Tag Archives: Cinema Art

Film Advertisements in Newspapers: Extremely Rare and Ephemeral

The Makino Collection, Columbia University

A newspaper advertisement for a British film from September 1965. GOLDFINGER, directed by Guy Hamilton

So, as we’ve established, film fliers are ephemeral. Unless they happened to end up in the hands of collectors, they are supposed to be discarded after being distributed in conjunction with a film’s release. However, there is more ephemeral media than just film fliers: film advertisements within newspapers, for example, when a film is brought to the public, a variety of promotional methods could be used. Newspaper advertising is one of the traditional methods to promote films among a broad range of audiences.

Newspapers report up-to-date news and information. After reading through a paper, most often, we immediately discard it. The advertisements are a sub-content of the paper, but can be more significant, for example, especially when a full page is designated for it. The newspaper’s nature, immediacy of information makes film advertisements in it a lot different from the contents of regular film fliers.

With this in mind, we will look at some interesting newspaper film advertisements from the Makino Collection.

The Makino Collection, Columbia University

An unknown newspaper advertisement for a Japanese film, December 1961. TSUBAKI SANJYŪRŌ, directed by Kurosawa Akira, distributed by Tōhō

Newspaper advertisements are different because they include not only film images, but also fresh eye-catching copy, which cannot be seen in typical film ephemera. Since newspapers are not meant to be preserved over time, the contents of newspaper advertisements need to be up-to-date, fresh and entertaining. The big difference, which is also the most entertaining thing about them, is that film advertisements will be flashy, appealing, and include funny slogans with weird wording, in contrast with the more polished look of film fliers, which usually features an elaborate design.

“Well-received! Horrendously popular! You should hurry!” (Goldfinger, 1965)

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The Presence of Japanese Manga, Anime, and Animated Films Overseas

“Although there are still times when I feel sad, I am doing fine.” Japanese anime film flier. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Although there are still times when I feel sad, I am doing fine.

From a dusty box of unprocessed materials, the image of a young witch and tiny black cat standing at a bakery counter caught my attention. It was a flier of a Japanese animated film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, from 1989.

This animated film is an adaptation of a children’s fantasy novel series written by Eiko Kadono, which is available in multiple foreign languages. The film was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and produced by the Japanese animation film studio Studio Ghibli. There were no sequels to the film, while the book series ended the story with volume 6, Each and Every Departure, in 2009. Many teenagers, even grown-ups in Japan would mention this film as one of their favorite animated (anime) films; the fantasy story of uncertainty, puberty and emotional growth through the young heroine Kiki’s adventures has resonated with many. In the film ending, Kiki finally finds her place in a new world after a wonderful experience of independence. This film was a huge box office success, earning 2.2 billion yen at the time. For this film, Studio Ghibli made its first distribution partnership with The Walt Disney Company, and Walt Disney Pictures recorded an English version in 1997, which premiered in the United States at the Seattle International Film Festival in 1998. The film was also released as a home video both in the United States and Canada; over a million copies were sold.


Japanese anime film program. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), directed by Hayao Miyazaki

It is not often that an artistic creation in a foreign language from outside the United States becomes a smash hit in the mainstream market. Moreover, traditional anime films such as Walt Disney’s were only for children. Flouting convention, the presence of Japanese anime (including both TV and film) and manga have been a big presence in the United States and beyond.

This blog entry introduces this phenomenal instance of Japanese pop culture’s popularity throughout the world, as seen through our ephemera collection, and shows manga and anime developed into foreign countries as a strong sub-culture.


So, what are manga and anime? The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism states,

Today, globally, when it comes to anime, the term indicates Japanese anime, and not the pieces by Walt Disney and other countries. When it comes to manga, the term suggests made-in-Japan manga, and not American comic and French bandes dessinées (c. 2007)

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The Unparalleled Japanese Artist (Part III): Hisamitsu Noguchi, Admired by the French Filmmaker François Truffaut

As we have discussed earlier on this blog, film ephemera have evolved from the simple stereotypical style when there were lots of strict conventions, such as presenting the film title and a close-up still of the lead actor or actress, to a variety of elaborate designs. Beginning in the 1980s, as all aspects of film diversified, film poster artists developed their own style. Today, film ephemera, the direct form of film promotion, are no longer merely commercial media; they have been established as a place for artists to display their interpretation of each film, beyond the movie screen.

The Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York

Japanese variant design by Noguchi. British film flier. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981), directed by John Glen

Here is another interesting story about one Japanese artist and his work, who was supported by an innovative film company, caught the eye of one French filmmaker. The subsequent series of artwork was eventually highly received internationally.

Hisamitsu Noguchi (1909-1994), a graphic designer as well as a famous jazz and musical critic, was one of the notable cinema poster designers for pre- and post-war films in Japan.

Noguchi was originally a true film aficionado, and he belonged to a cinema club after joining the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (currently Tokyo University of the Arts). While he initiated lots of projects, including independent film productions, his interest in European films led him to design film posters rather than film production itself. The color, composition and typography of posters for European films, especially elegant designs by Soviet Union and German creators, genuinely influenced his esthetic and artistic sensibility, including those for Sergei Eisenstein’s Old and New/Старое и новое/Staroye i novoye (1929) and Aleksandr Dovzhenko‘s Earth/Земля/Zemlya (1930). Thus, Noguchi chose to design original posters for his graduation project. The project, consisting of seven posters, including Germany’s 1931 film Mädchen in Uniform/Girls in Uniform, was sublime in quality, and all the posters were purchased by the art school (Nemoto, 2011).

The Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York

Designed by Noguchi. A program of French Film Festival in Tokyo ’66


Noguchi had long been wanting to join a film company as a creator, particularly Tōwa. Tōwa, the pioneer of European film distribution, was established by Nagamasa Kawakita (1903-1981), and it had long been Noguchi’s dream film company. In 1933, Noguchi had his dream come true; he finally joined Tōwa, after frequent visits to the company with his portfolio of original film posters. Soon after, this young man, who was just a big film fan, made it all the way to the top of cinema culture. Continue reading

The Unparalleled Japanese Artist (Part II): A Collaboration in Perfection, Ken’ichi Samura and Jῡzō Itami

As we discussed in the previous blog entries, film poster creators were a great part of the film ephemera evolution, that removed the distinction between commercial art and cinema art. While all aspects of film were dramatically transformed, the style of collaboration to produce film posters also changed. Filmmakers and poster creators started to seek new styles of producing works of cinema art, which enhanced film promotion and the appeal of the film itself.

The Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York

Japanese film flier, designed by Ken’ichi Samura. The “Ramen Western” film, Tampopo (1985), directed by Jῡzō Itami

Today, in terms of creativity, the traditional rules no longer bind film poster artists. These artists have firmly established the film poster as a place to display their artistic interpretation of each film, beyond the movie screen.

One interesting collaboration between a filmmaker and an artist offers an example of the unique form of cinema art production. Ken’ichi Samura, a graphic designer, served as the art director for all ten films directed by the filmmaker Jῡzō Itami (1933-1997). Itami was a Japanese filmmaker, actor, illustrator, and industrial designer. He is known for his much acclaimed work, Tampopo (1985), and as the husband of the actress Nobuko Miyamoto, who appeared in all his films after The Funeral (1984).
Samura and Itami first met in the 1980’s, in order to work together for a commercial product design. They then became life-long work partners. Samura not only worked on Itami’s films, but also served as an art director for Itami’s productions. When Itami published a series of books, Samura also designed the covers. Samura came to know fully Itami’s needs, and contributed to bringing Itami’s film to the kind of perfection that is aligned with Itami’s philosophical perspective. In a book about Itami’s life and work, Samura quotes Itami to depict the filmmaker’s radical philosophy of film and design:

Everything appears in cinema, even those tiny objects that can be seen at the edge of the screen. It is all cinema. (2007)

Samura designed all of Itami’s iconic movie posters and pamphlets, as well as graphics used in Itami’s films. Once you saw their film posters, you never forgot them. The unique style in this series of film posters is instantly recognizable as an Itami film.

Itami was always trying to alter the traditional style of film production and film promotion. Accordingly, he established his own style of promoting films. He even prepared the press releases for many of his films before shooting began. He broke tradition by doing everything himself: he wrote his own screenplays, raised funds, and produced his films.

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The Unparalleled Japanese Artist (Part I): Noriyoshi Ōrai and His Supreme Cinema Art, which Attracted the Filmmaker George Lucas Across the Sea

Until the 1960’s, the creation of film posters followed traditional rules, according to the distributors’ promotional direction. Their designers, who were mostly anonymous, had to comply with the film studio and its distributors. Since the 1980’s, movie poster designs in Japan have had a period of transition as some designers started to develop their own unique style for a specific series of cinemas or a specific director’s films. At a glance, these stylish film posters displayed everywhere in downtown reminded passers-by of the arrival of a new film series from a particular director.

The Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York

Japanese film flier, designed by Noriyoshi Ōrai/Ohrai. RŌNINGAI (1990), directed by Kuroki Kazuo

When we discuss the names of noted Japanese movie poster creators, the person who first comes to mind is the illustrator Noriyoshi Ohrai (Ōrai) (1935-2015). He initially created his illustrations for a series of book covers and newspaper advertisements.

His first film poster artwork was for Shirō Moritani’s Nihonchinbotsu/Tidal Wave (1973). It was an era when new technologies including the internet had yet to emerge. His reputation as a film poster creator was brought before a wider audience by the film director George Lucas. One Star Wars illustration that Ōrai published in a Japanese science fiction magazine, which is his specialty genre, caught George Lucas’s eye. Lucas then commissioned Ōrai to design universal posters  for the Star Wars sequel: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). This poster triggered Ōrai’s wider reputation as an artist the world over. Since then, he has published his masterpiece illustrations prolifically , which have not been limited to film posters.

Ōrai created lots of artwork especially for the genre of scientific fiction as the cover art of major SF novels in Japan are usually Ōrai’s.  For cinema art, Ōrai’s another well-known artwork for film is the world renowned Japanese tokusatsu (lit. special filming: films featuring special effects) films, such as the Godzilla series. He created a series of Godzilla film posters since 1984, until the series was completed with Godzilla: Final Wars. His Godzilla artwork was highly commended as “looking more powerful than actual Godzilla in the movies” by its audiences.

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Film Ephemera and its Creators: Bringing Commercial Media to Cinema Art

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Typical style of American film ephemera. American film program. SABRINA (1954), directed by Billy Wilder

Movie posters appeal to the public and delight the eyes of people who see them; in Japan, they are exhibited everywhere downtown, primarily at train stations and movie theaters. Mostly, since the late 1960’s, the design of film posters has reflected the cover design of film programs and fliers. Not only the design of posters, but also where and how long  they are displayed, reflects how film distributors would like to promote the film, as well as its anticipated audience size and box office numbers. Traditionally, most of the creators remained anonymous.

Since they started to be produced, film posters have continued to be produced by an outside designer within the film studio, or by a designer externally, under the control of film production and distribution companies.

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Italian/British film flier. BLOWUP (revival, c.1980), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Initially, the typical designs of film promotion materials were hand-illustrated close-ups of starring actors and actresses. As the design tools and film genres diversified, film ephemera design became more sophisticated; designers were allowed to be more experimental and reflect their creative style, which included characters, minimalist typography, collage, and artistic drawing, among many other elements. Today, some foreign films create a different design to fit unique markets like Japan, while others reproduce the original universal design using the appropriate foreign language. Sometimes copyright issues drive new designs once creations go beyond the border.

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Artwork by Takashi Ishii. ATG leaflet. Kugatsu no jodan kurabu bando (1982), directed by Shun’ichi Nagasaki

Film ephemera are tools of film promotion, and rules existed to make film promotion a box-office success. For each foreign film, there were certain basic rules; American film posters generally had to feature a close-up of film stars, while European films placed more importance on design itself. However, after Art Theatre Guild (ATG), a radical film distribution company, brought completely innovative types of avant-garde films to the world with their launch in 1961, the trend turned in a completely new direction.

ATG’s posters and fliers exhibited their new experimental views of the film world. As they did with the innovative line-up of their films, ATG adopted unnamed but now famed creators and graphic designers of that time, such as Tadanori Yokoo, Kiyoshi Awazu, and Makoto Wada, in order to boldly bring new forms to the expression of film promotion for their avant-garde cinemas. The creators broke with the conventional concept of film promotion, and they made the border between film, commercial design and art blurry. Continue reading