The World’s Loveliest Advertisement For Death

This award-winning ad for a Japanese funeral home casts the inevitable in a whole new light (and tons of pigments).

There are times when design needs to be understated, when it needs to recede into the background. Spaces where the proportions of a room, a wall treatment, or a tacky chandelier should be the last thing on your mind. Like a funerary home.


Funeral homes are purposely dour, all subdued blacks, hushed grays, and buffed dark cherry wood. It would seem that design flourishes have no part to play in this (non)aesthetic. In Japan, in fact, it’s taboo to break this monochromatic code. But a new advertisment for Nishinihon Tenrei funeral parlor goes against the grain.

Produced by ad agency I&S BBDO, the life-sized poster depicts a human skeleton recreated in colorful flower petals set on an arresting white background. Kneecaps are made from sunflowers, links of green leaves trace out rib cages, and arched rows of pink roses form the silhouette of the crown of a skull.

The poster, which recently took home a One Show Design Merit Award, was the brainchild of Mari Nishimura, creative director at I&S BBDO. The idea for the image came from his own experience with death, he tells Co. Design. Nishimura was left with “profound feelings” of his late father’s funeral, which, incidentally enough, was held at the Nishinihon Tenrei funeral parlor.

“If the funeral is an occasion to show your gratitude to those you are leaving behind, you’d want it to be colorful and festive,” Nishimura explains. The bold, yet delicate colors and shapes pay testament to that belief. The poster now hangs in the Nishinihon Tenrei funeral home and serves as a striking backdrop to the proceedings there. (The funeral parlor, which loved Nishimura’s collage, seems to embrace a less than conservative attitude towards the business, if its website is any indication–it sports a blog and mobile features.)

Seen in this way, funerary services need not be lugubrious affairs, dulled by gloomy iconography and elegiac protocol. Rather, Nishimura’s design seems to say, funerals are opportunities for warm remembrance. “Death does not only bring sorry,” but also color, light, and memories.


About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.