Authentication | Beware of Japanese bootleg posters!
October 16, 2018
Collectors beware! Starting about a year or two ago, bootleg posters have become much more prevalent in Japan and those posters are now — either knowingly or unknowingly — making their way to collectors around the world. They are not perfect fakes by any measure, but they are good enough that low-resolution auction images have fooled many buyers.
First, it is probably prudent to say a few words about Japanese reproduction posters. There is a long history in Japan of reprinting vintage poster designs. However, these are almost always legit reprints either from the studios themselves or licensed reprints. They might be used for theater give-aways, video releases, commercial sales, etc… Most importantly, they are almost always distinguishable from the originals because of fine print text or other small deliberate differences. At worst case you can inspect the back of the poster — vintage Japanese posters were typically printed on thinner stock that has yellowed somewhat over the years and typically has some bleed through of the inks. On modern printings the back is usually bright white with little-to-no bleed through of the inks.
While legit, commercially reproduction posters have no doubt fooled some buyers over the years — that is not the same thing as a “bootleg”. A bootleg is an unlicensed poster printed to look identical to the original for the purpose of defrauding buyers. I believe the recent wave of bootlegs in Japan are indeed being printed for these nefarious purposes. And while this newest wave of bootleg printings are usually good enough to fool buyers, the sellers are being extra deceptive by including images of the backs of the posters that show some bleed through of the inks! I’m not sure if the fraudulent sellers are being creative with lighting to highlight the bleed through or if they are simply using photographs of the back of legit posters in their listings. Either way, they are clearly exploiting the tools and methods Japanese collectors have used over the years to distinguish between bootlegs and originals. And rest assured, when the posters arrive they do have a solid white back with little bleed through.
While this list is by no means complete, I have handled or seen bootlegs for the following titles. If you know of others please let me know and I’ll add them to the list:
- Samurai Rebellion 1967 STB
- Samurai Rebellion 1967 billboard (3xB1s)
- Zatoichi meets Yojimbo 1970 B2
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 B2 (yellow title style)
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961 B2s (both original style B2s and both R1969 style B2s)
- Sabrina 1954 B2s (both original style B2s)
- Dr. No R1972 STB
- Tokyo Drifter 1966 B2
- The Mummy 1959 B2
- Rickshaw Man 1958 B2
- You Only Live Twice R1976 B2
Please see below for high resolution comparison images between an original 1967 Samurai Rebellion (上意討ち) STB and one of the recent bootlegs. The print sizes are almost identical to the originals. Some of the differences to note in the bootleg are 1) lower contrast in the image, 2) lack of true printed blacks, 3) slightly fuzzy text, and 4) slightly desaturated colors. When you see them side by side in the comparison image below you might think only a fool would be deceived. However, please keep in mind that if you photograph a poster with a mobile phone camera, they often boost color saturation and contrast by default. And most auction houses in Japan are not equipped for sellers to upload high resolution images. And of course, when you are buying a poster at auction there is never an original placed side by side for comparison! All this is to say, please be careful and be vigilant when buying Japanese posters. And as the old saying goes, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Samurai Rebellion Japanese STB comparison: