In Japan when you think comedy, you think Yoshimoto. It is the top dog in Japanese O Warai. As an agency it has the lion's share, about a 90% , of Japanese comedians on its roster. The company has begun expanding from its roots and moving into new exciting directions. The Okinawa Film Festival is one of those, and the man at the top of Yoshimoto President Osaki took some time to talk to Film in Japan about the festival, the difficult choice to go ahead with the event, Yoshimoto itself, and Japanese comedy in general
Translated by Adam Higgins
FIJ -Thank you for having me here at the Okinawa film festival. What do you think makes Okinawa film festival unique and special? It seems to me to be quite an unusual film festival.
O - Well there are lots of film festivals in Asia: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tokyo etc. This film festival started later, so we didn’t want to take away from those festivals or do the same thing. As for the title, our companyisn’t just film production so I wanted to include film, T.V., radio, newspapers, magazines and internet, but the title would have been too long. So, I went with film festival. We are in an age in which media walls are breaking down. This festival is a place for people to meet and exchange know-how and create new media. Okinawa is also the closest part of Japan to Asia so it is convenient for visitors. It’s our company so there is a focus on comedy, which I think is unusual.
FIJ -Could you talk me through the decision to continue with the festival in light of the events in Tohoku?
O - Fifteen or sixteen years ago in Osaka Yoshimoto Industry experienced the earthquake and we struggled to cope. This time I wanted to do everything I could to push forward. Although, of course the decision came from upstairs, I feel every employee, every performer wanted to push forward.
FIJ -Could you tell me what fundraising will be going on during the festival?
O - People will be carrying donation boxes, focused around the talents. Regardless of their area people will be collecting donations. Our website will also be collecting donations.
FIJ -The festival has grown a lot in just three years, attendance has increased dramatically. What are your aims for the future?
O - When the festival began lots of people gathered together, exchanging information starting new projects. Since beginning the festival more films have been made on a local level. I would like this to continue and for there to be more films made like this in all Asian countries.
FIJ - Actually I was going to ask about the local organization project. What is it that makes a local film special? Compared to what we’re used to with Hollywood and big Japanese productions.
O - Local films have their own local legends and tales, which can be used as a basis. Then the locals and our staff and talents can introduce local specialties, local celebrities. Through communication we can make a film. A film that may not be for the big screen, but one to be watched in Japan or Asia, perhaps in a coffee house or city hall.The goal is to make a network where there wasn’t one before. It won’t fit in with Hollywood releases, but it should show local traditions and feelings.
FIJ -Could you explain the theme of ‘Yell, Laugh and Peace’?
O - What our company can do is make you smile and make you laugh. Doing it in Okinawa represents peace. The original theme was ‘love and peace’. In light of the Tohoku earthquake, Okinawa a place that has had a tough history, now has a chance to send a message of peace. Perhaps, for the first time since the war. In Shinjuku and Shibuya the young people can have fun thanks to Okinawa.
FIJ -Could you tell me a little about the film selection. Why did you choose the films that you did and how did you find them?
O - I left the choice to the Director, Konishita, The production was up to the individual directors, Ididn’t interfere.
FIJ -Talking about the Yoshimotocompany, originally it was solely about comedy and now it’s expanding and expanding into all different areas. Can you talk to me a little about the transition?
O - Our basis is comedians, but we’ve been expanding into musicians, artists, sports starts etc. A natural business progression.In America stars often have a private manager, but in Japan it is just the one boss who says what’s what - but, we’re different from that, closer to an agent. We offer management in order for the star to step forth into the world.
FIJ - If you compare the American individual model what are the benefits of the Japanese model?
O - Each have their own good points. Within an agency there is a lot of information that comes in; we have this film, we have this drama in this country etc. An agency has more information than one manager. The agent is also better at appropriate distribution for the time and the person.
FIJ - Out of Yoshimoto’s production, I’m sure this is a difficult question, but is there one person, or a group, that you’re particularly proud of?
O - We celebrate our 100 year anniversary (“A hundred fools”) soon (laughs). We sell Baka and Aho (Idiot and Fool).There can’t be any other company like ours.
FIJ -: Comedy can be very specific to its country, what challenges do you see in marketing Japanese comedy on a more international scale?
O - There are comedians all over the world: India,Philippines, Indonesia, England, France, American etc. And those comedians are really famous there. Just hearing their name will make you laugh. But, if they take one step out of their country, no one knows who they are. So, with comedy it’s partly a language barrier, but also the varying lifestyles, and customs are difficult to get acrossto other cultures. But, perhaps, with the internet we have a chance to spread out and expand. Before, the Japanese market alone was enough for us, but now we need to reach out and expand.
FIJ - Lastly, what’s key aspect of a successful festival like this?
O - I think the staff and the performances and whether they can charm the people.That's the basis.