Hailing from Japan, Miho Suzuki has worked on several fashion shows, hair shows and magazine shoots as well as gala events such as movie premieres. She spent five years in London, during which time she was a prosthetic makeup artist on the acclaimed 2002 apocalyptic thriller 28 Days Later. She later worked as a makeup artist and hair stylist for the Japan Production Unit of the Academy Award-winning film Memoirs of a Geisha. In this episode of the Creative Spotlight we talk about working on said movie sets, cultural revelations, and film! See the full interview below…
For those of us who know absolutely nothing about fashion design, could you tell us a bit about hair/make up and your approach to your work?
Miho: When I attended my very first makeup class at London College of Fashion, the teacher asked us what is the most important thing to be a makeup artist? A lot of students answered ‘be creative’. I was one of those students. Teacher said ‘absolutely not’, but ‘be easygoing’. That was kind a unexpected answer. I was like ‘What is he talking about?‘ at that time. After 14 years of my professional experience, that is absolutely right. When I work with designs, models, art direction, and photographers with free, easy, spontaneous mind, I tend to come up with very interesting ideas or great results. I remember in the beginning of my career I tried so hard to be creative and tried to be very in control of images, and a lot of times it didn’t work. My approach is ‘let it happen’-always seems to work the best!
You’ve done work on some major motion pictures such as Memiors of a Geisha, Tropic Thunder, and Star Trek. Could you tell us a bit about working on the set of a movie?
Miho: Working on the big movie set has been the endless dream of my career. It still is. I was lucky enough to be a part of the movies. It can be very very long hours and a lot of hard work but everybody takes such a pride in what they do and that is what I love about movie making. It is a great collaboration.
Why did you decide to come to LA?
Miho: I came to L.A. in 2007 at 34 years old. All of my family and friends were like ‘Are you CRAZY??‘ I come from the family in the country side where everyone knows each other and minds someone else’s business, so it was a big deal. Usually woman at that age gets married and have kids. I didn’t. I met a makeup artist called Michele Burke who is one of the top makeup artists in the film industries. She has won the Academy Awards in ‘Quest for Fire’ and ‘Blam Storker’s Dracula’ and 7 other nominations. She is my idol not because she is famous and award winner makeup artist. When I went to London, I originally was going to apply for fine art college. One day I was browsing the library and saw this sensational photography. It was a Lightening in the dark night. When you see carefully it was a bodypainting that has lightening across the body from top to toe painted on the naked woman’s body. I was amazed and shocked. I didn’t know such a form of art existed. At that moment I decided to become a makeup artist. Years and years later, I somehow happened to be Michele’s website and saw her portfolio. I found that painting!!!! I contacted her right away through her website assuming she is not going to bother to reply. But she did next day!!! After 3 years, with my dream of assisting Michele on the union movie, Here I am.. Michele is the truly amazing person who I just adore and look up to not only a makeup artist but as a real person.
Is there more pressure working on say, a Christian Dior show in Japan, then doing hair and make up on a motion picture?
Miho: It is a different knid of pressure.. Fashion show is very intense. We have to prep the many models in such a limited time, so backstage can be very chaotic, speedy and fun at the same time. So much adrenarine flowing. Movie can be also but intensity is diferrent as the runway show is done, it’s done.
Speaking of which, you have done numerous fashion shows in both the UK and Japan. What is the biggest difference between shows in these two countries?
Miho: It is a very good question! In London, The show gets created in the designer’s point of view. Makuep reflects the clothes and attitude, and it has a lot of messages and stories behind the makeup desgins in London. It can be edgy, abangard or soft and pretty to support desginer’s message to the world. However, the runway makeup in Japan is designed for the consumers. People who purchase the clothes has to be able to relate to the model walking down the catwalk. Therefore, makeup is always very conservative, elegant, pretty and natural. New designers at Tokyo collections seems more adventurous and try to do like London or NY collections, but haute couture seems to play safe and conservative as they do not want to put off the important clients with out-of-ordinary makeup.
Without naming specifics, do you always personally like the films or get along with the cast and crew that you work on?
Miho: I tend to get along with anyone I work with. I am not so much me me me person. I have a capacity to listen to other’s criticism or opinion. I cannot say it always though. When you work in such a competitive world, there is a time you come across someone who try to stab your back. But, I don’t let that bother me and my work. I just do my job and try to impress myself not anyone else as I am the most critical person to my own work.
Besides Memiors of a Geisha, what other Asian or Asian inspired films do you enjoy?
Miho: I love ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘, ‘Hero‘, etc. Those are visually stunning and love the stories. I also love ‘Okuribito’ which is the Japanese movie won the 81st foreign language academy awards. The story is so quietly poetically told and it’s just so beautiful.
What kind of music videos, commercials, or films can we expect to see your work featured in throughout 2011?
Miho: 2011 is the year of seeding for me. My personal life has shifted 180 degrees and I feel ready to restart my career. I would love to meet new circle of creators and I feel that a lot of great surprises will be waiting for me!
Lastly, any advice for anyone looking to break into the make-up industry?
Miho: If this is what you love, stick with it. Being a makeup artist is not so much about putting makeup on a person. It takes of years of practice to learn what to do on set, how to deal with models or actors, how to work in the team of creative people. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That is the only way to grow. One of the most inspirational makeup artists and a friend of mine, Kate Biscoe told me one day, ‘you don’t have to beome a star. If you do your best, that is all you need to do. Then you will get somewhere you wanted to be one day’. Whenever I hit the wall, I remember this word. I am still in the middle of climbing the mountain and peak is too far to see but I am enjoying every step of the journey.