Hans Ruedi Giger (1940 - 2014) took the creeping unknowable world of nightmares, and brought them to life through airbrush, plasticine, and paint. His book Necronomicon, released in 1977, garnered the attention of writer and producer Dan O’Bannon and from there, the rest of science fiction history was rewritten in thanks to a script about the working class being subjected to the the dual terrifying whims of Corporations and uncaring cosmic horror in Alien. A global sensation, the reverberations Alien had are multitude, and one of those was introducing Giger to the world at large. How were those reverberations felt in Japan?
The film Alien had an impact all over the world, and Japanese audiences certainly gravitated towards it. The Xenomorph itself is even partly Japanese in its construction. A user on Twitter pointed out that a kerosene pump was used for the mechanical details on the suit and that eagle eyed observers of behind the scenes photos can find a Japan Industrial Standards logo on the side of the head.Coverage of Alien and Giger in Japan can be recorded as far back as the lead up to the film. Contrary to how we see the film Alien promoted today, in the lead up to the release of the film the appearance of the creature was a closely guarded secret. The April 1979 issue of the Japanese edition of Starlog reported on the secretive production of Alien and it’s bizarre concept artist, Giger. Following the release of Alien, Giger’s creations graced the pages of film and tokusatsu magazines. Following Alien's Best Visual Effects award at the 1980 Oscars Giger's recognition around the world spread. In 1985, Pioneer was using Giger’s art for a series of ads for the Zone home entertainment system in which a monster-like machine crawls along a barren wasteland, baring its fangs in the hopes that you will buy speakers and TVs. The design of the creature is based on Giger’s concept art for the unproduced Alejandro Jodorowsky version of Dune, which just emphasizes how the cancelation of that film and everything born from that is the ultimate lemonade born of lemons in science fiction cinema history.
In 1986 Giger’s invasion of Japan would begin as preparations were made for an exhibition organized by the Seibu Museum of Art in Tokyo. Giger’s premiere exhibition in Tokyo was held at Seibu’s Seed Hall in bustling Shibuya from February 27 to March 24 and in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi Parco Studio from April 7 to the 26th, 1987. The Seed Hall, a symbol of Bubble Era Japan’s voracious appetites for the arts, spectacle, and decadence attracted visitors eager to see Giger’s paintings, get his autograph, and buy the newly released Japanese editions of Necronomicon I and Necronomicon II and Giger’s Alien published by Treville. The exhibition included art from Poltergeist II, Alien, Dune and a series of paintings called Japanese Excursion made specifically for exhibition. According to the book ARh+, the Japanese Giger fan club, Biomechanoid87, formed in Osaka in 1987 in the wake of this exhibition, though there is virtually no reference to this club existing outside of this book. From 1987 to 1988, Sony released three Giger-centric documentaries in Japan on laserdisc: HR Giger Passagen, Giger’s Alien, and Necronomicon. Since these were English language documentaries with Japanese subtitles, they’re import friendly for you collectors outside of Japan. As this attention mounted in Japan, Giger would soon be approached by the Japanese film industry for a project.
Teito Monogatari is a series of novels by Hiroshi Aramata that spreads across a multitude of volumes as it chronicles a supernatural shadow-war that has happened behind the scenes of major events throughout Japanese history. While the novels are virtually unknown and totally untranslated in the west, they’re extremely popular in Japan, and had artists Suehiro Maruo and Yoshitaka Amano contributing illustrations. Released in 1988, the film adaptation (put out in the US as Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis) was helmed by Ultraman alum and director of Buddhist themed erotica, Akio Jissoji, and starred Shintaro Katsu (of Zatoichi fame), Mieko Harada (Akira Kurosawa’s Ran), and Kyusaku Shimada as the popular villain Yasunori Kato. Giger was approached to work on the film and provide designs for the Buddhist guardian spirit, Goho Douji. Traditionally the Goho Douji is depicted as a cherubic boy with a large wheel, but Giger’s interpretation is more like a malevolent ghoul, bisected by a bladed wheel as it flies through the air. Unable to be on set due to other commitments, Giger provided concept art and design specs for Goho Douji, but due to a mistake on set, the creature was built at 1:1 scale with the design specs when it was supposed to be twice that size. Giger said “they turned this cosmic god into a queer duck.” Technical mishaps aside, the film was still an enormous hit, with Giger’s concept art gracing the pages of sci-fi and tokusatsu magazines, though he did not return for the sequel, Tokyo: The Last War.
In the late 1980s, Giger’s vision spilled out into the streets of Tokyo with the construction of the Giger Bar. Situated in Minato ward, next to a busy overpass, far from any subway stations, and outside the nightlife hubs of Shibuya, Roppongi, or Shinjuku, the Giger Bar was something of a misbegotten child. Giger stated “The Giger-Bar in Tokyo was actually created against my will. While I was in Tokyo, I was asked to make a wish, on stage, during a press conference. Spontaneously, I wished for a bar, which was then brought into being even more spontaneously! “ Giger had envisioned the bar to have a series of elevators housing patrons, which would move up and down a four-story building, but this idea was untenable due to buildings in Tokyo following strict earthquake codes. Giger grew increasingly frustrated with the restrictions and relegated the project to his agent, Conny de Fries. While a far cry from Giger's initial vision, it was still dark, moody, and decorated with architecture influenced by his art. Despite being advertised as a nightlife spot with “alien eggs” on the menu, it was not long for this world. The Giger Bar closed in 1996 and the building long since demolished, erasing any trace of it except for business cards, and a handful of articles about it. Giger himself never even set foot in it, though apparently plenty of salarymen and underworld types did.
So far the art world, the electronics world, the film industry, and nightlife world all wanted a piece of Giger, but so too did Japan’s musicians. In 1994, Hide of the band X Japan was making his name as a solo act and for his album Hide Your Face, he wanted cover art by Giger. At the time Giger was too busy with other commitments to create an original piece, so it was suggested that Hide utilize a pre-existing work. A suit of armor was constructed based on the Giger sculpture Watch Guardian V and the construction of the suit was handled by special effects legend Screaming Mad George (The Guyver, Society). Featured prominently on the cover of Hide Your Face, the costume made an impact and was even copied for the character Satan in the heavy metal infused manga series Bastard!! by Kazushi Hagiwara.
The Children of Giger
Thanks to the success of Alien, and the dissemination of Giger’s work throughout Japan during the early to mid 1980s, Giger’s influence has been felt throughout animation, manga, film making, and garage kits in Japan. Stores like General Products (the nascent commercial branch of Studio Gainax) sold Giger posters, while manga anthologies such as Metal Kids (which contained some of the first published work of Masamune Shirow) published articles on Giger’s art.
Video games also began to take cues from Giger, some more directly than others. Konami’s run-and-gun classic Contra series borrows heavily from the Giger aesthetic as players delve deeper into alien hives full of pulsating tendrils and skeletal constructs. 1988’s Jaseiken Necromancer, a supernatural themed RPG for the PC Engine, used Giger’s art for the box art, and a title screen directly from Giger’s Li I painting. No credit is given on the box of the game to Giger, though he does receive a Special Thanks in the credits. Even video game pinball began to look to Giger for inspiration in titles such as Alien Crush and Devil’s Crush, which adorned pinball tables with monstrous textures reminiscent of vertebrae and pulsating flesh. Even to this day, outside of the many, many video games adapted from the Alien films, it is a common site to see phallic-headed antagonizing video game heroes.
Keita Amemiya’s (Garo, Cyber Ninja) long career in illustration, film, and television has been a showcase for his unique art style, combining traditional Japanese motifs with otherworldly sci-fi elements. One of his creations that garnered him a cult following in the US is Zeiram, a hulking creature from space that borrows elements from Japanese chambara films and western sci-fi. Masculine in form, the Zeiram has a woman’s face that emerges from a long fleshy stalk, and alternates between using futuristic weaponry and its own body to pursue prey. The Zeiram, and many of Amemiya's other creatures, embody a duality similar to Giger’s work. : flesh & metal, feminine and masculine, sex and death.
Blade Runner is often attributed as the first cyberpunk film, despite being a neo-noir mystery with a colossal budget and all-star cast. Shinya Tsukamoto, on the other hand, has gotten down and dirty with his own brand of hand crafted carnage. While he has not stated directly whether Giger’s art was an influence on his works, there is a motif in Tsukamoto’s filmography of similar elements, in particular the fusion of machine and flesh. This can be found in even his earlier short films such as The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo, only to be expanded on in Tetsuo the Iron Man and Tetsuo II Body Hammer. Tsukamoto’s color pallets of black, grey, and silver echo Giger’s own, as well as the pervasiveness of wires and tubing symbolizing encroaching death and decay.
The 1980s saw a growth in the direct to video anime (OVA) market, which had more lavish animation than what was on TV (generally, anyways), along with more gore, sex, and sci-fi elements lifted from blockbuster films, so this was yet another conduit for the Giger aesthetic. The pivotal Daicon IV opening movie of 1983, a project that would lead to the creation of Gainax (Neon Genesis Evangelion) features the Xenomorph briefly during its celebration of all things sci-fi and fantastical. 1986’s Roots Search is a particularly derivative example of lifting plot details from Alien as well as Giger’s sexually charged biomechanical creature design. Yoshiki Takaya’s manga and anime series Bio-Booster Armor Guyver built on the foundation of henshin heroes such as Kamen Rider and Kikaider, but added a Giger-esque element in which flesh and metal become aggressively (and erotically in the Guyver: Out of Control OVA) intertwined. The live action film adaptation was helmed by the same Screaming Mad George who would go on to recreate Giger’s Watch Guardian V sculpture as a costume for Hide. Koichi Ohata’s Genocyber, adapted from the manga by Tony Takezaki, takes biomechanical design cues of Giger and blends them with design flourishes reminiscent of tokusatsu tv shows, and even integrates some actual tangible props, resplendent with wires and tubes.
The Xenomorph itself was built by hand with latex, paint, and glue, so naturally the model kit world would gravitate towards it. Issues of Hobby Japan going back to the early 80s featured various models of the Space Jockey and Alien. Hobby Japan’s July 1992 issue was devoted to showcasing models based on the Alien films and Giger’s art with recreations of the Facehugger from Yasushi Nirasawa. Within the realm of garage kits, many have been strongly influenced by Giger or attempted to recreate Alien’s xenomorph. Few have put their own spin on Giger’s initial xenomorph design quite like Takayuki Takeya. His statue Pile, released by Fewture in 1992, became legendary in collecting circles. Though due to its popularity and being long since out of print, it’s rather expensive now. Pile represents the fusion of Giger’s mechanical aesthetic with Takeya’s attempts at recreating forms reminiscent of Jomon era pottery. The Figma Alien: Takayuki Takeya ver. Is a poseable figure based on Takeya’s art and is a bit more affordable than Pile or his other garage kits.
SMH, a magazine assembling an eclectic assortment of garage kit modelers and artists, virtually worshipped Giger’s art. The January 1995 issue bore Giger’s art on the front cover For the October 1997 issue of SMH magazine, Ro Hiruma scratch built a model based on Giger’s rejected concept art of the Batmobile for 1994’s Batman Forever, which had a bizarre criss-cross shape like a part of scissors, but with organic curves and a series of guns mounted on the exterior. Advertised within the pages of SMH was the clothing store Contrail which produced a series of jackets based on Yasushi Nirsawa’s Phantomcore manga, as well as its own Giger derived line of Creature items: a leather bodice that gives the appearance reminiscent of the Alien’s protruding spine, and a leather bag in the form of the yonic eggs which contain the facehuggers.
In the decades since the 1980s, Giger’s work is still held in a place of reverence in Japan. The HR GIGER x SORAYAMA exhibition, which opened in February 2021 and organized by the Parco Museum and the Nanzuka gallery, presents the works of both artists to visitors in Tokyo and Osaka. Meanwhile, biomechanical design cues in games, movies, and television seem almost omnipresent to the point where many people take them for granted. His art enters into our subconscious and you see him in the wires creeping along the walls of a subway tunnel, and in the sensual curvature of dissected vertebrae. Giger remains lingering in the dark places of the mind in Japan, and around the world.