Tadanori Yokoo

Tadanori Yokoo is one of Japan’s most successful graphic designers, printmakers, and painters. His designs embody personal exposure as well as particular emblems of Japanese culture. He is greatly influenced by Push Pin Studios, a post-WWII graphic design studio (founded in 1954 by Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast), which presented simplicity with comic book design and vivid colors. He is also greatly inspired and influenced by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and Japanese author Yukio Mishima.

His most famous work, self-titled “Tadanori Yokoo” from 1965 is a self-portrait poster showing the artist as a man who hanged himself, with a caption in English saying “made in Japan/Having reached a climax at the age of 29, I was dead”. On the lower left side of the poster one can spot a cutout of Yokoo’s photograph as a toddler, and on the opposite side, another cutout showing a group photo which was most likely taken during Yokoo’s teenage years. Yokoo did not forget to represent his heritage in this poster, and the rising sun, the most representative symbol of wartime Japan, dominates the background. On one of the sides is the Japanese Shinkansen (in vernacular English, a bullet train), and on the other side, the image of the nuclear bomb hitting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both breaking through Mt. Fuji, another Japanese icon.

Yokoo described this work as a death statement that he issued for himself as an attempt to escape his own past as well as his country’s past after enduring the American nuclear bomb. His designs encouraged Japanese society to face the ramifications of their collective trauma after the war, instead of denying and obfuscating it. That being said, in this poster design, the integration of vivid (even happy) colors, alongside a collage-like format, and the unquestionable presence of nationalistic Japanese symbols—such as the rising sun, the Shinkansen, and even Mt. Fuji—represents Yokoo’s desire to challenge the typical state of design, and criticize the connection between culture and politics in post-war Japan. He thus created a design-based cultural bulwark against the Bauhaus-led style that dominated Japanese graphic design during the fickle 1960s, and offered an audacious cultural deviation from the mainstream thought and aesthetics, criticizing the sycophancy, acquiescence, and cultural ennui of the Western modernism that prevailed in Japan at the time, as well as the country’s rampant economic growth and adherence to capitalism.

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