectural Press) (1999), which goes into a lot of detail about how the posters in the 1960’s and 1970’s were made, and features lots of great examples. The book was invaluable when writing this article on PingMag about Tenjō Sajiki’s posters.

japanese contemporary theatre poster design postwar graphics tadanori yokoo

I also recommend visiting Poster Hari’s Gallery in Shibuya.

As I wrote on PingMag in 2013:

Poster Hari’s is a small gallery in Dogenzaka, Shibuya. Its name comes from haru, to put up a poster, so not surprisingly the company handles posters and such advertising for theatre companies. It started up just as Terayama died, depriving the CEO of his dream to join Tenjō Sajiki. Luckily, at the same time, with the growth of commercial theatre in Japan, posters started to be handled by outside PR firms rather than individual designers attached to troupes, as was the case for the angura era. The perfect moment to start a poster design company.

Poster Hari’s Company works with Terayama’s widow to archive Tenjō Sajiki’s output and other posters from the angura period. It also handles the maintenance now of the Shūji Terayama Museum in Aomori, as well as managing the rights to productions of Terayama’s plays through the Terayama World company. Every May at around the anniversary of Terayama’s death it holds a poster exhibition.

Poster Hari’s is also involved with the Hikarie exhibition, selecting the 150 posters from its archive of 20,000.

japanese contemporary theatre poster design postwar graphics tadanori yokoo

Donald Richie once waxed lyrical about Yokoo: “To remember the 1960’s in Tokyo is to remember Tadanori Yokoo, the artist whose style epitomized that era: a hard-edged cartoon line, bright kindergarten colors, and the popular idioms of long ago — the frivolity of the early 1920’s… It is through a retrospective telescope that he shows us the wonderful world of prewar Japan, back when Japan still knew what it was and everything was going to be all right. That it notoriously did not turn out that way gives vibrancy to this early Yokoo worlds. So innocent, so feckless, and doomed. All these frivolous folk are going to go up in flames. Yokoo’s is a new way of looking at things, both ironic and affectionate.”

japanese contemporary theatre poster design postwar graphics tadanori yokoo

Due to the position of the Japanese theatre scene as a subculture, especially the fringe scene, companies get little exposure in the mainstream media. They rely on flyers that are handed to audiences in thick packs at performances. Attend any show in Japan and you will get a large collection of flyers to take home with you. This is one of the most effective ways for companies to advertise their upcoming show and it also encourages vibrant graphic design so people take notice of your flyer among the dozens of others in their pack.

The best place to see lots of Japanese theatre posters today is probably Shimokitazawa, whose cluster of fringe theatres are operated by the same corporation so the posters for current shows are displayed together on walls near the venues.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s