BFI Japan season

New BFI campaign brings over 100 years of Japanese cinema to life

The British Film Institute is kicking off its Japan season with a promotional trailer and imagery that channels some of cinema’s most iconic moments into one vision

Tokyo 2020 might have fallen to the global coronavirus crisis, but Japan 2020 – the BFI’s new film season – is going full steam ahead in an online capacity, with a view to open in physical cinemas later this year. The season is showcasing filmmakers who helped to define over 100 years of Japanese cinema while shaking up movies on the world stage. The roster features works by early pioneers like Tokyo Story director Yasujirō Ozu, and Akiro Kurosawa, whose career spanned nearly six decades, as well as anime creators and “new wave rebels”.

The BFI wanted a campaign that would “engage a younger audience who, while perhaps unfamiliar with Japanese cinema, are interested in film, design, animation and video games,” explains BFI head of marketing, Tim Platt. The team opted for an illustrative approach rather than using photography and videography, taking inspiration from “the Japanese traditions of woodblock triptychs, anime and manga spine art,” he tells us.

BFI Japan 2020

Consolidating such a range of filmmakers and their works – each with their own distinctive aesthetic, genre and place in history – into a single graphic is no mean feat, explains Nariaki Kanazawa, founder of London-based design studio Centre Creative. The BFI’s in-house marketing team brought Kanazawa on board initially to tackle the nuance and tone of the work, yet his role soon evolved into art direction across the project, as well as creating the campaign logo.

“Sometimes if it’s too classic it might look too traditional,” Kanazawa says of the wordmark, having to keep in mind that the design would need to feel accessible to non-Japanese viewers. Whereas traditional Japanese calligraphy often pushes the contrast between “thick and thin” lines to the extreme, he aimed to give a “slick, modern finish” to the wordmark – one that still captures a “Japanese essence” yet feels in keeping with the BFI’s own branding and audience.

When it came to creating the animated trailer and campaign imagery, Kanazawa brought Tokyo-based Studio Zyla into the mix to reimagine classic figures from Japanese cinema in a comic style. Brought together by a uniform palette of black, white and red accents, the campaign ‘stars’ are modelled on characters from Tokyo Story, Akira, Audition, Harakiri, Outrage and, of course, Godzilla, their individual artworks reminiscent of the tradition of spine art seen in manga.

To guide the style, Kanazawa drew on his own experience of living in Japan for 25 years, where he absorbed the visual language that surrounded him. The aesthetic wasn’t informed by a particular artist or filmmaker, but rather pays tribute to manga and anime, arguably the most distinctive and instantly recognisable aspects of modern Japanese visual arts.

BFI Japan 2020 runs on BFI Player until October;