Mark Matsuno, Hollywood graphic designer and artist, dies at 69


Mark Matsuno with his daughter’s dog Grizzly. courtesy of Myles Matsuno

Mark Matsuno with his daughter’s dog Grizzly. courtesy of Myles Matsuno

Not many people knew Mark Matsuno by name, but his lifetime of work has touched countless people without them ever noticing. The San Francisco-native, born March 24, 1952, moved down to Los Angeles at the age of 20 to work in advertising and specialized in producing printed promotional materials for Hollywood movies.

Working on marketing materials for “High Fidelity,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Come See the Paradise,” as well as overseeing the production of package designs for the “Friends” DVD box-set and the “Harry Potter” DVDs, Matsuno was known as a rare, talented and “drama free” graphic designer in Hollywood, according to those close to him.

After battling an illness for more than two years, Matsuno passed away Dec. 12, 2021 at the age of 69.

His son, Myles Matsuno, said his father was always willing to help someone in need. The younger Matsuno said his father played an inspirational role in his life. His father made sure to leave meetings with movie studio executives on time to make it to his sports games.

His son recalled some advice his father gave him at a flag football game, which he now applies to various aspects of his life.

“I played flag football and I was always really hesitant. And my dad pulled me aside at halftime,” he said to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “And he goes, ‘You need to get those flags,’ and I ask him why, ‘because your team needs you.’ That turned a switch on for the light bulb in me.”

Matsuno was born and raised in San Francisco’s Richmond District, attended Washington High School and San Francisco City College, according to Rick Matsuno, his younger brother. His younger brother added that he showed promise as an artist at a young age.

Taking that skill, he became a graphic designer, eventually opening his own firm: Matsuno Design Group.

John McCloy worked with Matsuno for 24 years and said he was the kind of boss who led by example.

“He was the kind of guy that wouldn’t ask you to work over the weekend if he could do the job himself, and so that made you want to help him,” he told the Nichi Bei Weekly by phone. “Instead of being upset that you’re in the office on a Saturday morning, while he wasn’t, he was always there with you.”

McCloy said Matsuno always added an artistic touch to his work, even while working on commercialized and functional designs. Toward his later years, Matsuno found time to paint and present in a few galleries in Southern California. Fellow former San Franciscan

Thomas Reynolds hosted Matsuno’s paintings at his gallery in Santa Barbara. Matsuno had met Reynolds at his gallery on Fillmore and Pine Streets near Japantown.

“We debuted his first exhibition, ‘Urban Landscapes,’ last fall, and his paintings stirred a great response,” Reynolds wrote to the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, his first exhibition will also be his last. Farewell to a talented artist and a wonderful human being.”

Matsuno left an autobiographical blog post on Reynold’s Website last October, stating: “Throughout my career as a creative director in advertising, I never forgot my passion for fine art. In recent years, I have fine-tuned my talent as a painter and turned my attention to creating a body of work, which has proven to be a renaissance of sorts for me. I enjoy depicting recognizable icons and structures within the urban landscapes that surround me, in both Los Angeles and my native San Francisco, and turning them into works of art.”

Myles Matsuno said his father fulfilled a “dream” when he started selling his work at smaller galleries around 2017. Mark Matsuno’s daughter, Alyssa Matsuno Dessert, recalled how her father, an eclectic lover of music and film, would put on music and paint in his little art studio at home all day. He enjoyed painting jazz artists, but also landscapes of California’s urban centers. Matsuno Dessert added that her father encouraged her creative side and his works would sometimes play off her own work.

“I used to take a lot of pictures, and a lot of a lot of times he would end up painting some of the pictures that I’ve taken. So that was kind of our thing,” she said. “Just, not necessarily a specific place, but traveling together, walking the streets of San Francisco together, walking around France together, just being together. And then, the photos that we would take and then seeing him take those photos and turning them into his artwork was pretty special.”

ARTIST AND FATHER ­— Mark Matsuno designed many movie posters throughout his life, including the poster for “First to Go,” a documentary on his mother’s wartime incarceration experience by his son, Myles Matsuno. designed by Mark Matsuno

Myles Matsuno also collaborated with his father. The Yonsei filmmaker asked his father to design the posters for his first feature film “Christmas in July” (2021), as well as his documentary, “First to Go: Story of the Kataoka Family” (2018), about Ichiro Kataoka, Mark Matsuno’s maternal grandfather and the first Japanese American arrested by the FBI in San Francisco after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Kataoka was the owner of the Aki Hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown at the time and his daughter Mary Matsuno later ran Aki Travel.

“He was so happy and proud that I made that movie,” Matsuno said. “I mean, he’s part of the reason why I made it in the first place. He’s the one, along with my grandma, … had the front page of the (San Francisco) Examiner blown up with my great grandfather on the cover hanging in his house. So he’s the reason why I even started learning about any of that stuff, because that wasn’t taught to me in the school system.”

Mark Matsuno is predeceased by parents Mary and James “Jinx” Matsuno. He is survived by siblings Christine Fukumitsu, Rick (Susanne Honma) Matsuno; children Myles (Whitney) Matsuno, Alyssa (Derek) Matsuno Dessert; and grandchildren Koa Matsuno, Emilia Dessert.



Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the Feb. 3-16, 2022 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly, the article entitled “Mark Matsuno, Hollywood graphic designer and artist, dies at 69” listed Catherine Fukumitsu as Matsuno’s sister, her correct name is Christine Fukumitsu. The Nichi Bei Weekly regrets the error. To contact the Nichi Bei Weekly about an error, please e-mail, write to P.O. Box 15693, San Francisco, CA 94115 or call (415) 673-1009.

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