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May
25
2016

The Stunning Japanese Star Trek Art of Toru Kanamori

Yesterday in a far corner of the Star Trek interwebs I stumbled on two really beautiful cover illustrations from Japanese Star Trek books.

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There’s a lot to love about these images. I particularly like how loose and expressionistic (for lack of a better word) they are. I don’t know exactly when these came out in Japan, but they’re apparently translations of the James Blish episode adaptations that came out in the US between 1967 and 1977. Obviously book covers vary widely style-wise even in the same era, but just by way of comparison, here’s what I’d consider a pretty typical example of North American SF book cover illustration from the same era–a Chris Foss cover for James Blish’s Midsummer Century from 1975:

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(I adore Chris Foss’s work as well, by the way!)

After a bit of digging, I discovered that those Trek covers are the work of Toru Kanamori, a now semi-retired illustrator living in Ome, a suburb of Tokyo. The only English-language information I could find about Kanamori is here, a website set up by David Bull, a woodblock printer who’s a neighbor of Kanamori.

According to Bull, Kanamori was once a very popular illustrator in Japan, but his name at least is now largely forgotten there.  When Star Trek first made inroads in Japan, Kanamori was selected to do the artwork for the translated novelizations. For each book he would supply a cover image, a color spread frontispiece, and a number of black and white interior illustrations. Bull’s site has scans of a handful of interior illustrations… and they’re amazing.

It took some dedicated internet scouring, but I managed to turn up a few websites that have scans of his covers. These two seem to be the most comprehensive. Here’s a quick gallery I put together of some of my favorites, but there are more to explore at those two sites:

Sadly, I couldn’t turn up any of Kanamori’s frontispiece paintings other than the one on Bull’s site.

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One final thing I did turn up: there was a collection of Kanamori’s SF illustrations released in the U.S. via manga publisher Tohan in 2008. The book was called Toru Kanamori SF Art Original Sketches and retailed for a hefty $55.00. I’ve so far not turned up a copy for sale here, but I’ve got a saved Ebay search set up. Here’s an image of the cover:

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I’d love to see Toru Kanamori’s Star Trek stuff in particular collected and made available in the U.S. After posting those initial two images to Twitter it became obvious that even Star Trek fans in the comics/illustration community don’t know his work. I sure didn’t. Maybe with the 50th anniversary of Trek, some adventurous soul will figure out a way to give Kanamori’s work the exposure and appreciation it deserves. Live long and prosper, y’all!

3 comments

  1. David says:

    I came across this book in Japan years back. It’s really amazing. I can’t believe that he is not a well known scifi illustrator. His use of nevitive space is truly incredible.

  2. Ben says:

    @David – Yeah, me neither. Seems like he’s virtually unknown here.

  3. ravi swami says:

    Terrific work…

    I recently posted a series of blogs on an ongoing CGI modelling project to re-imagine the USS Enterprise as if it existed in the era of 30’s pulp scifi magazines (e.g. Amazing Stories etc) – it’s gained a lot of views (& continues to ) and even appeared on a Japanese scifi blog a short while ago.

    I mention this because so far Paramount don’t seem to be sitting on fan generated work, despite recent controversies over fan short films / unauthorised additions to the genre, and recognise that it’s out of a genuine interest in the property rather than plagiarism.

    You can see some examples here : http://raviswami.com/blog/?page_id=4895

    Ravi

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