The 81st academy awards are this weekend so I thought I would do something special today. I discovered these amazing graphic covers doing research on Japanese graphic design several years ago.

The Shochikuza theater opened in Osaka in 1923. It was the first movie theater dedicated to screening foreign movies, and presented a weekly rotation of imported films from around the world. This was the same year that Tokyo was devastated by an earthquake, and was also known as the inter-war period. Thus the theater quickly became a symbol of modernism and hope, where people from all around gathered to get a glimpse of foreign cultures, which they had been deprived of during the war.

Shochikuza News was a pamphlet that was distributed to the moviegoers, highlighting upcoming films and advertisements. The covers, which also changed weekly, were commissioned by young artists, who perhaps accepted the work as a means of making ends meet, but who dreamed of one day becoming famous through their art. Although many signed their names at the bottom of these covers, they are largely indiscernible, and therefore remain anonymous. Graphic design was not very sophisticated at the time, and, as you can see, there is no continuity or standardization of logos or typefaces at all. But perhaps this allowed the budding artists to exercise their creativity. It’s fascinating to observe these posters as an indication of the artistic styles and western concepts that were penetrating Japan at the time.

The theater continued its operations until 1994 when its movie role ended. However, it was restored and currently serves as a Kabuki theater.

Images courtesy of the Edo Tokyo Museum and Shunju Oonuki’s photostream.