i, tokyo

I, Tokyo: Mateusz Urbanowicz

Peek into the lives of international Tokyoites with our I, Tokyo series

Written by
Time Out Tokyo Editors
Originally published in Time Out Tokyo magazine issue 18 (March 2018)

This multimedia artist has worked on a hit Japanese animated movie and is into the retro sides of the city. We talked to him about his life as an anime artist in Tokyo.

We hear animation culture brought you to Japan. How’s life as an anime artist in Tokyo?
Tokyo is really exciting for an artist who’s interested in making all kinds of art, such as animation, comics and illustrations. Most of the animation studios are located here, so it’s easy to work, collaborate and even visit some of them. It’s convenient to arrange meetings with publishers, too.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Studio Ghibli twice and now I’m also working with another studio. Furthermore, places such as Akihabara and big bookstores are like windows into all the current trends in popular art, with inspirations abound.

It’s interesting that you mainly paint the facades of old Japanese stores. How did you fall in love with this vanishing aspect of the city?
This is just one of my projects, although it’s getting the most attention; I’m also directing a short animation and creating a comic right now. The ‘Tokyo Storefronts’ illustration series came from my love for the city. I like to wander and explore, so when I heard that there are still parts of the old ‘shitamachi’ around Tokyo, I went looking. I really like the retro, homey feel of the old stores, so I decided to paint some of them. This turned into a bigger series and then into a book. I’m really drawn to the old-style Japan architecture. It makes me feel nostalgic, even though I’m not Japanese.

You worked on the hit film ‘Your Name’ (2016) as a background artist. What do you think made it so popular? What was the most difficult part of the project?
I really don’t know why ‘Your Name’ became such a big hit. The director Makoto Shinkai made full use of his storytelling knowledge and experience gained from all his previous works; he also gathered a team of people with exceptional skills, and everyone did their best and we succeeded. I’m really happy that I could be a part of this project.

Aside from the heavy workload, adjusting my painting style so that it fitted in with the other artists and the overall aesthetic of the movie was difficult at first, but (with help) I got there in the end.

When did you first feel like a Tokyoite?
I guess when I finally could walk from Akihabara to my home in Sanban-cho without using a map, or take a train without checking on my smartphone, I started to feel local. Also, having regular eating places that I’d frequent weekly was a nice feeling.

What do you find cute about Tokyo?
I like how Tokyo has all these cute hidden treasures almost everywhere: small shrines here and there, cute shops and cafés tucked away around the corner, a Japanese garden, or a river. I like the old signs, the small spaces between buildings that are used for storage, random chairs at a bus stop, and just the human presence – this can be overwhelming, but also comforting.

If you had to choose one city in the world to paint other than Tokyo, which city would that be?
I have not travelled much, but I spent some time in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it’s a beautiful city with lots of places to explore. Totally different to Tokyo, of course, but I would like to go back there some time and do some paintings of the old stone buildings.

Finally, any tips for those visiting Tokyo in spring?
The well-established tourist attractions are fun, but exploring the city on your own can be really rewarding. Almost all of my best adventures in Tokyo (and Japan) were at random interesting-looking places, interacting with the people there, and just exploring a little deeper than usual.

See mateuszurbanowicz.com for more information about Urbanowicz’s work

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