September 12, 2009

BOOK MONTH: 100 Underground Theatre Posters


  • Japanese Avant Garde
  • - 100 Poster Masterpieces From Underground Theatre
  • aka ジャパン・アヴァンギャルド -アングラ演劇傑作ポスター100-
  • By Kuwabara Shigeo, 桑原茂夫
  • and Sasame Hiroyuki, 笹目浩之
  • Translated by Steven Clark
  • Published by PARCO CO., LTD. (2004)
  • Bilingual, English and Japanese
  • 120 pages
  • ¥4800
  • ISBN: 4891946865

In Japanese underground theatre the poster has reigned supreme for many years. It has held a special status as a piece of the show itself, a foreword to a show you might say. The design was ofter elaborate and experimental, focus was on form rather than to sell the show — the book contains one anecdote about a poster that wasn't finished and printed until after the show's premiere. The freedom the artists enjoyed led to posters of high artistic value. This book collects 100 posters by different artists, focusing on posters from 1960 and '70 for Shūji Terayama's troupe Tenjō Sajiki and Kara Jūrō's Jōkyō Gekijō. The list of artists is long and contains the biggest names and a few surprises Tadanori Yokoo and Aquirax Uno are given but western readers might be surprised to find posters by Kazuichi Hanawa and Seiichi Hayashi in here. I was really surprised when I saw an illustration by Katsuhiro Otomo in one of few posters from the eighties.

The book contains both Japanese and English text, and for once the Japanese text is completely translated. Often in art books you only get a summary in English. The book contains one essay and four interviews about the underground theatre and the posters, all very intresting. There is also a poster index in the back. The book treats the posters with respect, the paper is thick and the colors are spot on. And it is huge. It measures 12x17 inches (30x43 cm for us Eurofags) which is a size pretty close to how the posters were ment to be experienced. All posters get a full page each and the margins are very generous, no bleeds or anything that runs into the gutter. PICTURES:

LEFT: Hirano Kōga (design) & Kaneko Kuniyoshi (illustration)
RIGHT: Akira Uno aka Aquirax Uno
All interviews are translated into English
The back contains an extensive index on all posters
Hirano Kōga
Katsuhiro Otomo
Takabatake Kashō
Kazuichi Hanawa
Kushida Mitsuhiro
Kushida Mitsuhiro
Tadanori Yokoo

The book is a gorgeous must buy and can be found on and in quite a few English online design stores, though often overpriced. It is sometimes labeled "100 Greatest Poster Masterpieces from Underground Theatre".