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Movie Poster of the Week: “Band of Ninja”

I recently came across a page on the website of the Cinématheque Française devoted to their eye-popping collection of Japanese posters, many of which I had never seen before. Though there are some striking examples of the highly dramatic painterly style of the 1950s (like this Throne of Blood), what really caught my eye were the collage designs of the ’60s perfected by the great Tadanori Yokoo and Kiyoshi Awazu (both subjects for a future column).

I thought I had a pretty good grasp on Nagisa Oshima but I had never even heard of Band of Ninja (1967) until I saw this rule-busting poster (designer unknown). I never would have thought that putting a photo of the director in the middle of a poster was a good idea until I saw this, but somehow it works amid the myriad illustrated, photographic and typographic elements.

Band of Ninja, it turns out, is a most unusual film itself. Neither live-action nor animation, Oshima’s adaptation of Sampei Shirato’s manga of 16th-century peasants and deadly ninja was composed of close-up photographs of Shirato’s drawings (the famously adventurous director having already experimented with still photographs in his earlier documentaries).

Two other posters that stood out for me were this stunner for Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (1969),designed by art director Setsu Asakura, and the 1987 poster for Kazuo Hara’s 1987 WWII documentary The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (designer unknown), which resurrects the photomontage style which had by then fallen out of fashion. Both these designs were repurposed for their DVD releases, but the original posters are so much better.

Stunning. I keep looking for a book of specifically Japanese graphic/poster art from the 60’s/70’s but haven’t found one yet. Then there’s the expensive Tadanori Yokoo books out there — that guy has to be in my top five artists I think. I love the square photo in the middle of the poster. Only in a Japanese poster would you see that. Japanese posters are starting to threaten Cuban and Polish posters for me… that’s how fond of them I am… These are great… thank you!
Sam, there is a great little book of Japanese avant-garde theater posters of the 60s and 70s which has a lot of Yokoo and more.

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