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Retrospective || Noriyoshi Ohrai (1935-2015)

As far as the grave matter of inspiration is concerned, Japanese illustrator Noriyoshi Ohrai has carved a neat niche for himself for being the definitive influence on several generations of artists in the 30 odd years he has been a driving force in international art and popular poster design.

Dropping out of the Oil Painting Course at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music at the  susceptible age of 22, Ohrai chose to work as a newspaper advertising editor besides doubling as an illustrator in the book publishing sector.

Ohrai set up his studio in his wife Yasuko’s native town Miyazaki in 1973, where he did illustrations for science fiction and fantasy novels and Japanese manga before receiving worldwide recognition in the early 1980s for producing international poster designs for the second instalment of George Lucas’ epic science fiction trilogy of ‘Star Wars’. The Empire Strikes Back posters were noted the world over for capturing the inherent thrill of the magnitude of events that the films were bent on portraying and they gained a cult following soon after.

The private person that Ohrai had always been, he was never one to claim his rightful time under the spotlight, rather utilizing the time to hone and practise his craft, constituting a great body of work which include the popular posters of Star Wars, The Goonies or the string of Toho’s kaiju films, popular the world over as the ’Godzilla franchise’.

Ohrai went to illustrate books of history, a multitude of fantasy/science fiction pulp literature besides contributing to popular titles of video games such as Koei’s ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ series and ’Metal Gear Solid’.

The diffusion of world cultures and celebration of the pulp, in its commendable avatars, has ensured that Noriyoshi Ohrai remains an artist who is not only well circulated, but one often invokes a familiar sense of recognition whenever his art is put in front of the discerning eye.

Even as his private persona kept his name in the small print for an unfair number of years, let the tragedy of his passing on October 27 of this year be a reminder for connoisseurs of art all over the world to remember, take notes and celebrate Ohrai’s masterstrokes as we bid adieu to a silent inspiration, which provoked minds of children and adults alike the requisite fodder to open up terrains and possibilities hitherto unknown to the simpler imaginations of the times. []

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue Two: November 2015

A poster of the Godzilla series by Noriyoshi Ohrai
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