Interview with Special Makeup Artist Kaiho: Wanting to Present New Possibilities for Special Makeup

Born in 1996 in Nagoya city and graduated as a design major at Nagoya City Industrial Arts High School. He studied the rudiments of special makeup and special effects at the Amazing School JUR, and began freelancing in 2014, creating works using special makeup and sculpting techniques. He currently continues to create pieces that explore his own unique worldview through special makeup, graphics, and art direction. He has also been utilizing his sensibilities in a wide range of media fields, including music videos, films, and live performances. In 2020, he was selected as one of the top 3 in the world in the WBF 2020 World Championships special effects makeup competition held in Australia. 

Special makeup artist Kaiho’s special effects makeup, masks, sculpted objects, and other works have been featured in many artists’ music videos including King Gnu, ALI, Vaundy, Fujii Kaze, yama, Tempalay, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, among others. He explores his own unique worldview through special makeup, graphics, art direction, and other aspects of his work.

From November 2nd to 6th, he had his first solo exhibition, TIPSY, in Harajuku, Tokyo. More than twenty of his works including his first directed video works, photographs, masks, stuffed animals, and other new pieces, limit the grotesque images of special makeup and cloak the artist’s own unique view of pop and realism with an abundant use of color. It presents new possibilities, different from the general image one may have of special effects makeup. 

What kind of special makeup artist is Kaiho aiming to be? We interviewed him about his own personal history at the venue of his solo exhibition.

“I got an offer from King Gnu after posting my works on social media”

—First, please tell us about how you got into special makeup.

Kaiho: As a child, I always enjoyed drawing, making things with clay, and moving my hands. I looked through a Shigeru Mizuki book we had at home one day, and thought that was amazing. That’s how I became interested in monsters and fantasy worlds.

I learned about special effects makeup as an extension of that. It started off as something that just seemed interesting. I then went to a school in Tokyo started by special makeup artist Amazing JIRO after graduating high school. 

—How was it actually attending JIRO’s school?

Kaiho: Taking something that I had been drawing in my imagination and making it look like it exists in the real world by actually applying special makeup to a person’s face and then seeing it move was so interesting, that I got into it immediately.

—How long did you attend that school?

Kaiho: It was a one-year school, so I was taught the basics thoroughly for a year there. 

—Did you become someone’s assistant after graduating?

Kaiho: My feelings of wanting to do something alone were strong, so that’s what I did after graduating instead of becoming an assistant.

That being said, there weren’t any jobs after I graduated. I made art tirelessly in my tiny, 4.5-mat room with a kitchen while I worked part-time. Someone on King Gnu’s team found my work after I posted about it on social media. We worked together after I got an offer to do special makeup for their music video, “It’s a small world”, released in November of 2018. That was how I started getting recognized, and how the jobs started rolling in. 

—After that, you worked on Fujii Kaze, tempalay, ALI, and other artists’ music videos as well.

Kaiho: Yes. I think music video jobs are the most comforting for me. With advertisements, I always feel like I have to create something that’s faithful to what was asked of me. Of course music videos have a general direction, but they basically allow me to do everything. In my case, the design changes the more I develop it, so they usually agree to incorporate my ideas if I suggest them. But in the future, I’d like to be able to do that not just for music videos but also for advertisements and other jobs I’m involved with.

—yama’s mask you created also became a topic of conversation.

Kaiho: yama’s manager contacted me at the time of the singer’s first media appearance, so we really started from scratch. We tried many things. The mask first appeared on “THE FIRST TAKE”. I was worried if it would work, but it got great reviews. Ultimately, I’m happy it’s now become yama’s iconic mask. It was personally a huge challenge for me, and a great experience. 

“I want to communicate how interesting special makeup can be”

—When did you start prepping for this solo exhibition?

Kaiho: I’ve always wanted to do a solo exhibition, but I was thinking about timing with COVID and all. I decided to do it at this time because I had accumulated a lot of artwork and I felt I could confidently say, “this is what I want to do in the future”. I’ve been creating works I wanted to exhibit for around three years, but I decided to hold the exhibit around three months ago.

—I feel like it’s rare for a special makeup artist to do a solo exhibition. What made you want to do one?

Kaiho: I always felt like the general image of what special makeup artists do was skewed. People only think we create zombies, aliens, and injured faces. Personally, I think special makeup can be used in a variety of ways. I wanted people to understand what can be done with special makeup through this solo exhibition. I also wanted to communicate that this is the direction I want to keep going in with my own work. 

—You make stuffed animal suits as well as masks. Do you keep the same things in mind when you make them?

Kaiho: I do. I’m the type to want to make something immediately after I think of it. With this suit, I tried weird dying techniques, and had fun while creating it.

I think everyone assumes that the jacket and the costume on display at my solo exhibition is one piece, but there are barely any people who can make both. Some people may have the skills to make it, but there aren’t any people who actually do it. If someone saw my work and thought, “he got to it before me”, I’d be happy. 

—You’re quite detailed in all of your work.

Kaiho: Actually, I don’t like half the process of making something like a mask (laughs). The process of making masks requires creating molds from various materials and other difficult work. But ultimately, I do this because I enjoy seeing the makeup I do on set become something I’ve never seen before in its final product. Sculpted objects become more enjoyable to make the closer I am to finishing them, which makes me want to work on more detailed finishes.

—Do you make something everyday?

Kaiho: I usually make something whenever I have the time.

—Do you immediately think of ideas of what you want to make?

Kaiho: I do. I first draw a rough image, and then maybe I make it out of clay. Everything starts with a simple catalyst. The paper bag piece displayed in my solo exhibition is a great example. It derived from wondering what a ripped paper bag with eyes and a mouth drawn onto it would look like in 3D. I think like that and let my imagination grow.

—Do you immediately think of ideas of what you want to make?

Kaiho: I do. I first draw a rough image, and then maybe I make it out of clay. Everything starts with a simple catalyst. The paper bag piece displayed in my solo exhibition is a great example. It derived from wondering what a ripped paper bag with eyes and a mouth drawn onto it would look like in 3D. I think like that and let my imagination grow.

—What do you want to be doing in the future?

Kaiho: The first thing I want to try is to create more pieces for work that are similar to what I created for this solo exhibition. My other goal is to create my own original character and make content I can post personally. I can do special makeup, stuffed animal suits, puppets, and even stop-motion animation. I want to try to prepare all of that little by little.

It would also be great if people personally asked for me when looking for someone to do the job. I’ll work hard so that more people will give me job offers saying, “wouldn’t it be interesting to ask Kaiho to do this?”

—Do you have any desire to work abroad?

Kaiho: I do. I often get messages from people abroad in my Instagram DMs. I believe my art can be accepted by the whole world.

—Have you thought about getting involved in Hollywood films?

Kaiho: That’s not something I’ve thought about much. My only hope is that I can do things that are interesting. I want to work on music videos, fashion shows, even plays, and want different types of people to see my work. I’d love to expand my possibilities more broadly!

Translation Mimiko Goldstein
Photography Yohei KIchiraku


Atsushi Takayama

Born in Osaka Prefecture.Graduated from the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Literature, Doshisha University. After working for a video production company, He Joined INFAS Publications in 2013 .