Genki Kawamura (Film producer/Novelist)×Ryohei Nagaiwa (Copywriter/Creative Director, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido) Approval and Disapproval Create Hits That Stir the Hearts of People.
This is an interview series in which creatives at Shiseido discuss the idea of beauty with other designers and professionals active in their respective fields. Today's guest is Mr. Genki Kawamura, the prolific film producer and novelist who planned and produced the film Your Name last year, a major hit that achieved record success. In conversation with Mr. Kawamura is Shiseido's Copywriter Ryohei Nagaiwa, who shapes Shiseido’s messages in a wide range of fields, from packaging to communications.
Film and advertisements are both products of the work of many people. Through this dialogue, we gain a sense that perhaps the secret behind the creation of works intended for a large audience lies in listening flexibly to the views of others, and constantly doubting one’s own artistic expression.
Born in 1979 in Kanagawa Prefecture. After graduating from the Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities of Sophia University, Tokyo, he became a film producer, turning out films such as Train Man: Densha Otoko (2005), Villain and Confessions (both 2010), The Boy and the Beast (2015), and Your Name and Rage (both 2016). In 2011, he became the youngest film producer in history to receive the Fujimoto Award, which is presented to outstanding film producers. He has also been an active novelist since 2012, publishing If Cats Disappeared from the World (2012) and April Come She Will (2016). His latest film, Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?, backed by a strong team comprising writer Shunji Iwai, screenplay by Hitoshi One, and general director Akiyuki Shinbo, has become a hot topic. It is currently showing at Toho cinemas across Japan. The movie version of Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Treasure Island, which he produced the screenplay for, is scheduled to premiere in the spring of 2018.
Born in 1980 in Tokyo. After graduating from Waseda University, he worked in two advertising agencies before joining Shiseido in 2011after the management’s call to employ “talents who are not typical of Shiseido.” To date, he has worked on the copywriting for uno, AG+, d program, and ELIXIR, as well as the New Year advertisement for 2014, the Hanatsubaki magazine and other corporate communications materials. He is currently in charge of the creative direction for the Bungeishunju magazine (corporate advertisement), and copywriting for ANESSA.
--My first question is to Mr. Nagaiwa: what made you think of engaging Mr. Kawamura in dialogue for this issue?
Nagaiwa:This series is based on the theme of “beauty,” and we have welcomed guests who are truly engaged in the pursuit of beauty, including kabuki actor Mr. Bando Tamasaburo. However, I felt that Mr. Kawamura could shed light on the concept of “beauty” from a different angle and perspective. Mr. Kawamura, what is your impression of Shiseido?
Kawamura:I have a strong impression of the men’s cosmetics brand uno, and of SHISEIDO PARLOUR. I also heard that creative director Takuya Onuki produced the film FLOWERS, a collaboration with Shiseido’s TSUBAKI.
I feel that it is very difficult to sell even just a hair wax product in our times. The number of product choices has increased, and it is now possible to buy anything online. A similar phenomenon is emerging in the film scene; when we go to the cinema, Hollywood films and Japanese films are all being screened at the same ticket prices. Many major films were released this summer, and I am unsure about how to induce the audience to choose the film that I planned and produced, Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?, among the numerous other films. Mr. Nagaiwa, does your work involve any interaction with the product development section?
Nagaiwa:Yes. While I am usually engaged in the work of corporate communications for Shiseido and copywriting for various brands, I also partake in the production work by entering into discussions with the marketing teams of other divisions, on topics ranging from IMC strategy to product development. Separately from that, Shiseido also has a research center that carries out research every day to produce innovative items.
Kawamura:Today, it is very difficult to produce a hit product if we do not put careful and detailed work into building the foundation for production. In the past, those who were engaged in production focused only on production, while those who were engaged in publicity focused only on publicity in the film production industry. However, in the case of Your Name, for example, the publicity producer also participated in the meetings on the scenarios, observing and ascertaining the thought processes that went into the making of the film, and contributing the perspective of a publicist into the contents of the film. Masahiko Sato, the renowned creative who is representative of Japan, says that “production begins with the method of production.” I think about this comment all the time. I believe that starting production from the method of production itself can create something interesting.
Nagaiwa:Although my primary job title is a copywriter, I am now also becoming increasingly involved in projects that go beyond the scope of just thinking of words and expressive phrases. For example, Kaori Hakase Flavor (“Flavor the Scent Expert”) is a picture book that Shiseido produced in a collaborative project with LOHACO, an online shopping site for daily necessities, and I was fully involved in this product from the proposal of the project, to the formulation of its title and story.
--Did Shiseido produce a picture book?
Nagaiwa:Yes, that’s right. The project aimed to create products targeted at working couples who have become parents for the first time. With regard to the question of how busy parents can communicate with their children, we considered an approach that would be unique to Shiseido. Thus we came up with the idea of creating a fragrance and picture book to complement a set of products that includes sunscreen and facial cleansing sheets. The book comes with stickers that give off a fragrance when rubbed, which can be used while reading the story in the picture book. Since Shiseido also produces perfumes and has been engaged in sensory research for a long time, we decided to apply this background to the production of the picture book.©2017 Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? Production Committee
Nagaiwa:I watched the preview of Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? last week (the film had not yet been released when this interview was conducted). I was wondering if you could explore the concept of “beauty” based on that film.
Kawamura:In truth, what you saw during the preview was still very much a work in progress. Prior to this, we had planned to announce the completion of the film at a press conference attended by the writer of the film, Shunji Iwai, as well as the voice actors Suzu Hirose, Masaki Suda, and Takako Matsu. In the end, however, we had to apologize and announce that the film had not been completed yet. Ultimately, when we attempted to improve the precision of each detailed section, we failed completely to meet the deadline. I was editing the film till 3 a.m. yesterday as well.
Nagaiwa:I am sorry for inviting you to this interview during this last spurt toward completion. By the way, which are the aspects that you are persevering with till the very last moment in order to attain the perfect result?
Kawamura:In the process of production, I always watch the film “physiologically” at the end. When we talk about a sensory idea such as “beauty,” I think that many people simply assess a film based on feelings such as “pretty,” “disgusting,” or “boring.” If we were to review the film based on such feedback, countless points that would have to be reworked would emerge. However, in truth, there are cases where the “disgusting” sections are necessary in order to allow the audience to feel better afterward. As we are constantly making such adjustments, it is a really time-consuming process.
--The perceptions of “disgusting” or “pretty” also differ from person to person, don’t they?
Kawamura:You cannot give explanations at the cinema where the film has been released, saying, “Even though you may not know it, this particular scene actually serves a certain purpose…,” right? That is why I think a lot about what makes people feel good, or what feels unpleasant to them. Of course, these feelings vary depending on the individual, but at the very least, I think that what I offer is perhaps the best solution for the audience who comes to watch the movie. Even so, as there are about a hundred layers to my own emotions, so the process never comes to an end.
--Mr. Nagaiwa, you are engaged in the work of communicating to people through words. How do you judge the feelings of “pleasantness” or “disgust”?
Nagaiwa:When I am thinking of an advertising copy, I pay attention not only to the words that fulfill the role of being the final expression, but also to leaving behind a “good sense of discomfort” in the overall communication. While doing so, I absorb the feedback and opinions of members of the company, and in the end, try to believe in my own instincts as far as possible. In addition to the physiological sensations, I think that 100 different people would have 100 different definitions of “beauty,” so there is considerable difficulty in that respect. To achieve stronger communication that leaves a deeper impression in the hearts of people, it is also necessary to take risks, to a certain extent.
--The production of a film involves many people, and the views of many people are probably constantly flying around. Mr. Kawamura, within that, what role do you play?
Kawamura:I ask various people for all of their opinions. That is why I have as many as five editors when I write a novel.
Kawamura:I had five editors from Bungeishunju for the novel April Come She Will, a novel that depicts the love between grownups who have lost their romantic feelings. All five editors proofread my manuscript, and the comments and feedback from all the five editors were very varied. That is why there are times when I revise a section exactly as I am advised to, as well as times when I respond by making adjustments back and forth with the different editors. Of course, there are also times when I ignore what they say. During that process, I come to a realization about what I really intended to achieve and what the weak points were, and discover new perspectives.
Originally, I asked for five editors as I had wanted to see how the literary editors would edit my work. However, when I actually tried it out, it hit me that “They can actually write this much?!” and I found myself in a real fix (laughs). Even so, it depends on me to decide whether or not to incorporate their views, and I believe that having all this feedback gradually transforms the work into something that will reach even more people, so it is an enjoyable process.
Nagaiwa:That would not be possible if you did not have the generosity to accept the feedback. Don’t you also hear the views of many people on the site of film production?
Kawamura:My role in film production is the opposite of my role as a novelist; in the former, I give various comments about the screenplay written by the director, so there are times when it becomes awkward. However, the important thing is to make the film interesting, and not to try and please the people at the top. Once we have succeeded in making the film interesting, we can patch up the relationship again. The worst thing to do would be to continue trying to please others, and creating a boring film as a result. That does not serve anyone’s purpose.Genki Kawamura. April Come She Will. (Bungeishunju)
--Mr. Nagaiwa, working in Shiseido, I believe that you receive comments and opinions from various people. How do you digest such comments?
Nagaiwa:To be honest, I am not yet as resilient as Mr. Kawamura is (laughs). In the advertising industry today, we could say that it is natural for communication to be assembled logically. However, I think that it is absolutely necessary to leave some room in the final output to allow for my own senses and emotions to respond. In addition to that, I probably base it on the assessment criteria when the feeling that “If only I could feel like this” gradually takes shape, which is something that we think about when that communication first takes place.
Kawamura:The production of advertisements is a very difficult job, isn’t it? I also put much careful thought into it when I have to produce an advertisement. You know what they say: when we are attempting to create something sharp and edgy, if we were to listen to the views of many people, it would soften the edges. It would then become rounder, and more boring. However, the more cuts a diamond has, the more complex its shine, and the higher a value it commands. Using that image, my perception is to “increase the number of cuts.” The first idea that you have is the gemstone, and putting more cuts into it transforms it into something beautiful. If you think about smoothening and rounding off the edges instead, you would lose the motivation.
Nagaiwa:I think that in Shiseido, we also hold quite a number of proposal meetings before we finish producing just one advertisement. In that sense, I think that Mr. Kawamura’s perspective of increasing the number of cuts to make it shine, rather than “softening the edges” of our expressions, is a truly wonderful one. As one may expect, many people speak out about their views whenever a proposal is made at a meeting. As a result, there are also times when there are too many things that we have to appeal for, so we eventually end up compromising with something mediocre. Mr. Kawamura, what do you pay attention to in order to remain firm in such a situation?
Kawamura:But does everyone have such a strong personal awareness about what they really want to do? To begin with, I doubt that. I do not really trust people who say “This is what I want to express.” This is because I believe that we gain an understanding of what we want to express by talking to various people, and realizing, for example, “Oh, I take this seriously” or “I do not like this to be said to me.” More often than not, we make the discovery at the moment when someone says something to us, and we become angry or annoyed. Fortunately for me, I have had the opportunity to observe various directors and authors, and I have found that the more outstanding people pay attention to the views of others. I think that this is because they also doubt their own artistic expression and question if their work can really be communicated to people.
--How do you decide whether to accept or to ignore the views of others?
Kawamura:When everyone tells me to do something, and one person opposes that violently and says “absolutely not!” I try to remember it. After all, when nine out of 10 people are opposed to something, and only one person is resistant to that, doesn’t that cost the one person a considerable amount of energy to resist everyone else? When someone is as persistent as that, there are times when I will incorporate his or her view on the spur of the moment, at the very last instant.
--That is a bold move, isn’t it?
Kawamura:When the work is released to the public after undergoing such processes, it faces a situation like that, most people would think “What is this?!” However, that could easily become a scenario where someone says, to a similar degree, “This is great!” When the two sides collide with about the same force and generate heat, I feel that we would mostly have a hit on our hands.
That is why I may have a good memory. I try to remember things such as when a certain person is very obsessed with a certain thing out of the infinite number of choices he has, or when I have erased a particular scene but find it difficult to forget, or that the 32nd take out of 700 takes was a good one. I feel that I am doing my work based on that ability to remember things. In the case of film, we carry out infinite rounds of repetitive editing, and often struggle to remember what it was originally. The same applies to advertising, doesn’t it?
--Mr. Nagaiwa, what do you pay attention to when deciding to accept or ignore the views of others?
Nagaiwa:It may be easy to tell when a good idea emerges during the planning stage, as everyone would become excited on the spot. On the other hand, when we begin to discuss for the sake of discussion, which tends to happen in the stages when we are trying to narrow down and refine the expression, I would also begin to ask myself “What was the problem to begin with?” After all, the purpose of advertising is to offer a solution to a certain problem; it is also a form of communication. Shiseido has established the corporate philosophy of “inspiring a life of beauty and culture,” and I think that all employees are probably constantly conscious of returning to this philosophy.
Nagaiwa:Mr. Kawamura, what do you care about when a movie is completed and released around the world?
Kawamura:I worry very much about whether or not the audience wants to incorporate that work into a part of their lives. At the end, doesn’t a film become a part of our lives when we go to watch it at a cinema? For example, even when making the trailer, I think about whether the trailer would make the viewer turn to his or her neighbor and say, “I want to watch this film.”
Is it better to communicate with the audience with a story, in a way that is similar to explaining all the effectiveness of a product, or is it better to make them want to watch the film based only on the impact of the images? I give much thought to the question of which parts of the film I can cut out to make the audience want to make it a part of their lives. This is because it is not necessarily true that summarizing and conveying a story translates into the desire to watch the film.
Nagaiwa:When I first became aware of you, Mr. Kawamura, I felt that your working method was similar to catching tuna. There is a sensor, and when the captain of the ship decides that the tuna is in a certain area, you would quickly throw the rope out into the sea. In this sense, when the consumers (who are the tuna in this scenario) approach, I wonder if you make many calculations and think about trying out a certain ruse or gimmick. I felt that was perhaps how you create successful hits and make films that can reach many people.
Kawamura:This may disappoint you, but I do not make any calculations at all (laughs). I only think, “There may be tuna around this area.” There is a phrase, “collective unconsciousness,” that I had learnt from the writer Shuntaro Tanikawa. Similar to that idea, I think that I have the ability to detect when people want to watch a certain type of film, or when they are not satisfied in a certain way, even though they do not verbalize their thoughts.
For example, in the case of my novel Oku Otoko (Hundred Million Man), the inspiration had come from the sight of rows of books about “how to become rich” lining the shelves at the bookstore, which then raised questions such as: “To begin with, do we really want to become that rich?” and “Are there people who are filled with happiness after becoming rich?” I get a sense about such things just a little faster than other people do, and spend about two years collecting materials to improve the degree of accuracy.
--Do you spend as many as two years collecting materials?
Kawamura:I spend two years doing that. Using the metaphor of tuna-fishing, the fish probably approach in about two years’ time. That is the general sense, although there are also times when I am wrong (laughs). When the tuna approach, in order to come up with the most accurate and emphatic expressions, I conduct research to find out what the situation had been like when the fish had approached 10 years ago. However, when using this fishing method, I sense that the fish would escape if I were to use my wiles and charm, so I confront it with honesty instead. That is why I have never looked at any marketing data, not even once.
Kawamura:After all, at the point when the survey is taken and the results are aggregate to generate statistics, it has already become outdated information, hasn’t it? However, what I am concerned with is, for example, as veteran fishermen say, “A very large fish was caught on the other side of that island.” This is because it would then be conceivable that if a large fish could be caught on that side, it could also possibly be caught on this side. To give a concrete example, the film Memories of Murder, released in Korea in 2003, was a major hit. We wondered why such a serious criminal film would become such a big hit, but based on that, planned and produced Confessions (2010).
--In the case of Shiseido, what special effort do you put into creating “works that reach many people?”
Nagaiwa:To begin with, I do not think of advertisements as “works,” and our first priority is not to reach “many people,” but to ensure that we reach the people we wish to reach. That is why we do not trust blindly in communication that is established through the mass media alone; instead, we believe that any approach that generates the effects and results that we are aiming for is acceptable, be it an event or a transportation (outdoor) advertisement. Having said that, going forward, I have to learn more about building advertisements that actually reach their intended audience. Anyway, in the same way that Shiseido advertisements of the past had a major impact on the world, I hope to surprise the world once again with the strong expressions and stories that are characteristic of Shiseido.
--Last but not least, if Mr. Kawamura were to create an advertisement for Shiseido, what kind of project do you think it would be?
Kawamura:How about creating a product and advertisement together with children? Since this is Shiseido, it may be a good idea to also produce cosmetic products for children. When boys first come up with the idea of applying hair products, or when girls first decide to wear makeup—when we think about how such ideas emerge, I believe it can help us to discover what type of makeup we originally wanted for ourselves. Even the youngest girl longs to wear makeup, and boys tend to want to look cool.
This does not mean that Shiseido should manufacture products for children; rather, it would be a good idea to create products that touch the hearts of grownups while reminiscing on our primitive desire to wear makeup. I think that this is something that film director Hayao Miyazaki has constantly been doing. When the films that children want to watch, or the dreams that children have, are transformed and expressed as stories, both grownups and children will be inspired and touched. That is why I feel that we would be able to find new forms of expression not by taking a child’s perspective, but by creating products and advertisements through interaction with children.
Published in August 2017