Kazuhiro Tsuji has received many accolades and awards. He says one of his proudest moments is winning an Oscar at the Academy Awards in 2018 for Best Hair and Makeup Artist for his work in the British film “Darkest Hour.” 

With the award, he became the first Japanese person to receive the honor, and he transformed actor Gary Oldman into British wartime leader Winston Churchill for the film.

Tsuji shares the Oscar with David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick.

Some of Tsuji’s other work includes “Men in Black” (1997), “Planet of the Apes” (2001), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), and “Looper” (2012). 

Tsuji says he learned many of his skills from makeup artist Dick Smith. Smith worked on classic films such as the Exorcist, Taxi Driver and the Godfather.  Tsuji says Smith’s influence has given him the techniques to be a special make-up effects artist and visual artist.

Kazuhiro Tsuji
Kazuhiro Tsuji

“When I first saw makeup done in a magazine by Dick Smith, I was so fascinated by it and at that moment I was about 16 or 17 years old, I saw that this is what I wanted to become.” 

Tsuji made a face cast of himself, and started to do special effects makeup through trial and error. He eventually got the nerve to send pictures of his work to Smith.

“Smith would respond and tell me what could be improved, what’s good and what’s not good,” says Tsuji. “He wrote back, telling me the best way to learn is learning by yourself.”

As a young filmmaker, Tsuji says he met Smith for the first time when Smith came to Japan to oversee a Japanese horror film.

At the age of 22, Tsuji taught students his age what he had learned. He became well known in Japan because special effects makeup artists were few. Tsuji says he didn’t mind teaching, but he knew he wanted to do more.  

“Teaching those students doesn’t allow me to accomplish my dream, which is to come to Hollywood and work in the film industry,” says Tsuji.

Tsuji moved to the Los Angeles in 1996.  He began working on movie sets and doing makeup on actors. Although he says he wasn’t sure if he was good enough to work with other top-notch makeup artists such as Rick Baker and Eddie Yang, Tsuji was embraced by his mentors. 

“This was a dream come true because Dick Smith was pretty much retired by that time and so working for another one of my heroes, Rick Baker, I was really fulfilled.” 

After 25 years as a special effects makeup artist, Tsuji now focuses his work on creating larger than life portraits.  

“Doing film jobs it is all about waiting. Waiting for something to happen. But art is different. I need to be the one to make something happen every day and creating art allows me to do that,” Tsuji says.

Tsuji shares details of just how he makes his larger than life portraits in his next interview.