Kenji Sato


Originally published on on March 2013

Kenji Sato is the body paint artist who “dressed” our model for the Metropolis #990 Beauty Special cover.

How did you get started as a makeup artist?
Between 2005 and 2008 I worked as an actor in Bangkok. At that time, I was introduced to the Miss AC/DC drag contest by a friend who was the head make up artist of the event. Out of 50 contestants, I came third! It made me understand the true magic of make up and so I [went to and] graduated from a Thai hair and make up school in Bangkok. That was how it all started.

Where have you worked? What are some the most memorable projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve worked in Bangkok, Phuket and elsewhere in Thailand. Then I went to Toronto to improve my skills between 2008 and 2011. I worked on more than 140 different projects there. The most memorable one would be the zombie comedy Dead Before Dawn 3D. We filmed near Niagara Falls and I was the head of the whole make up department. In the cast was Christopher Lloyd from the Back to the Future movies. [Meeting him] was a really great experience.

Why Tokyo and why now?
I was traveling abroad for 13 years and I’m sure I worried my mother quite a bit during that time, so out of filial piety. But I also want to take on my home country Japan and prove that I can make it here as well. Working with Christopher Lloyd was the highlight and finishing line of my international pursuits.

Why did you start body painting?
When it comes to work using models, because of the enormous amount of trust needed for making art out of the naked body, it’s also the most difficult. I wanted to take on that challenge. By difficult, I mean even if you’re skilled, your work might look “cheap,” so you have to give it your best shot every time.

What is your favorite style to paint?
I like being able to paint three dimensionally. Also, I’ve started collaborating with special effects make up.

How long does an average body painting take?
If it’s a live event and the body paintee doesn’t get tired, about 20-30 minutes. If it’s for a TV commercial, it takes at least an hour. It probably takes 3 hours to get a satisfactory finish.

What is your plan with the new studio?
I want the studio in Harajuku to be a place for tourists to create an awesome memory to take home with them. There’s maiko make up studios in Kyoto, so for Harajuku it’s got to be cosplay! That kind of thing, anyway. I’d also like it to be a place for hair and make up artists to develop their talents. And on days without any bookings, I want to head the search to find new, talented people.

Can readers book appointments with you? How? How much does it cost?
If I don’t have any other bookings/shoots planned, absolutely! That’s one of the reasons I opened Studio 403. You can book online via our homepage. You can also find prices there. I really want anyone and everyone to try it out, so the price is quite reasonable I think.

What if someone would like to book you for an event? How do you book, how much does it cost?
I’d like at least two weeks’ notice in advance. In the case of events, I bring my assistants along with me as well. Price depends on the type of event. Feel free to contact me via the website for a consultation.

Up until now, which body-painting project are you most proud of?
When I heard about the Tohoku earthquake, I was in Toronto, Canada. I thought about what I could do to help, so I organized a body painting party and donated all the money I received to charity. At that time, I used black light to portray the image of “Spring.” This is my most profound body painting memory.

How do you come up with ideas? Do you always use the same style?
Since I don’t really think of myself as an artist, suddenly coming up with cool ideas on the spot deosn’t really happen with me. I check out the news, what young people are talking about, all sorts of different sources. I don’t focus on one idea or concept, but combine and interweave at least five at a time. It’s really hard to come up with something from within myself, so I make use of and take inspiration from things around me.

Have you ever come out with any unexpected results?
When trying out a design image, the model’s body ended up looking much more three-dimensional. It’s interesting when things turn out different from how you imagined it.

How do you adjust your style/ideas for different body parts?
[I have to consider] the quality of the person’s skin, the color, their body line and shape. It happens that I have to change the style on the day, depending on the canvas. That’s part of the fascination.

When people get painted, do they ever react weirdly or in an interesting way?
When I start painting, people’s facial expressions give off the impression of them being tired or exhausted. But as soon as it’s done and they can see the result, they become so bright and cheerful, they forget they’re naked. When I’ve done zombie events, almost everyone turns into a 100% fully-fledged zombie [Laughs].

Anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to eventually have my name, Kenji, to be synonymous with body painting. That’s a pretty far reaching goal, but something I want to keep in my heart.

Kenji Sato works out of 403 Studios in Harajuku.