Movie Poster of the Week | The Posters of Eiko Ishioka and Haruo Takino

A look at an occasional creative partnership that resulted in three exquisite Japanese posters for films by Francis Ford Coppola.
Adrian Curry

Above: 1980 Japanese poster for Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1979). Design by Eiko Ishioka, artwork by Haruo Takino.

With Francis Ford Coppola’s long-gestated Megalopolis having premiered yesterday at Cannes, it's a good time to look back at the posters from his 60-year-long career. The only problem is that many posters for his films are either too well known (the iconic Godfather logo, which came from Mario Puzo’s book cover) or nothing to write home about (as with his more recent films, from Jack [1996] to Twixt [2011]). Like Coppola’s career itself, there are peaks and valleys—one of my very first posts for Notebook, almost exactly fifteen years ago, was about the gorgeous design for The Rain People (1969)—but a career retrospective of his posters seems like it might result in less than the sum of its parts. Yet of all his posters there are three rare Japanese designs that have always stood out as utterly extraordinary: two for Apocalypse Now (1979) and one for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

I’ve always seen these posters attributed to Eiko Ishioka, but all three are collaborations with the illustrator Haruo Takino. Ishioka’s story is somewhat well known. Born in Tokyo in 1938, she studied fine arts at Tokyo University of the Arts and then started working as a designer for the cosmetics company Shiseido in 1961, bringing a new and subversive girl-power aesthetic to Japanese advertising. She was the art director for the department store Parco in the 1970s (her campaigns featuring Faye Dunaway are iconic) before moving to the US in the early 1980s.

I have found only one movie poster that Ishioka designed prior to her work for Coppola, this NSFW design for Luchino Visconti’s final film, The Innocent (1976), which looks more like a glossy fashion spread than a film poster. I’ve also heard that she designed posters for the director Susumu Hani (possibly this one?), but I haven’t been able to track them down or confirm.

In 1979, Ishioka commissioned Takino to paint two enormous (58" x 40") and very different hyper-realist posters for Apocalypse Now. These got the attention of Coppola himself (how could they not?) and in 1985 she was hired as the art director on his “Rip Van Winkle” episode of Faerie Tale Theatre, starring Harry Dean Stanton, which began a pivot in her career from graphic design to set and costume design. That same year she was the production designer on Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, the reason why that film looks like nothing else in Schrader’s filmography.

In 1987, having momentarily returned to 2D art, she won a Grammy for Best Recording Package for Miles Davis’s Tutu. In 1988, she received a Tony nomination for her set designs for M. Butterfly. After reuniting with Coppola in 1993, she won an Oscar for her glorious costumes for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Björk hired her in 2001 to direct the video for her song “Cocoon,” for which Ishioka visualized a completely naked Bjork who becomes wrapped in skeins of red thread that emanate from her nipples. Björk was actually wearing a close-fitting body suit, but the video was still banned from MTV. In addition to her film and video work, Ishioika designed the costumes for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and for Grace Jones’ 2009 Hurricane Tour. She also curated an exhibition of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nuba photographs.

Aside from Coppola, Ishioka's most fruitful cinematic collaboration was with the director Tarsem Singh, for whom she designed the costumes for The Cell (2000), The Fall (2006), Immortals (2011), and Mirror Mirror (2012). She died of pancreatic cancer on January 21, 2012, at the age of 73, receiving a posthumous Oscar nomination the following year for her work on Mirror Mirror.

About Haruo Takino, her illustrator on the Apocalypse Now posters, a lot less is known. He was born in 1943 and is probably best known worldwide for two panoramic, highly realistic paintings of the animals of Noah’s Ark and a parade of dinosaurs, both of which are very popular jigsaw puzzle subjects.

The earliest poster design I can find by Takino is for a 1974 theatrical production of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. The poster was art-directed by the great Japanese graphic designer Ikko Tanaka and features Takino’s illustration of the actress Chikako Hosokawa looming over the titular blossoming trees.

The Apocalypse Now posters came about because the Japanese distributor, Masato Hara, didn’t like the American poster and asked Ishioka to design an alternative. She immediately thought of Takino, then well known as a magazine illustrator, and took him to New York to watch the film.

The two posters are exquisite in their hyperreal grandeur. I’ve seen them delineated as “Helicopter Flock/Surfing,” the design below (click on both of these to see them large and note the surfer riding the wave), and “Jungle Burning/Colonel Kurtz,” at the top of the page. In a rare interview, Takino talks about how Ishioka was very demanding and constantly checking his work, and that the two posters took about 40 days to complete. (He also declares that “the process of drawing is really unpleasant and tedious”). Both versions now sell for thousands of dollars (the Brando variant was offered at Sotheby’s recently for $6,000), and I’ve never seen either in the flesh.

Two years later, Takino collaborated with Ishioka again on the Japanese posters for Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982), which Coppola distributed.

Their next and perhaps most extraordinary collaboration came almost ten years later, when they worked on the Japanese poster for Dracula. Takino’s startling image, undoubtably conceived by Ishioka, is of two vampires about to make out or devour each other, one with Medusa-like tresses, the other with a snarling wolf’s maw disturbingly emerging from the back of their head. But what really makes this poster stand out is the way Takino has painted it in near-monochrome, as if two marble statues have come to life. The poster itself is very rare and it is hard to find good images of it (the one most commonly shared has the right edge folded over as if scanned from a catalogue). The photo below was taken (not by me) at a museum retrospective of Ishioka’s work, so apologies for the reflections.

After their work for Coppola, Takino and Ishioka reunited in 2000 to create the Japanese poster for Tarsem’s The Cell with a stunning illustration of Vincent D’Onofrio and Jennifer Lopez wearing Ishioka’s otherworldy creations. (Note how Ishioka deservedly gets equal billing with Tarsem and the film’s stars.)

Apparently they also worked together on an illustrated poster for Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor (2001), which I haven’t been able to find.

In 2020 the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo and the Ginza Graphic Gallery collaborated on the world's first large-scale retrospective of Ishioka’s work with the two-part, two-gallery exhibition “Eiko Ishioka: Blood, Sweat, and Tears―A Life of Design” and “Survive: Eiko Ishioka.”

In 2013, designer/illustrator Akiko Stehrenberger chose Ishioka and Takino’s Apocalypse Now helicopter poster as one of her ten favorite movie posters of all time. See what she had to say about it here. And if anyone knows of any other collaborations between Ishioka and Takino, or if they can track down that one for Pearl Harbor or some of Ishioka’s 1970s film posters, please let me know in the comments below.

Many thanks to Hidenori Okada of the National Film Archive of Japan.

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Movie Poster of the WeekEiko IshiokaHaruo TakinoFrancis Ford CoppolaLuchino ViscontiGodfrey ReggioTarsem SinghColumns
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