Bando Tamasaburo (Kabuki actor)×Ayumu Takahashi (Creative Director/Art Director, Shiseido Advertising & Design Department) Highly Refined Beauty That Withstands Time

This is an interview series in which Shiseido creatives discuss the idea of beauty with other designers and professionals active in their respective fields. The guest for today is Bando Tamasaburo, a female-role Kabuki player representative of the Kabuki world who embodies Japan’s unique aesthetic beauty. In conversation with Mr. Bando is Shiseido’s Creative Director Ayumu Takahashi, who, struck by the beauty of Mr. Bando’s acting, frequents the Kabukiza theater. Having worked continuously in their respective fields over the long histories of the Kabuki world and Shiseido, the two begin their dialogue with a discussion about tradition and heritage, before expanding to cover various topics including what “individuality” entails for performers, and the artist Vincent van Gogh.


Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki actor, born in 1950 to a family that ran a traditional Japanese restaurant. Bando became apprenticed to Morita Kanya XIV in 1956 through an opportunity gained by attending dance practices, something he had enjoyed doing since he was young. The following year, he received the name Bando Kinoji, and made his debut appearance on stage in the role of Kotaro in Terakoya (The Temple School). In 1964, he was adopted by his master and succeeded to the professional name, Bando Tamasaburo V. Thereafter, he took on successive major roles including Shiranui-hime in Yukio Mishima’s Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki (Adventures of Minamoto no Tametomo) and Sakura-hime in Sakurahime Azuma Bunsho (The Scarlet Princess of Edo). He attracted much attention as one of the most popular and proficient Kabuki female-role players of his time. In 2012, he was accorded individual recognition as a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure). He has received numerous awards and medals, including France’s Order of Arts and Letters, Commander in 2013, the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2014, and the Imperial Prize and the Japan Art Academy Prize in 2016.
Bando Tamasaburo Official Website

Ayumu Takahashi
Born in 1967. Creative Director/Art Director at the Shiseido Advertising & Design Department. He joined Shiseido after completing his graduate studies at the Tokyo University of the Arts. He was posted to Paris, France, from 2005 to 2009. His work mainly covers SHISEIDO MEN, ZEN, MAQuillAGE, and Snow Beauty.


Takahashi:Since its founding, Shiseido has been engaged in cultural creation activities based on the theme of “beauty.” Since I joined the Advertising & Design Department, I have been producing advertising graphics and videos mainly for cosmetic products. Today, I would like to discuss the concept of “beauty” with you, Mr. Bando. To begin with, this interview was partly brought about because I am a huge fan of yours (laughs).

Bando:Thank you.

Takahashi:Shiseido’s Advertising & Design Department has a century-old history. Settai Komura (1887-1940, a Japanese painter and designer who was active from the Taisho era to the early Showa era) was also one of our veteran members. Settai also produced the book binding for Kyoka Izumi’s Nihonbashi, which you have performed many times, as well as the stage design for the Kabuki play Kiri Hitoha (A Paulownia Leaf). I’m sure you know much about him as well.

Bando:Was Settai Komura from Shiseido!?

Takahashi:Yes, that’s right. He was a member of what was then the Design Department (now the Advertising & Design Department) for about five years from 1918. This bottle that I have brought here today is a replica of the perfume bottle named “Kiku” (“Chrysanthemum”) that he designed in 1921.

Bando:This exudes the character of Paris in the good old days, doesn’t it?

Takahashi:In fact, he designed this bottle for consumers abroad. He conceived of the design while considering how to draw the attention of people overseas to the beauty of Japan.

Bando:I’m not surprised! It gives a nostalgic sense of good times in Europe.

Takahashi:Shiseido’s first president, Shinzo Fukuhara, invited Settai Komura to join Shiseido because he wanted to give expression to Japan’s unique beauty, rather than imitate the aesthetic sense of the West. He was also the one who drew up the original draft for the “Shiseido typeface,” which he developed based on the Chinese font, “Socho.” It is very rare for a corporation to have its own unique font.

Bando:It has an “Art Deco” style, doesn’t it?

Takahashi:Even today, when an employee first joins the Shiseido Advertising & Design Department, he or she first studies this font for one year. That is how much value we put on it. Today, I have brought your name written in the “Shiseido typeface.”

Bando:That’s wonderful! It has some of the character of “Taisho Romanticism.” When was Shiseido established?

Takahashi:Shiseido was founded in 1872. The Advertising & Design Department was set up in 1916 as the “Design Department.”

Bando:1916 was the fifth year of the Taisho era, so it truly corresponds with the period of “Taisho Romanticism.”

Takahashi:The philosophy behind this font, which was created during that era, has been inherited by the designers, and has fostered a spirit of tackling design challenges in the Shiseido Advertising & Design Department. Shiseido’s history may not be as long as the history of the Kabuki world, but we still feel as strongly compelled to inherit and pass on the brand image and philosophy. Mr. Bando, what are your thoughts about succession in the world of Kabuki, with its long history?

Bando:In the world of Kabuki, we have entered a period that poses difficulties for succession. For example, the major role of Masaoka in Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Disputed Succession) was played by two to three of my seniors when I was young, and I was able to learn how to play the role from someone. Today, however, there are few people apart from myself who are able to teach this role. If I were to die now suddenly, it would be very difficult to pass on this role to anyone. That is the current situation in the Kabuki world. Even if a junior actor wants to learn how to play a role from someone, for example, it is difficult to create such an opportunity due to time or other factors. For that reason, since three years ago, I have been trying to leave behind records in the form of writing or videos.

--Why has succession become fraught with difficulties?

Bando:In the case of Shiseido, the process for people joining the organization would resemble your case, Mr. Takahashi, with graduates who have studied design in school finding Shiseido an attractive company and entering it. However, the world of Kabuki is very selective and exclusive; even if you were to enter it because you like Kabuki, it is very difficult to play the major roles. Furthermore, the path into this world becomes increasingly narrow. We are thinking about how we can change this. That is the actual situation that we are facing.

The perfume bottle Kiku designed by Settai Komura in 1921 Bando Tamasaburo’s name written in the “Shiseido typeface” Bando Tamasaburo acting in the role of Masaoka in Meiboku Sendai Hagi

Conflict amidst the changing times

Takahashi:Although succession has become increasingly difficult in the world of Kabuki, is it possible that there is also a momentum of “not wanting to hand it down” or “let’s change it to something new?”

Bando:Yes, I believe there is such a movement. There are many new performances that have emerged, and these have gained audiences. However, I have been thinking recently that brands also take on forms that are unique to each brand, such as this font (“Shiseido typeface”). Despite the changing times, these unique characters are retained even as we incorporate new elements or remove old ones. That creates a wider breadth and range, doesn’t it? However, the world of Kabuki is an exclusive one, and few people venture into it, or leave it. If, for example, there are very few people engaged in the design of costumes, we would not be able to get a good range of designs.
Settai Komura is a special example - he liked Kabuki and frequented the Kabukiza theatre. This led to the suggestion to ask him to produce the stage sets, which was how his work in the world of Kabuki began. After that, he created many designs for Onoe Kikugoro VI in the Taisho era and the early Showa era. These designs have remained to the present day.
Digressing a little, when the stage design for Fuji Musume (Wisteria Maiden) created by Settai Komura was handed on to the next person, the design gradually began to undergo subtle changes. The designer would suffer loss in income if he or she did not make any changes, but this process of gradual change brought about changes to Komura’s intentions for his designs. I am calling for the Kabuki world to return to the original designs created by Komura. In this sense as well, succession is not easy to achieve.

Takahashi:Mr. Bando, from your perspective, do you feel that audiences today want to see the aesthetics of Kabuki passed down from the Edo era, or do you think they seek even more new changes?

Bando:Ultimately, I believe that they want to see something that is new, yet reflects the core heritage of Kabuki. For example, Kabuki in the Edo era was quite different from Kabuki today; from the viewpoint of people in the Edo era, the contents of Kabuki of today is probably something that they could not even have imagined.
Even so, the core of Kabuki, which involves acting out of the ordinary, bringing enjoyment to audiences, and attracting audiences, has remained unchanged all this time. Audiences do not simply want to see something that does not change. Perhaps they wish to see something that, while remaining the same, offers something new.

Fuji Musume performed by Bando Tamasaburo Works by Settai Komura (from back to front): book binding for Ginza (1921), Kiku perfume bottle (1921, replica), book binding for Kyoka Izumi’s Nihonbashi (1914)

Beauty and emotion disappear the moment they are born

Takahashi:In fact, I am also experiencing the difficulty of succession myself. Change is demanded of the design industry corresponding with the changing times. While I have the desire to protect Shiseido’s “genes” and pass on Shiseido’s character to the next generation, I also face the pressure of needing to be in a different place all the time.

Bando:I understand.

Takahashi:If we end up giving up Shiseido’s unique style and character, we would also lose all the things that we have created and built to date.

Bando:That is true.

Takahashi:We have to come face to face with new forms of expressions, while retaining and protecting the original character.

Bando:Yes. I describe that as “amplitude.” Despite moving away from something, we will eventually return to the original point. In short, let’s assume that there is a river with certain amplitude, for example, a river named “Shiseido.” Sometimes, you may leave this river and go to a different river; sometimes, you may go toward mountains far away. However, you will definitely return to this river. The only thing is, whether you will return to the middle of the river, or to the ends of the river, may differ depending on the times. There are gradual movements in the river, but consumers will definitely say that it is good. I think that is what it means to have “unchanging genes.”
Be it quality or a scent, they are likely to be changing and undergoing constant development. Regardless, these are things that you have to put your utmost effort into when researching and studying in Shiseido. When considering what type of character a product has, or which consumers would take delight in it, I believe that it is Shiseido’s style not to cater to the whims of the consumer, but to fight its way in. I believe the same applies to Kabuki. Despite having the breadth to tackle new challenges, it is also ultimately the spirit of Kabuki to communicate the ideas and emotions of the script to the audience faithfully. I think that the true essence of Kabuki lies precisely in our emotions during that moment when the audience say, “That was wonderful!”

--In other words, that moment of emotion is precisely the character of Kabuki.

Bando:Still, the difficulty lies in the fact that the moment of emotion is not fixed. Rather, it tends to move in the very next instant. That is what the line from Hojoki (An Account of My Hut) by Kamo no Chomei suggests - “…in the still pools the shifting foam gathers and is gone, never staying for a moment.” It is never always the same. In the moment when we decide that “This is it,” the beauty has already undergone a transformation.

Takahashi:Design is also destined to move and shift continuously alongside changes in the world. However, in this era with its surfeit of information, we tend to lose sight of ourselves if we were to place ourselves in the midst of trends and what other people describe as “good.” I am very careful to stay conscious of what I truly feel, and to make sure that I am not swept away by trends and popular movements.

Bando:Perhaps this is it. Design serves as an “entrance” against the trends of the world. Isn’t it acceptable to hold fast to your own sense of what you are, and at the same time, fully enjoy “playing” and being creative via that “entrance”? When you fail to have fun with creativity, that is when you begin to pander to the tastes of others and fall in with the popular trends. Despite the fact that it is “playing,” the aesthetic sense of the designer is flowing through somehow. To “play” and be creative, is to be free.

Creating in one’s own style, versus creating on commission

Takahashi:I studied painting during my time at art college, and created works in order to express myself. Although I liked to draw, I sometimes felt like I was choking when working on a piece while delving and probing deep into myself. At such times, the thought would occur to me that there is also a sense of fulfillment in playing a part in taking on a request to create something that would bring delight to others. That was partly why I pursued the work of design.
In the last few years, I was suddenly drawn to the artist, Vincent van Gogh, and began to look at his paintings and read his letters. He constantly remained as van Gogh, and stayed completely true to himself. Recently, I have become strongly attracted to this aspect of his character, and aspire toward it. Even as I engage in design work at the request of others, I now spend every day exploring anew the idea of how I can do the work in a style that is still uniquely mine.

Bando:If we were to pursue only individuality, we would not be able to make a living. Mozart did not compose any commissions, and struggled continuously. On the other hand, Michelangelo and da Vinci produced works at the request of their patrons. I think that both approaches can be viewed as the truth. Van Gogh had a disposition that made it impossible for him to create something that he had been asked to, even if he were asked to do so. However, as time passed, I think that the result was the same in the sense that he left behind something that brought joy to others. Be it something that is drawn as a consequence of a course of events, something that is drawn in response to a request, or something that is drawn out of one’s own volition, the question lies in whether they hold a core spirit.

Takahashi:Mr. Bando, have you ever accepted work that you did not want to do, or a role that you did not want to play?

Bando:I did not accept such jobs. I think that I am very selfish and unfriendly… (laughs), but I could not put on a willing face while doing something that I did not wish to do, and show that face to the audience. I could not play a role that did not make me go “Ah!” when I read the script, or perform a dance when the music did not strike a chord in my heart. I could not present something that is not worth doing to the audience, even if I exerted all my energy in trying to do it well.

--Are the works that you feel are worth doing changing constantly with the times?

Bando:As I age, some works have begun to emerge that I cannot perform, or which I do not have the passion for. For example, at this age, I am less able to show commitment to the kind of desire depicted in A Streetcar Named Desire, a play by Tennessee Williams (a 20th century American playwright). (Note: The protagonist, named Blanche, pursued beauty, sexual love, and pride, and lost the ability to distinguish between reality and her delusions.) “Isn’t it fine not to care so much about such things?” - I am losing the ability to confront this question directly. I don’t think you can understand this, Mr. Takahashi, as you are still young… (laughs).

Takahashi:That may mean returning to one’s natural attitude. Morikazu Kumagai, an artist from the Meiji to the Showa eras, continued painting right up till the point before his death at the age of 97. Although there were periods when he lost the desire to draw and did not pick up his brushes, he continued painting at his own pace until he died. All the paintings are wonderful works of art. I think that he approached the work of expression directly, in his natural attitude. I aim to place the focus on this natural attitude and individuality.

The radiance of the soul - Leaving behind a highly refined sense of beauty

Takahashi:A painter or a designer can take an objective view of the works they produce. However, in your case, you are unable to see your own performance on the spot. Do you feel frustrated about that?

Bando:I do experience the pain of not being able to make a decisive assessment. By the time people who have watched the performance tell me “You performed well today,” the performance has already ended. There is a very transient and ephemeral quality to the stage.

Takahashi:This ephemeral quality, which does not exist in other forms of expression, further draws out the beauty of the art, doesn’t it?

Bando:Still - and this is something that I have thought very hard about - even though the paintings of artists from the medieval times have remained with us across the eras till the modern times, I do not believe they will be able to survive the space of several tens of thousands of years. I wonder if art also lasts for only a moment if we were to look at it from the perspective of space and time at the level of the universe. It is ephemeral. Perhaps that is why we wish to leave it behind us.

Takahashi:I like Japanese Buddha statues, but their appearance at the time when they were made has undergone changes. The gilt peels off, and the statues become weathered over time. Even so, when I look directly at these Buddha statues, I am deeply drawn to their transient quality, the beauty of their decay.

Bando:I believe that is because they have souls. I think we can describe that soul as a “gene.” This is a little abstract, but perhaps we could say that only things that have a soul are in existence. In the same way that a soul remains in a Buddha statue even after it decays, souls are deeply carved into paintings, music, books, and designs. However, the creator is unable to see his or her own soul objectively. They do not even know if that is a point, a three-dimensional object, or a shape. People who work in the fields of artistic expression probably spend their entire lives exploring that. They spend their entire lives on that, and eventually die without having ever found the answer.

--In your activities till now, have there been any moments when you succeeded in breathing “soul” into something?

Takahashi:I have never been able to do that. If I ever felt that I have succeeded in doing that, I think that it would spell the end for me, in a sense.

Bando:Regardless of what others say, the creator himself or herself cannot have this thought. We cannot evaluate ourselves.

Hopes and wishes for an era of tragedy

Takahashi:In design work, it is vital to receive appraisal from others. Mr. Bando, do you care about the reactions and ratings given to you by those around you?

Bando:It may be brazen to say this, but I have decided not to care too much about evaluation from certain persons. I have particularly learnt not to care recently. If you become overly concerned about what an individual with strong beliefs say, you will lose sight of yourself, and become unable to present your natural attitude.

--What are the types of assessment that are not personal?

Bando:If we were to fail to draw audiences to come and watch us, and to make a living from that income, then I think that we cannot be evaluated as Kabuki. Hence, I am very concerned about audience numbers. I am also very concerned about whether the audiences who turn up accept the performance, whether it has lifted their spirits, or whether they can enjoy their lives a little more after they leave the theater. I would not be able to continue performing Kabuki if I were to lose this motivation. That is what my job entails. I do not think I can live the kind of solitary life that van Gogh lived… (laughs).

Takahashi:Van Gogh received only one positive critique in his lifetime.

Bando:When was that?

Takahashi:It was several months before he died. Some time before that, he had sold just one oil painting, and he had become a little more highly rated among his peers. However, instead of feeling happy about that positive critique, van Gogh rejected it.

Bando:He probably did not want to gain a fixed reputation. Several years before, I had the chance to visit Musée d’Orsay in France on a day when the museum was closed and admire the artworks by myself. That was when I first understood van Gogh. When I saw the paintings of the church and the field that he had produced just a short time before he died, the perception that I had held of him changed. They exuded a strong sense of innocence and purity, as well as a transparency that seems to draw one in quickly. That was when I realized, “Ah! That’s what is so wonderful about van Gogh!”

Takahashi:That was actually what happened for me too. A short time before, if someone were to talk about van Gogh, his popularity would take precedence, and the focus would be on the prices of his paintings. I could not understand what was wonderful about him.

Bando:Exactly! However, when I faced his paintings one on one in a quiet gallery, I felt that they were wonderful, but could not describe my feelings.

Takahashi:I think that van Gogh was an awkward person, but I think that he had probably been true to his own heart. That is precisely why he was able to create paintings that are so full of honesty and clarity.
In contemporary society with its abundance of information and material objects, I aspire to be able to do my work with that pure ideology that van Gogh had. I think that it is very surprising to have someone like yourself in times like these, who are creating highly refined forms of expression that are in no way inferior to van Gogh’s in terms of their purity.

Bando:However, we live in truly difficult times. I think that it is an era of tragedy. I feel disappointed almost every day. Many people complete their worlds through smartphones and computers, and are becoming increasingly blind to the things that exist in reality. I believe there is value in physical things that we can see with our naked eye, rather than things that we see on an LCD screen. I want to believe that human beings can discover things that amaze them only when they see these things with their naked eyes.

--Although these are the times we are living in, do you both feel that there is hope in the future?

Bando:Despite the advancements in smartphone technology, there seems to be more and more people among the younger generation who are turning their attention to what people are saying directly and acting physically, such as listening to Rakugo and watch performing arts. I take much hope in this situation.

Takahashi:I think that even the younger generation, who appear to be immersed in a virtual world with no physical form, have not completely forgotten how to touch something, tactile sensations, and being somewhere physically. Mr. Bando’s work appeals directly to such senses, and I think that we can continue believing in such primitive human senses going forward.

Keeping Japan’s aesthetic sense from extinction

--Finally, since this is a rare opportunity, I would like to show Mr. Takahashi’s works to Mr. Bando.

Takahashi:In 2004, Shiseido launched a men’s skincare cosmetics brand named “SHISEIDO MEN.” This was something I created at the time. Typically, male models are often used for advertisements that feature skincare products for men. However, this advertisement is an abstract expression of the product based on the idea of the innate power of nature, and uses landscapes as the motif.

Bando:Is this a real sea?

Takahashi:This was an aerial shot taken from a helicopter.

Bando:That’s wonderful.

Takahashi:This is an expression for perfume, and was inspired by Fujin Raijin-zu (The Folding Screens of the Wind God and Thunder God).

Bando:This is amazing.

Takahashi:It is an advertisement for the perfume “ZEN.”

Bando:I have never seen such wonderful designs before.

Takahashi:These products are mainly targeted at overseas markets, and were produced with conscious attention given to the image of Japan in those countries.

Bando:Posters like these cannot be found in Japan. The Japanese people like something that is easy to understand, and would not get these without any explanations. In this sense, there are many elements that they cannot accept even for my works. In Japan, people will ask you, “Which part of this is ZEN?”

Takahashi:That is true. Without specifying that “Zen = A calm mental state,” I created an emotional expression of a glittering world like a golden tea room. That was the image that I had in mind when I created this.

Bando:It is not logical, but the result is beautiful and “Zen.” I think that is the great thing about it.

Takahashi:I worked in Paris for about three years. Living overseas, I often had to talk about Japan’s aesthetic sense through the aspects of Ukiyo-e or Kabuki. It gave me a renewed awareness about what Japan was. Prior to that, I had not really felt this way, or been very conscious about this.
That is partly why I began going to watch Kabuki and your performance more frequently after returning to Japan. Although we live in somewhat tragic modern times, the fact that I am Japanese and have the Japanese aesthetic sense remains unchanged. Keeping that in mind, I believe that I have to continue exploring what type of designs I wish to produce.

Bando:This feeling is delicate and sensitive, and uniquely Japanese in that sense, isn’t it?

Takahashi:I do not want it to wither away and disappear with time.

Bando:Let’s meet again. I hope that we can take more time to converse like this again.

Takahashi:Definitely. Thank you.


Published in April 2017
Photo by Takashi Okamoto

  • mixi
  • Google+
  • Facebook
  • Twitter