The executive producer talks to Laura Swinton setting up Stink’s first Japanese office, gearing up for the Olympics and learning her craft with Hollywood stars
As the host of the 2020 Olympics, next year all eyes will be on Japan. But the world’s athletes are not the only ones with their eyes on Tokyo. In September this year, international production company Stink announced that it was opening its very first Tokyo office – perfectly timed to get settled in ahead of the per-Olympic goldrush and to make the most of an industry that is tentatively starting to embrace new ways of working.
Heading up the new office is a veteran of Japan’s commercial production scene, Reiko Mori. Prior to joining Stink, she was a producer with T.Y.O., one of the biggest production companies in Japan, for two decades.
In a market dominated by gargantuan agencies like Dentsu and Hakuhodo, as well as production companies like AOI Pro and TYO which are huge compared to their Western counterparts (T.Y.O. has around 500 employees), Stink Tokyo is entering as a pixie among giants. But as more creatives embrace independence, Stink’s size and spirit could play in its favour.
“I know there have been lots of changes happening in the Japanese industry, so there are lots of new elements flying in to make it a more exciting place,” says Reiko. “I would say over the past two to three years especially that lots of famous creative names have been going independent, establishing new creative offices. It’s very unlike Japan – advertising agencies here are so huge they have 5,000 employees. In Japan, the bigger you are the more jobs you get, which is simple mathematics, however I think more and more people want their creative freedom. I know that there are some very significant names that have left their old homes at the big ad agencies.
“Something else that’s interesting is that agency creatives and producers are teaming up to start their own new companies. It’s a big trend in the industry.”
If this appetite for indie boutiques and a less rigid approach really is growing, then the timing couldn’t be better. “I think it’s more the whole industry is really becoming ready to accept the new style.”
Reiko has worked with Stink many times over her tenure at T.Y.O. and is an old friend of Stink founder Daniel Bergman. About a decade ago Japanese car clients began to demand more internationally-focused work from their Japanese agencies, the appetite for foreign directors grew too, leading Reiko to reach out and collaborate with Stink and its directors. “They really wanted directors who were competitive, a great storyteller, someone with strong look and style that could be communicated outside Japan as well,” she says.
But despite this outward spirit, there is no doubting that the production scene in Japan operates very differently to other markets. But given her 20 years at T.Y.O., Reiko is at home navigating the hierarchies and specific needs of the local industry.
“In comparison to Western production companies Japan has established a very particular kind of production company. The big difference, I would say, would be that while foreign advertising production companies are more director or creative driven, Japan is very producer driven. That’s really the culture of Japanese production companies.
“Many Japanese production companies do have directors inhouse or on a contract, however there are more freelance directors about the place.”
Reiko, though, has a foot in the Western market too. She first entered the world of production in the 90s when she attended film school in California and started interning at movie studios and distribution companies. She was soon drawn to the commercial production side of things and began servicing ads for Japanese agencies – the trend of Hollywood stars appearing in Japanese ads was at its peak.
“It was a trend for Japanese commercials to use Hollywood stars. I know they refused to appear in ads for Western markets but for some reason most of them decided to it only for the Japanese market. It was big money and they knew that their commercial wasn’t about to be aired outside of Japan,” explains Reiko. “I worked on a lot of celebrity spots – with the likes of Harrison Ford and Leonardo DiCaprio. Boy! There were really a lot!”
Today, Reiko is keen to use her position at Stink to bridge that gap between Japanese and Western commercial production again. Stink is renowned for finding and nurturing talent in its various local markets and helping them to build an international career and Reiko relishes the idea of helping hotshot Japanese directors do the same.
And the 2020 Olympics will be another opportunity to bring two worlds together, as Japanese brands do their best to reach outwards and foreign brands seek out Japanese creativity and talent for their sponsorship. “I’m really wishing that there will be interesting opportunities for us to be part of the Olympics coming up next year. I’m aware that all of our clients think Olympics are a great opportunity for them to have their name become well known globally. There will be lots of demand from many clients to create work that will be globally competitive.”
In the meantime, the launch has been met with support and good wishes from Reiko’s colleagues across the industry and she is raring to go. “I’m getting so many responses from my own clients and also friends in the industry and everyone is seeing this in a very positive manner, I would say,” she says.