Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cutter's edge: American ad studio takes Tokyo, for The ACCJ

COOL JAPAN | MEDIA (ACCJ Journal)

Cutters Tokyo CEO, Ryan McGuire

The New Mad Men

The evolution and transformation of advertising in Tokyo

By Roland Kelts

Among the fastest ways to check the barometer of a nation’s popular culture—to see who’s cool and what’s in style or comical—is to watch domestic TV commercials. Advertising cuts to the heart of a culture’s DNA.

TV ads from Japan, for example, have long been coveted abroad for their apparent outrageousness or sheer oddity. Entire YouTube channels and websites (see the seminal japander.com) upload Japanese commercials featuring American A-list celebrities.

On Japanese TV, Leonardo DiCaprio promotes the Orico credit card and hawks Jim Beam; Tommy Lee Jones guzzles Boss canned coffee; and Madonna sports geta (wooden sandals) to tout Takara shochu. Then there's Sofia Coppola’s 2004 film set in Japan, Lost in Translation. It makes cross-cultural advertising a comical plot point, with Bill Murray playing a washed-up US movie star in Tokyo to shoot a Japanese TV ad for Suntory whiskey.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Japan at a Crossroads, for The New Yorker

Japan at a Crossroads


After the death last week of Kenji Goto, the second Japanese citizen to be executed by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the conversation in Japan has turned from obsessive analysis of the hostage crisis to a drone of regret and dread. The government had repeatedly claimed that it would “do whatever we can” to free Goto, a forty-seven-year-old journalist who had appeared in three videos posted online by ISIS issuing his captors’ demands and claiming that his time was running out. Japan has no diplomatic presence in Syria and, since the end of the Second World War, no standing military. As many Japanese became painfully aware, there was very little their government could do.

The first video showed two hostages, Goto and his forty-two-year-old friend, Haruna Yukawa. Both men were kneeling, in orange jumpsuits, beside the black-clad, knife-wielding man who has been filmed beheading other hostages. The demand at the time was a ransom of two hundred million dollars, one hundred million per hostage, to be paid within seventy-two hours. The total dollar figure was the exact amount that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had pledged, only a few days earlier, during a visit to Egypt, to support “those countries contending with ISIL.” The following day, Abe traveled to Jerusalem, where he was photographed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Abe’s trip was cut short by a day when the hostage crisis emerged and he flew back to Tokyo.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Pixar alums get anime Oscar nod for "The Dam Keeper", for The Japan Times

In less than a year, Tonko House earns an Oscar nomination


By Roland Kelts

They had plum roles at one of the best companies in the world and their successes were the envy of their peers. But last summer, two peak-career professionals quit their lucrative day jobs to found a start-up. With no income or investment, they built their own studio, mostly by hand, and started working long odd hours, seven days a week, on the edge of the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley, California.

Typical Silicon Valley fairy tale? Hardly. These two make animation.

“I just felt like I had a lifelong dream to make art,” Tokyo-born, 40-year-old director Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi told me at a cafĂ© in Berkeley. “And that if I was going to do it, I better do it now.”

Tsutsumi and his Tonko House Studio cofounder, Japanese-American 34-year-old Robert Kondo, both left positions at American industry giant Pixar Animation Studios last July — Kondo after 14 years, Tsutsumi after seven. Their resumes include global hits “Toy Story 3,” “Monsters University” and “Ratatouille.” Their start-up studio’s Japanese-inspired name corresponds to the main characters of their first film — “ton” for pig, “ko” for fox.

Daisuke 'Dice' Tsutsumi