Designer Shigeto Koyama hosts an exhibition in New York! The keyword is “Mingei”|”SHIGETO KOYAMA CCMS experiment OBAKE” Exclusive Interview with Shigeto Koyama

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(The article was originally published in Japanese and translated in English) 

Shigeto Koyama, known for his work on popular titles such as PROMARE, Kill la Kill, and HEROMAN, will host an exhibition titled “SHIGETO KOYAMA CCMS experiment OBAKE” together with “CCMS,” a creative collective consisting of himself, designer Tsuyoshi Kusano, and Ai Nonaka. The exhibition will take place from Thursday, November 9 to Wednesday, November 22 at NowHere, an art gallery in SoHo, New York City.

This exhibition is the first in a series of global projects as part of Sony Music’s new “Art x Entertainment” crossover. The exhibition is split into two major parts, with the first half centered on a retropsective  of Koyama’s work, including a closer look at artwork throughout various stages of the animation pipeline. The gallery also sheds light on the creative process of a designer within the collaborative work that is anime production.

The second half of the exhibition focuses on the activities of CCMS as a collective, showcasing their latest products. Their lineup includes new products featuring characters from their original picture book, “Obake-chan” (later adapted into a short animation at the “Japan Anima(tor)’s Exhibition”), as well as a variety of other unique products, such as T-shirts made in collaboration with “Evangelion” and more.

So just what exactly have they come all the way to the center of the world’s art scene, New York, to do? We asked Koyama himself for some insight into the vision and concepts behind this exhibition, which are anything but simple. 

In 2016, you held a solo exhibition in Taiwan. This time you will be exhibiting “experiment OBAKE” as the collective creative unit, “CCMS,” of which you are also a member.

Koyama: Sony Music reached out both to me personally and to CCMS with the offer. I actually did not want to do a solo exhibition, as the one in Taiwan had been pretty tough. So I decided I wouldn’t do one again. (laughs).

What’s more, the venue is a gallery in New York.

Koyama: When I first heard it’d be in New York I thought, “Why are we doing something so risky?” (laughs). The yen’s value had just plummeted further, and I don’t even consider myself an “artist” to begin with. But that’s exactly why I thought “maybe this could work” … Plus I love lox bagels, so I thought if I went to New York, I’d be able to eat real bagels again (laughs). That was my greatest source of motivation.


Koyama: Also, whenever I go to international events these days, I often get a sense that fans are starving for information. There really aren’t enough opportunities for overseas fans to get their hands on firsthand information about Japanese anime. Even if they watch an anime and find it interesting, none of the core information going beyond that tends to make its way overseas. I wondered how we might be able to share that information more directly…and started discussing things with Kusano and Nonaka from there.

So that’s where we get the concept of “experiment OBAKE.”

Koyama: Another thing. For me personally, the biggest concept was, “Is it possible for an artist to hold a solo exhibition without even drawing a single picture?” (laughs). But in all seriousness, I am not an artist or illustrator or anything, but a single designer in animation. Which means if you’re going to see my work, the best way would be to view the finished product. But like I said before, I have the impression that while that kind of information might be considered common knowledge to anime fans in Japan, it probably hasn’t spread to the rest of the world. In which case, this could be our opportunity to convey those kinds of things in more detail to the rest of the world.

In fact, you’ll be sharing works from various stages of the productions you’ve worked on and going into depth about anime production.

Koyama: For example, Professor Kaichiro Morikawa from Meiji University has been spreading the appeal of “manga, anime, and games” to the rest of the world in broader terms, but in this exhibition I want to specifically cover the “design” process, which is just one part of the animation pipeline, and break it down in much more detail. Demonstrating our methods and industry knowledge, in a sense. There are a lot of people overseas who would like to create something akin to Japanese anime themselves, but even if there are books out there with the “know-how,” an English translation isn’t often available. This is our attempt to explain to overseas anime fans the things that aren’t usually covered in the anime magazines or in panels at events.

It’s interesting that you’ll be disclosing this not to people in Japan, but to an overseas audience.

Koyama: Well, there are already plenty of people in Japan who can do it…so there’s no need to suddenly explain Japanese-style animation design to them at this point (laughs). Anyway, while I want to give a proper, detailed explanation in regards to “anime” and what exactly it entails. When it comes to the “CCMS” part of the exhibit, I want to essentially push everyone blindly off a cliff (laughs). I want to show them something that’s as incomprehensible even to people in Japan as anywhere else in the world.

According to the details we received in advance, you’ll be exhibiting and selling all kinds of merchandise, even including sneakers and rugs, right?

Koyama: The kind of anime and anime merchandise produced in Japan these days already exist within a pretty specific context. People who live in Japan and are exposed to it can understand it intuitively, but it probably doesn’t fully make sense to a lot of people overseas. To elaborate, we’re involved in the production of “commercial work” known as anime, and while some might consider anime as a form of art, it’s completely different from what most people know as art today. But then on the other hand, we see things like original anime celluloids from Akira skyrocketing in price more than 30 years after the film’s initial release. When trying to discern what sets Akira anime cels apart from a typical work of art, Kusano suggested that the closest thing to it is probably “Mingei” (lit. “art of the people”), a Japanese folk art movement. Mingei work were created not as “works of fine art” but rather for one’s enjoyment with the possibility of having value later on.

I see.

Koyama: For example, if someone said, “This wood is the same firewood that Paul McCartney used in his fireplace at home,” I think Beatles fans would probably buy it (laughs). In other words, they’re not just buying any old piece of wood but the story that comes with it. In the same way, when we buy acrylic stands, it’s the story behind a character doing a certain pose on a piece of plastic that we’re buying. That’s what makes it valuable to us.

So the value of the item increases when you put that character’s face on it, is what you’re saying.

Koyama: We actually did make acrylic stands at CCMS quite some time ago because Kusano likes to take anime figures around with him and take pictures of them, but they can be quite bulky when they’re three-dimensional. So we thought of how we could make it compact and easy to carry around and that’s how the idea was born. We’re going to have all sorts of items on display or for sale at our exhibition, but it’s possible that the know-how we acquired from that could prove useful in the development of other products. Or it’s possible that they’ll be too outlandish and it won’t be useful at all. But it’s fun to try things out.

I see.

Koyama: Anime by itself is already interesting, but it’s even more interesting once you learn about the director and staff and how the work came to fruition. The same goes for anime goods. Sometimes a really good anime will also produce good merchandise, while other times they come out with something totally boring (laughs).  Even just one piece of merchandise can make things all that much more interesting, so I feel a sense of urgency to broaden those horizons.

So the products you came up with for this exhibition are a way of tackling that challenge.

Koyama: The thing is, when I’m telling you about it right now, it’s easy to have you understand and go, “Oh, so that’s the story behind it.” But if people see the “Obake-chan” skull lamp out of the blue during the exhibition, they’ll probably have no idea what it’s about (laughs). I mean, those who are interested will probably wonder, “Why did they make this?” and ask questions about it. People ask questions about whatever they find interesting, and that’s when they decide whether or not to see value in it. This actually happens all the time with art. When you see a painting in a gallery you ask the artist why they painted it, and if you find it agreeable you pay for it. I think this is a really important form of communication.

So, anyone who attends during the exhibition period can directly ask you whatever question pops into their mind?

Koyama: Yes, that’s right (laughs). I’m pretty sure I’ll be at the gallery every day.

By the way, you mentioned that bagels were your greatest motivation, but is there anything else besides bagels that you’re looking forward to?

Koyama: I collaborated with a baby brand called Estella to make Obake-chan plushies for the exhibition, but actually even since way back—whenever I attended overseas events I’d always stop by baby stores to check out overseas educational baby toys. Even though it’s not like I have kids of my own (laughs).

But baby toys are the first items we get our hands on after we’re born, aren’t they.

Koyama: Exactly. I was always drawn to the simplicity in the manufacturing. That’s actually how I found Estella. I really wanted to make something with them. So I tried to have Sony Music and the gallery get in touch with them for me, but nothing came of it.

I suppose  from their perspective it was probably hard to follow (laughs).

Koyama: But on overseas sites, there’s that message that sometimes pops up like, “Is this the item you are looking for?” right? So using that system, I replied to the automated email and said, “It’s not a product I’m looking for, but rather a chance to collaborate with you guys,” (laughs). That was the start of our collaboration, so I hope people will check it out. 

The zine “GOMENNASAI “OBAKE” edition” will be available exclusively at the New York venue. It is the newest edition of the CCMS “GOMENNASAI” zine series, which were previously distributed at Comic Market.

Interviewed and written by Showtaro Miya


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