Poster Design: Antonio Reboiro’s “Hara-Kiri”

I definitely want to try and have a series dedicated to poster designers I read about, with whatever information I can find. Here’s another segment from last year’s Cuban poster paper, a short discussion of the by-now familiar Hara-Kiri poster by Antonio Reboiro. For more general information about Cuban poster art, check out my post on Eduardo Muñoz Bachs.

One of the earliest but most enduring posters that helped establish a new style for Cuban design is Antonio Fernández Reboiro’s 1964 poster for Hara-Kiri, which won an honorable mention at the 1965 Film Poster Exhibition in Ceylon. The multi-talented Reboiro began as an architecture and design student at the University of Havana, and moved on to become a graphic designer, film director, architect, set designer, and magazine editor. In the words of Claudio Sotolongo, his “personal signature entails what seems to be the casual association of elements of diverse origin and of different representational styles.” Like many other Cuban poster artists, he was extremely versatile, and his techniques ranged from high-contrast photo collage to ultra-minimalist and Op Art shapes. He often incorporated symbols taken from the film he was representing, creating an individual iconography for each poster, and tended to experiment playfully with text and lettering.

 

harakiri-cuba-antonioreboiroAntonio Reboiro: Hara-Kiri, 1964. via Soy Cuba (my scan)

Reboiro’s Hara-Kiri is a truly striking composition. A deep red gash slices across a white field, forming a rough cross shape. The title text is spelled out in uneven lines, jumbled around the central red opening. A red circle hovers over the “R” in “HARA.” At first glance this is an uncomplicated abstract composition, but in fact it is a direct reference to the title of the film. Hara-kiri (also known as seppuku) is a form of ritual suicide practiced in feudal Japan, in which a samurai slits open his bowels in a specific manner with a special knife, cutting across left-to-right with a slight turn up to open a large wound. His chosen attendant, standing by during this process, would then decapitate the samurai to ensure death. It was typically a ritual performed in battle to avoid death at the enemy’s hand, or in a public ceremony as an act of protest or penance for a shameful act. As a practice it is very connected to outsiders’ notions of Japanese national character—the importance of honor, loyalty, and dignity, as well as self-sacrifice in warfare. Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film tackles those values in its exploration of an elder samurai looking for an honorable place to commit hara-kiri, who reveals in flashbacks the story of his son-in-law’s desperate acts in the face of poverty and hunger.

In his design Reboiro reveals the title’s ultimate realization, a bloody cut across the center of the body, and forces the viewer to consider all of the implications of this act. The jarring effect of red against white and the electric movement of the lines radiating out of the central gash create a violent, visceral reaction. The red sun of Japan situates the image within a very specific cultural context, so that viewers might unconsciously call to mind their own images of Japan, and their own ideas about its traditions and culture. The recent memory of World War II surely affected many older viewers of this poster, while for others it might suggest more historical associations such as the samurai bushidō code. The artist’s treatment of the subject matter is at the same time abstract and understated, as well as straightforward and readable. Its simple but evocative forms have made it a prime example of Cuban film poster art after the revolution, and it has even found a new audience in the West through the Criterion Collection, which used the design for the cover of its special release of Hara-Kiri in 2011.

Sources:

David Craven. Art and Revolution in Latin America, 1910-1990. Yale University Press, 2002.

Carole Goodman and Claudio Sotolongo. Soy Cuba: Cuban Posters From After the Revolution. Trilce Ediciones, 2010.

David Kunzle. “Public Graphics in Cuba: A Very Cuban Form of Internationalist  Art.” Latin American Perspectives 2 (1975): 89-110.

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