My Visit to the Exhibit “Shichiro Kobayashi: Drama of Light and Shadow”

A painting of an old, small Japanese home, with people huddled around a stove while a woman nearby rolls dough.

I didn’t know who Kobayashi Shichiro was until he had already passed away. But when Anime NYC helped sponsor an exhibit dedicated to his work both in and outside Japanese animation, I decided I should visit this gallery. I then read that he had been a part of the industry since its early days, but what I hadn’t realized is that his art extended all the way into the eras that helped foster my own love of anime.

Unfortunately, I only managed to get there on the last day the exhibit was open. I wish I could have written about it sooner.

A video of Kobayashi Shichiro, with subtitles saying, "Animation, hand-drawn and hand-crafted, is important, precious, and something to be thankful for."

Right after the entrance was a video message from Kobayashi, where he expressed his love of animation and its potential to connect humans with one another. He seemed to lament recent problems in the world and hoped animation could help overcome them.

From there, the pieces on display were both work from anime productions as well as from his own personal art. Some (but not all) of the anime ones were not allowed to be photographed, like the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, Nobody’s Boy Remi, and The Adventures of Gamba, but there were many that could be, as shown below.

An abandoned and destroyed landscape with a cloudy sky in the background.

Urusei Yatsura the Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamers

Two background paintings from Venus Wars, depicting a destroyed stadium and an abandoned oil rig

Venus Wars

A futuristic-looking building against a blue sky from the anime Simoun.

Simoun

Kobayashi, in his role as art director, collaborated with many great anime creators, especially Dezaki Osamu and Sugino Akio. Looking at Kobayashi’s entry on Anime News Network, it’s clear that this was only scratching the surface. What really struck me was his ability to create backgrounds and environments for a whole range of settings, from small towns to science fiction landscapes. 

A fairly realistic self-portrait of Kobayashi painted with watercolor on paper, from the 1960s

His personal art also showcased Kobayashi’s versatility and powerful expressiveness, featuring pieces dating all the way back to the 1960s and going into the 2010s. They ranged from portraits to abstract art to images of nature, with horses being a lifelong subject due to having grown up with them.

An abstract painting with mostly black paint on a portrait-style canvas with a few specks of blue. A thick and textured band of white paint goes across the middle, and curves as if bending under its own weight. Dated around 1965.

Seeing these interspersed along with the anime work, it gave the sense that Kobayashi was truly a complete artist.

A striking painting of a horse in black on red, dated 2021.

In the corner of the gallery was a video playing a “storybook” animation by Kobayashi about one of his favorite children’s stories: The Red Candles and the Mermaid. He had apparently always wanted to make an animated work out of it, and this combination of stills and voiced narration was the fulfillment of that, to an extent. The tale is a tragic one, a lesson about greed and not appreciating others, brought to life here through Kobayashi’s paintings. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of it.

It was brief, but I’m glad to have experienced the work of Kobayashi Shichiro this way, where his backgrounds command attention instead of receding in the face of the stories. It makes me feel that I should appreciate background artists more.