Chances are if you’re on this site, you know of Noriyoshi Ohrai. But even if you don’t know his name, you probably know his art.
Unfortunately, his death from pneumonia at age 79 in October 2015 means the world will no longer be graced with new works by Ohrai. His corpus of commercial art, however, is rich indeed.
While a known quantity in his native Japan prior to 1980, Ohrai and his illustrations became known to international audiences when none other than George Lucas was taken by an Ohrai illustration, inspired by the original “Star Wars,” that appeared in a Japanese movie magazine.
Impressed by Ohrai’s stately painting style, Lucas commissioned Ohrai to illustrate the one-sheet for “The Empire Strikes Back” used in that movie’s international release — and his fame beyond the shores of Japan was launched.
From his Miyazaki City studio in Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture, Ohrai produced a steady stream of illustrations for movies, video games and books, including more than a dozen movies featuring Japan’s best-known movie character, Gojira, a.k.a. Godzilla. Ohrai also famously illustrated the posters for such movies “The Goonies,” “Above the Law,” “Mad Max 2” (as “The Road Warrior” was known in its Japanese release) and more.
In the area of video games, Ohrai famously illustrated the art that accompanied “Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes,” “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots,” “Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops” and “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.”
It’s an axiom that an artist’s works become more sought after his or her demise — and Noriyoshi Ohrai is no exception. With that increased popularity has been an increased curiosity about Ohrai himself. But in life, Ohrai kept the details of his life private. Little is known (at least to English language fans) about his life, influences and so on. His art, in other words, must speak for itself. But isn’t how most artists want to be remembered?
If there is any consolation, it’s that while Ohrai is gone, his wonderful, iconic masterpieces of pop art live on and will do so for years to come.
Article and photos by David Namba
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