A short story about how a young kid with determination and dedication, made it from Kyoto, Japan to Hollywood. And how his latest Lincoln sculpture has brought him full circle.
“our job is recreating nature and our art is realism”
Yes, the interwebs have been stirring all week as we ogled over Japanese make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji’s sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, it’s as if a photographer traveled 150 years back in time and took photos of our 16th president. Tsuji’s creation, which stands at the same height as the actual man, is currently part of the Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, open to the public until September 30, 2013.
And as incredible as the sculpture is, tsuji’s story is equally awe-inspiring. As it turns out, the story – call it the parable of Uncle Abe – has its roots in Lincoln.
As a child Tsuji had always been interested in making things, often spending hours at junkyards picking up treasures. And with no money to go to college, Tsuji was not left with many options as high school came to an end.
But when he came across an issue of Fangoria magazine featuring Dick Smith (“the Godfather of makeup”) it solidified his ambitions and his future – he would become a makeup artist. Detailed in the magazine was Dick Smith applying make-up to Hal Holbrook to play Lincoln in the 1976 TV mini series of the same name. (Holbrook won an Emmy for his portrayal and Spielberg later honored him by casting him in a small roll in his 2012 biopic) Inspired by the craftsmanship, Tsuji scrapped together the little money he had made from working at a bakery. “I took a life cast of myself and attempted to transform myself into Lincoln, which was all the more difficult considering I’m Japanese,” Tsuji recalled.
He sent photos to Dick Smith, whose PO box he had found in the magazine, and quickly received a response. It wasn’t a golden ticket to willy wonka’s but it was enough to establish a relationship, and the two began to correspond regularly.
As if traveling on a trajectory of collision, Several months later the two met when Dick Smith traveled to Japan to work on Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Sweet Home, a horror flick produced by the legendary Juzo Itami. The relationship blossomed and Smith subsequently offered Tsuji a position working with him on the film.
After working in the industry for several years in Japan Tsuji was invited to the States where he joined Cinovation Studios, headed by multi-Oscar winner Rick Baker.
The rising star quickly turned heads and by age 26 was given major roles like doing the special effects for Men In Black.
“Maybe Dick’s portrait,” said Tsuji, contemplating what his proudest work might be. “It was the first project where I had complete freedom.” In discussing his hyper realism that has everyone amazed, Tsuji had this to say: “basically, our job is recreating nature and our art is realism. What nature can do is simply amazing. It is impossible to create something better than nature can. So we are more like interpreters or translators. A good artist knows the subtlety and language of nature.”
Top: The portrait of Dick Smith that Tsuji created for Smith’s 80th birthday | Bottom: Make-up work that Tsuji did for Planet of the Apes | images courtesy the artist | click to enlarge