Recently a friend asked if I’d be interested in going to a poster exhibit at The Japan Foundation here, in Toronto. The 67 posters in the exhibit, most of which date back to the 1970s, were designed by Eiko Ishioka, who passed in 2012.
Aside from her spectacular career as an art director and graphic designer in Tokyo, she was also a clothing and costume designer and she had a distinguished career as a designer in films.
Her film career began with Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, directed by Paul Schrader, of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead fame.
When we arrived at the exhibit we noticed a film playing in a room off the reception area and decided to start with that. It was about the making of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and, in addition to showing many clips of the film, it also featured interviews with Ishioka, Paul Schrader and Philip Glass, who scored the music.
Don’t ask me how long this “documentary” lasted. I was so absorbed I lost track of time. So did my friend and, when it was over, we both decided we needed to “sit” with what we’d just seen and would come back to see the posters another time. It had made that much of an impact on both of us.
So sit we did. At a nearby restaurant. And over a tasty lunch and ice cold beer we rambled on and on about how desperately we’d both needed to see that, what perfect timing it was and how it was like a balm for our bruised and battered souls.
All I will say is, every single frame of the clips of the film they showed, was “designed,” and designed so beautifully, so perfectly, it took my breath away. In fact, the two of us kept gasping out loud — lucky we were in there by ourselves.
Every single clip was also a lesson in the art (and discipline) of getting rid of everything that is unnecessary and keeping only what is essential, distilling everything down to the very essence of the idea. It was pure, it was simple and so very beautiful. And oh so difficult to achieve.
The film is also a lesson in collaboration and how important and magical it can be. If Eiko Ishioka, Paul Schrader and Philip Glass had not shared the same vision, if they hadn’t all been on the same page, if they hadn’t been able to put egos aside and work as one, it is doubtful the film would have turned out the way it turned out.
To say Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is magnificent, that it is a masterpiece is an understatement; and I am desperate to see it. What I’d really like is to see the “how- it-was-made” film first and then watch the film itself. Several times over.
I’ve been around, and have worked in advertising, a very long time. While there is certainly still some good work being done, there’s not as much of it as there used to be; and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to interest clients in it. We live in a get-in-done-fast-and-cheap world.
Sometimes it gets me down, when the struggle to resist and hang on to my standards gets wearying and I start to question whether or not, at this point in my life, I want to keep on banging my head against the wall.
Then came this.
Must get my own copy of Mishima: A Life in four Chapters.