Monday, April 2, 2012

Ishioka Now

I have spoken about the late, great Eiko Ishioka several times here at the blog. This year I said some words about her sad passing in January and then just last week when I reviewed her fourth and final collaboration with Indian director Tarsem Singh, Mirror Mirror, in which Ishioka stakes an early claim to a second Academy Award with her astonishing designs that fill the screen like a high fashion fabric shop exploded on screen. Furthering on from those, however, I cannot recommend this article by Lynn Hirschberg at W Magazine that looks at her creative life that begun by being told she's never become a success because she's a woman and how she was able to turn her immense creative vision into something that became cinematically appropriate. It's a relatively short piece so it's easily digestible over breakfast for lunch or during a particularly brief procrastination session, and yet still paints such a lovely image of the woman who once told Jennifer Lopez that she couldn't make a costume "more comfortable" because "you’re supposed to be tortured."


Some segments that I particularly loved include this one from Francis Ford Coppola who hired Ishioka to create the distinctive and immaculate costumes for Bram Stoker's Dracula, for which she ultimately won an Academy Award, after having seen her design for a local Japanese poster for his Apocalypse Now (which you can see up above).

Singh and Eiko met in the late nineties when Singh hunted her down after seeing her work for Dracula, which was only Eiko’s second job as a film costume designer. Francis Ford Coppola had collaborated with Eiko on the poster for the Japanese release of Apocalypse Now and felt her sensibility was crucial for Dracula. “My strategy in hiring her—an independent, a weirdo outsider with no roots in the business—worked,” the director wrote at the time. “The script was envisaged for very young actors, so I said to myself, Let’s spend our money not on sets but on the costumes, because the costumes are closest to the actors. I decided that the costumes would be the set.”

The presence of Singh, perhaps the collaborator that she is nowadays most remember fall, lingers over the piece. Their films, The Cell, The Fall, Immortals and Mirror Mirror are all delightfully bonkers in the way mainstream ideas are blended and fused with out-of-the-box lunacy, horte couture and darkness. His anecdote about Ishioka's goal made me giggle.

Mostly, though, it remains surprising—and original. “It’s very hard to come up with unique work again and again and again,” Singh said. “And Eiko never repeated herself. Her goal was not to be an ambassador for Japanese culture or Western culture. Her goal was to be an ambassador for a new world: Eiko’s planet. And she was.”

Lastly, anything about Ishioka's collaboration with Faye Dunaway in the 1980s just seems ripe for amusing imagery, don't you think? West meets East and a hard boiled egg.



When she became the chief art director for Parco in 1971, she seized the opportunity in remarkable ways: Her campaigns were provocative, beautiful, and subversive. Her defiantly antiproduct ads featured portraits of often naked women with taglines like “Girls Be Ambitious!” or “Don’t Stare at the Nude; Be Naked.” She used models from Morocco, India, and Kenya in native garb, along with New York street kids in their eighties New Wave splendor. In a particularly memorable series with Dunaway from 1979, Eiko photographed the actress in a gold and silver Issey Miyake satin robe and headdress. ­Dunaway’s arms are spread wide, and two young Japanese children—Eiko’s nieces—are embraced by the folds of her kimono. The girls are wearing red dresses that reveal their nipples, and a red pigment covers their eyes like a mask. The effect is mysterious, grand, and vaguely religious. The ad reads: “Can West Wear East?” “It was a rather bold question,” Eiko later said. “The image looks to the future—to a time when East and West become one.”

Aah, to be a fly on the wall of those meetings! Please do read the entire W Magazine piece as it's a wonderful piece.

If you're unfamiliar with Eiko Ishioka's work then going along to the movies and seeing Mirror Mirror on the big screen is certainly a great place to start. It's truly some of her finest, most intricate work. But, then again, all of her work is must see so just watch anything she ever had a creative hand in and I'm sure you'll be blown away. This tumblr is also a nice little easy resource for images and video of Ishioka's work and there are some fabulous behind the scenes images of her work being modeled and tested - I particularly love the chess armada hats (to the right) and the shots of her workshop filled with tables upon tables of delicately worked hats, headdresses and masks.

I've included some of my favourite images below and hopefully you can understand why I continue to harp on about her and her work. She was truly an innovative creator whose work made for instant event status. She will continue to be missed - I can only hope Tarsem Singh finds a worthy heir to the Ishioka throne of costuming for his next movie. Let her influence on design live on, and even if the Academy did shamefully leave her out of their In Memoriam package maybe they can make it up to her by awarding her one last statue at next year's ceremony. I doubt anybody could she she isn't deserving of it.

1 comment:

mangrove said...

Singh should pay you for doing a fine job : your review and this write-up have convinced me to see what horrible, punitive marketing had screamed to avoid at all costs!