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Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Exhibit: Artists’ Interview

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Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Exhibit: Artists’ Interview

Annie Fuku, an editor at Shogakukan Dime, interviews Noriaki Tanimura and Hyouri Takahashi about their exhibit, “Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Picture Scrolls,” now held at shina Ginza Gallery until November 14.


On October 15, over 80 monsters that appeared in Ultra Q and Ultraman (1966) are being displayed on picture scrolls over 10 meters long at shina, an art gallery in Ginza, Tokyo. This exhibit, “Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Picture Scrolls,” is being held to commemorate the Ultraman series’ 55th anniversary and combines the monsters of Ultraman and the traditional Japanese art form of mononoke.

One of the minds behind the exhibit is “mononoke artist” Noriaki Tanimura. Tanimura also worked at the creative director behind this exhibit, and he has started to pick up international acclaim after being selected in Australia’s art magazine “Lürzer’s ARCHIVE” as one of the world’s 200 best illustrators.

Working with Tanimura is Hyouri Takahashi. A musician and a writer, Takahashi is a member of the creative team “Souen to Kiden” which produced the exhibit.

In this interview, Annie Fuku of Shogakukan Dime interviews Tanimura and Takahashi about what people should know about the appeal of mononoke and the fusion of art and entertainment.

Hyourin Takahashi (left), Noriaki Tanimura (right)

A Mononoke Artist in the World of Ultraman?! “Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Picture Scroll Exhibit”

Today, I’m here with “mononoke artist” Noriaki Tanimura as well as musician and writer Hyouri Takahashi. Thank you for your time.

So you two opened this “Ultraman Kaiju Mononoke Picture Scroll Exhibit”. First, to Mr. Tanimura, you are called a “mononoke artist”. What does that mean, exactly?

Tanimura: I’m from Kyoto and I lived close to temples and shrines, so mononoke was nothing but appealing to me. At first, I simply thought the designs were cool, and I was always interested in drawing them. But gradually, I thought more deeply about the messages mononoke were telling.

In the real world, there are “those that move” as well as still life, “things that don’t move”. Each exists for a reason and tell a message. As a “mononoke artist”, I make that easier to understand through my art.

I want to convey to children and other young people the story of mononoke beyond words like “cute” or “scary.”

Mr. Takahashi, your creative team “Souen to Kiden” was part of the exhibit planning. Could you tell us more?

Takahashi: “Souen to Kiden” is a project planning team centered around myself and Ryou Nakamura. We were both raised around music, but we’re a team that wants to bring about projects of all kinds, not just music, and that’s how we started the first phase of this exhibit. Our team is skilled at music, of course, but also in areas like design and web design. I personally don’t have a lot of practical skills, so I mostly come up with ideas. (laughs)

How did you two meet, and how did planning for the exhibit start?

Takahashi: Nakamura introduced Tani to me as “someone who draws mononoke but is saying he wants to draw monsters on picture scrolls.”

Pretty strange way to start, right? (laughs)

To be honest, I steeled myself up to meet him, wondering what kind of person he’d be, and then there he was.

Tani showed me Disney picture scrolls he had drawn for fun, and I was just blown away. “This person is unbelievable,” I thought.

I got excited by how interesting it’d be to celebrate Ultraman‘s 55th anniversary with the monsters on picture scrolls. After we received official confirmation from Tsuburaya Productions, we started planning the exhibition.

I didn’t realize until later that the date was July 17th, the date Ultraman was first broadcast.

Wow, what a coincidence!

Tanimura: That really was some timing. *laughs*

Takahashi: I think there must have been some guiding force at work. Anyway, we hit the ground running right from the start.

Tanimura: We really did.

Kanegon and Pigmon

It’s a really interesting idea to fuse the ancient art of mononoke with Ultraman monsters.

Takahashi: I’m sure there have been many projects depicting Ultraman in a traditionally Japanese way, but to really grab at people’s hearts, it can’t just be presented in a Japanese style. For this, you need to get to the essence of mononoke and monsters.

With Tani who is an expert at conveying the appeal of mononoke and my team’s familiarity with the appeal of the monsters, we could make something entirely new: picture scrolls of Ultra monsters that reach your core.

You mention “getting to the essence” of things. Could you be more specific? What are some key points?

Tanimura: I think mononoke and monsters exist as metaphors for nature, so I thought about how to best express that.

So the art material is a key point. I chose doro (mud) because many micro-organisms, the origin of life, live in it. Then I started doro-ing.

Takahashi: Well-played.

Tanimura: Also, I made original washi (a type of Japanese paper) for these scrolls.

“Makomo” is a sacred plant used in rituals in ancient times, and it is said to have purifying properties.

Washi made with makomo used to be made in “Tatsuiwa Washi no Sato” (in Nagawamachi, Nagano), but they’ve stopped because artisans have died.

Along with that, it took much trial and error blending fibers and powders, but when I figured it out, I had 10 meters of the world’s first sheet of washi of its kind.

There are a lot of fibers in washi made with makomo, so it’s supposed to be really hard to draw on. I used mud with makomo mixed in it when I went to give it a try, and the pen moved easily. I could draw on it.

Takahashi: It’s like a story of a hero being chosen by a legendary sword. (laughs)

Tanimura: Of other things I used, I made a brush modified with “fulgurite,” also known as “fossilized lightning” because it crystallizes when sand is struck with around 60,000 volts of lightning. I used that brush for these picture scrolls because my hidden running theme was “creation from earth and lightning”. (laughs)

Neronga

These things are also on display at the exhibit, so please give them a look.

Takahashi: By displaying the materials, it fits into one of our themes, that being “at where everything returns to the earth,” so in a way, the art is made with life itself. I think that’s something that translates into respect to the monsters.

And for this exhibit, we don’t use the term yokai. We only use mononoke. The “mono” part of the word encompasses all non-human, supernatural energy, including gods and demons. Yokai can also refer to gods and demons, but they’re more of spirits of the land and symbolic of human awe. By using materials taken from nature, we think this idea becomes easier to convey than if it was explained in words.

There will probably still be people who’ll go, “I still don’t get it,” or, “Why go so far?” but I don’t think we could’ve done this without these things. I believe Tani’s decisions (regarding his work) were absolutely correct.

Tanimura: Even the rest of the team was rather confused when we told them we’d be using mud and making our own washi. (laughs)

What did you use for the coloring?

Tanimura: We used pigments, specifically ones crushed from minerals.

Takahashi: Originally, monsters in Ultra Q were in black and white, so we wanted to draw Ultraman‘s monsters in color. Kids growing up at that time would have experienced the transition from Ultra Q in black and white to Ultraman in color, and we wanted to express a little of that sensation in the picture scrolls.

A lot of this content was prepared down to how monsters would have looked 555 years ago amidst a fantasy setting. I want people to imagine all sorts of things from this.

That 10-meter scroll you mentioned before. How long did it take to make?

Tanimura: I’d say between 1~2 months. Since I’m drawing with mud, there’s no sketch, and it has be drawn in one go.

I figured we’d rely a lot on the popular monsters, but thanks to “Souen to Kiden”, I could follow what diehard fans will look for, so I was able to draw all 80 monsters that appeared between Ultra Q and Ultraman.

What monsters on the scroll do you like the most?

Tanimura: You probably couldn’t guess it, but I like the giant with the big octopus. I think it’s funny that it can look like a regular person with a regular octopus as their feet. (laughs)

Daidako and Giant

Takahashi: Mine is probably Gabora. I’ve never seen Gabora looking like a lion-dog before. I think this works because Tani isn’t a stiff monster buff, so he can freely imagine different arrangements. When I saw this Gabora and Dada, I really felt that we could pull this off.

Gabora

Tanimura: It was also challenging to draw the line between mononoke and monsters, there will probably be fans who’ll think, “What’s this?” Obviously, we can’t stray too far from the monster’s original appearance, but it’s not interesting to leave them unchanged either.

Thanks to “Souen to Kiden” and Tsuburaya Productions’ supervision, they could tell me in my trial and error if I overdid it or if it was too mature. Even that part was pretty fun to me.

Takahashi: From the mud and paper to the size of the whole piece, the impact can’t be understated. Please come to Ginza and take a look. I think you’ll meet the monsters in a way you haven’t met them before.

Dada and Woo

“Tempura Yokai“: Whoa, these look delicious!

We’re conducting this interview in a tempura restaurant. Is this part of your work too, Mr. Tanimura?

Tanimura: Yes, this is “tempura yokai“.

Originally in Fall 2019, Toridoll Holding (which runs the company Marugame Seimen) opened a new location, and I was asked to do an exhibition in the art space. As it turns out, I wanted to do an exhibit that would take something familiar to Toridoll employees and make it new and interesting. If Marugame Seimen is known for udon, then I would go for tempura.

And so I drew about 40 kinds of “tempura yokai” using paper towels as my canvas.

The employees were very excited by them, and the drawings were very well received. 3D renditions even made their appearances at Wonder Festival.

They were such a huge hit that Qualia will market a line of “tempura yokai” capsule toys this winter.

These “tempura yokai” are really cute.

Takahashi: They’re great, aren’t they? “Cute” is certainly one response, but the cool part about mononoke or yokai is that they can be “cute” too, not just “scary”. Kids will find all kinds of appeal in things as they grow int adults.

I’m a fan of the green pepper yokai, but the quality and structure is something else. It just looks so crunchy and delicious. (laughs)

Tanimura: It’s very hard to make figures out of tempura. It’s thanks to the modeling team Zero Studio’s trial and error that the yokai look so delicious. Thanks to them, this is art you can enjoy up close. It’s more than just a capsule toy.

This is “contemporary art”.

Contemporary art, you say? (laughs)

We see it in the “tempura yokai” and in the “Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Picture Scrolls,” but they have this “pop” quality seen in entertainment.

Mr. Tanimura, you work in advertising, so regarding the arts and entertainment businesses, what do you think as you make your pieces?

Tanimura: I think art and business are very much related, but I’m not in this for the fame or money. My KPI [Key Performance Indicators] are people’s smiles and happiness. Because of corona, I want to bring even sparks of joy to people through art, but I have to think of the picture scroll team as well.

I think it’d be great if this expands into a business, but I think it’s wrong to set profit as your first goal. Your work will undoubtedly change because of it. I believe that the things children create are interesting because the whiff of money is nowhere to be found. If that idea spread, art would be a very different line of work.

Takahashi: Tani’s also been working as a creative director, and his ability to convey things so they’re easier to understand is just profound. I’m a bit of an artist as well, but this is like showing things through a story, and that’s a very modern thing.

Lastly, I’d like to ask Mr. Tanimura about his reason for drawing mononoke and to ask Hyourin about the themes in the “Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Picture Scrolls” project.

Tanimura: I think the idea that everything has meaning and an energy is an old Japanese way of thinking. Through the themes in mononoke, I want to convey those messages such that they’re explanatory yet easy to understand and fun. I hope they convey the sense of life and offer a spark to try something new.

In the midst of corona, I think only Japan where yokai are trending. Yokai are really something interesting.

Takahashi: I think the theme of this project is “inheritance”. After all, Ultraman, mononoke, and picture scrolls are all forms of Japanese culture. How these things are received change slightly with each generation, but they evolve to fit, and I’d love for them to carry on. It’s with great honor that this project lined up with Ultraman‘s 55th anniversary, and I hope everyone enjoys it.

Exhibit Information

Commemorating Ultraman‘s 55th Anniversary: “Ultra Kaiju Mononoke Picture Scroll Exhibit”

  • Location: shina Ginza Gallery
  • Dates: October 15 to November 14
  • Times: 11:00 am ~ 6:00 pm (closed on Mondays)
  • Exhibit Webpage: [link]

You can see more of Noriaki Tanimura’s work on Twitter and Instagram. You can also follow Hyourin Takahashi and his creative team “Souen to Kiden” on Twitter for information on upcoming projects.

Sources: Dime, Tsuburaya Productions


Toku fan living in Japan who also enjoys karaoke, papercraft, and dramas.

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