In Person: Tsuzuki style
"I often have to work independently because architecture
and design magazines are kind of stupid; they just want to cover big,
Kyoichi Tsuzuki, writer, editor and maverick designer, is Japan's
great chronicler of the strange and exotic. Stuart Braun enters his bizarre
"The design trade and profession are boring. The art of reading
clients' moods is everything, while what passes for high-end professional
quality, utterly bereft of any real vigor, creeps into every corner of
the design world ... Design was supposed to be something more exiting!"
So runs Kyoichi Tsuzuki's introduction to his "Street Design
Files," a collection of photo essays that aims to "show
up the dead-ended design community." Journalist, editor, art curator,
nightclub designer and publisher of books exploring the margins of design
and popular culturefrom "Sperm Palace," a meditation
on the outré imagery of Japanese sex museums, to "The German Soul,"
a homage to the Teutonic garden gnomeTsuzuki finds art in strange
For 20 years a contributor to Japanese lifestyle, art and architecture
magazines such as Popeye, SPA and Brutus, Tsuzuki is today best known
for a unique oeuvre of social documentary that finds beauty in the gaudy
and the kitsch. Heir to a tradition of Japanese art spanning the voyeuristic
photography of Nobuyushi Araki and the erotic-grotesque illustrations
of Tashio Saeki, Tsuzuki's work epitomizes Japan's aesthetic
empathy with things plastic, postmodern and pornographic. "Satellite
of Love," a study of the love hotel as installation art, catalogs
a cornucopia of space-age rotary beds, mirror rooms and baroque boudoirs,
and was recently presented in an exhibit, complete with revolving bed,
at the Jam International Art show in Tokyo Opera City. Tsuzuki also rolled
out a reconstructed Japanese sex museum for the 2001 Yokohama Triennial
of Art, Asia's biggest art event.
Aside from these dalliances with art exhibitions, Tsuzuki's mission
is to produce books, of which he has created over 30, and edited more
than 150. Tsuzuki's ability to see art in the everyday"Portable
Ecstasy," for instance, explores the "radical aesthetics
of the contemporary adult toy"gives him great versatility
when pursuing his subject matter. On his travels through Japan, Tsuzuki
saw things like giant faux frogs, scale reproductions of Easter Island
stone deities, and indoor island paradises complete with beach and palm
trees that he'd never seen in travel magazines. "These magazines
pretend that the Japanese countryside only has hot springs and nice ryokan,"
he says by way of explaining why he published his own book of "strange
travelogues," "Roadside Japan." A collection of 150
"ugly, classless, unsung pockets" of the Far East, "Roadside
Japan," first published in 1996 and formed out of a five-year project
for SPA magazine, has been of one Tsuzuki's most popular offerings,
with the concept recently expanded to include forays into Asia, Europe
and the US.
Tsuzuki's offbeat brand of pop iconography inevitably encounters
resistance from publishers who want to neatly "segment"
the genre. But Tsuzuki has little interest in market research, or in compromise.
"Sometimes I have disagreements with publishers because I demand
a certain style or want more pages. They say it will put the price up,
that they want to do more research. So we have a fight, and I say stop.
I buy the materials from them and self-publish. I deal with the printers
directly. I take the finished book to the shop by myself; I do everything
by foot. If you have those means, you can fight."
Tsuzuki has long done things on his own, but that's less the product
of fierce independence than practicality and circumstance. In his best-known
and best-selling book, "Tokyo Style," a document of scant
Tokyo living spaces first published in 1993 and recently re-released within
the photo-compendium "Universe for Rent," Tsuzuki, who is
also a journalist, took the photos and laid the book out himself. "I
didn't want to do all this on my own," he says, "but
when I started on the book there was no budget for a photographer. So
I bought a medium format camera and started doing everything."
He implies that small budgets are sometimes the product of small minds.
"I often have to work independently because architecture and design
magazines are kind of stupid; they just want to cover big, beautiful buildings.
If I wanted to do a story about how to live comfortably in small spaces,
I usually couldn't because [the publishers] control the resources."
The same reasoning sparked his foray into nightclub design, he says. "I
designed those clubs"most recently Ebisu's Club
Milk"because me and my friends couldn't find a space
we wanted to hang out in."
Tsuzuki's resourcefulness has earned him a deal of respect among
his peers, if not a great deal of money. In 1996, "Roadside Japan"
earned Tsuzuki the 23rd Ihei Kimura prize for documentary photography.
It was the first time a non-photographerhe studied literature
at Sofia Universityhad earned the prestigious award. "It
was a surprise. Again, I only took the photos because I didn't
have a budget," he says. Did it bring him any closer to the mainstream?
"I received a lot of publicity, had a lot of interviews with the
press but didn't get a single commission out of it. It didn't
change anything. I suppose Suntory weren't going to offer me anything.
The stuff I do is too marginal."
The dearth of big commissions hasn't lessened Tsuzuki's
commitment to challenge high design and artor to reinvent the
kitsch, erotic and everyday as a legitimate, and exciting, expression
of popular culture. He is preparing a "Roadside Europe"
for release later in the year and spends half his time in the US as part
of a monthly Title magazine feature on "roadside" USA. Elsewhere,
he launched the Internet Museum of Artthe first of its kind, where
the admission charge goes straight to the artistin December 2001
as a virtual forum for new art. As ever, Tsuzuki's disregard for
publishers or target markets allows him to maintain his passion for projects
like "Generation Sex," a book dedicated to the "radical
and pure graphic power" of Japanese porno movie posters. "It's
not about thinking or finding out what people need," he concludes.
"It always starts from what I feel is interesting."
Photo credit: Stuart Braun
|B u y i t o n l i n
The Spy Who Shagged Me [DVD]
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432: Heart beat
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423: Universal values
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422: Tsuzuki style
Kyoichi Tsuzuki, writer, editor and maverick designer, is Japan's great
chronicler of the strange and exotic
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415: Don't call us retro
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414: Running "Rings" around the
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412: Lynch pin
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410: American Woman
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409: There's nothing like a dame
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408: Caiya Kawasaki
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407: The Skys the Limit
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art of elegance
Veteran designer Takeo Nishida
judge an ogre by its cover
Shrek producer Jeffrey Katzenberg
Crime and Punishment in suburbia director Rob Schmidt
401: Life's a party
400: In the Nic of time
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Memento's director Christopher Nolan
American alt rockers 311 take a special interest in Japan
397:Evolution of an ex-Filer
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396: Rock Warrior
Former Clash frontman Joe Strummer
395: 2001's absurd odyssey
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up with the Jones
a man in a rush
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from the Madden crowd
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NHK morning news anchor Toko Takeuchi is an early bird with a passion ...
Artist, filmmaker, actor, model, Vincent Gallo
for the universe
softly and carry a big kick
Actor Steven Seagal
Italian mime Ennio Marchetto
385: A sight
for saur eyes
Jurassic Park III's Sam Neill
planet that went ape
Visionary filmmaker Tim Burton
The father of ambient music, Brian Eno
TV personality Mari Christine
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so close encounter
Director Steven Spielberg
Samantha Lang, director of The Monkey's Mask
Crocodile Dundee - Paul Hogan
British actress Charlotte Brittain
The Mummy Returns' Brendan Fraser
Independent movie auteur, Michael Di Jiacomo
American Short Shorts Film Festival organizer, Tetsuya Besho
Doug Wright, screenwriter of Quills
Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group
call me babe
Bombshell Charlize Theron
American Psycho's Christian Bale
French actress Juliette Binoche
Nick Park and Peter Lord, the creators of Chicken Run
"Tony" Hopkins in a PR stupor
Meet the Parents' Ben Stiller
"Auteur" filmmaker Paul Cox
364: As the
Meg Ryan promotes her new movie
The down-low on J. Lo
in the hood
Actor Masaya Kato
Hollywood's queen of cool, Gwyneth Paltrow
that funky music
Catch up with Verbal from Japan's hip-hop group m-flo
358: A heartbreak
Hotel Splendide director Terence Gross
Star Jamie Bell
354: In a
New age musician, Kitaro
Jim Carrey as The Grinch
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