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Rating: NNNmakoto nakamura's posters are a fraction the size of the Shiseido billboard that towers above the intersection of Queen.

Rating: NNN

makoto nakamura’s posters are a fraction the size of the Shiseido billboard that towers above the intersection of Queen and Roncesvalles. Yet the works produced by the graphic designer during his 50-year career for the Japanese cosmetics giant humble that massive sign.A near-40-year retrospective of posters at the Japan Foundation reveals an artist who challenged the way women are represented in Japanese society, made design innovations and created handsome ads while he was at it.

Nakamura is a playful experimenter. In Shiseido Beauty Creation Center, three very typical fashion photos have been cut into horizontal strips to become the spines of a series of books about the Beauty Center. The posters on display show the books stacked in order on the floor, each stack recreating an original picture, with the book titles doubling as the typography for the poster.

Another series for the Shiseido Institute of Beauty Science features photographs of women buried up to their eyes in shadow.

In the dominant black area of the poster, cosmetic products of varied colours and container shapes are arranged into mosaics — a flash of well-ordered light against a dark landscape.

Nakamura’s portrayal of Japanese women is the substance behind the superficial. The models may look like geisha girls at first blush, but these are not smiling, submissive women.

In one piece, the subject bites a white piece of cloth with burning-red lips, her eyes drooping and pained. The models in many of the posters seem to be wishing they were somewhere else.

These women are real. They are beautiful, yes, but it’s their emotion, often sadness, that truly makes the work shine.

Makoto Nakamura at the Japan Foundation Toronto (131 Bloor West) to April 13. 416-966-1600. Raymond Vezina lectures on Nakamura’s work Tuesday (March 26), 6:30-8 pm. Rating: NNN

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