Category Archives: Japanese Creative Talents

Bassist Yasutaka Nomura talks Smokey Lenses’ new highly-anticipated album

Yastuaka Nomura is lucky enough to love what he does. There is no “back to work grind” that so many face on a Sunday night for him, or dull days filled with no real feeling of accomplishment. His job gives him joy, a sense of purpose, and adrenaline rushes. That is the life of a professional musician.

Having worked with several bands, such as Mammoth, Squanky Kong, and Voodoo Kungfu, Nomura has worked on a wide variety of genres for a professional musician. He enjoys this, not wanting to pigeon-hole himself into one specific type of music. The guitarist and bassist is recognized for his undeniable versatility and talent, which is why when the Indie Rock/Alternative band Smokey Lenses was looking for a bassist, he knew he had to be a part of it.

“I wanted to work with Smokey Lenses because I liked the songs, but also because the music they play is something I usually don’t get to play, even though I always liked listening to that kind of music and I always wanted to play it with a band with original material. I was very excited when they asked me to play in the band,” said Nomura. “I usually don’t get to play the kind of music that Smokes Lenses plays so I was inspired to do a completely different musical approach than I usually do in my other projects. I was definitely a new challenge for me.”

Initially, Nomura had heard the band was looking for a new bass player for their album recording through his friend Aliyar Kinik, the drummer of Nomura’s band Mammoth. The band’s drummer needed a substitute and Kinik was filling in. He mentioned to the band that he new a good bassist, and after hearing Nomura, they knew they had to have him.

“Recording the album was great. We recorded total of 12 songs and I’m happy with all of them. The songs were already great before arranging but I think the work of the band is making the songs sound even better. I can’t wait for the album to be released and to listen to it,” said Nomura.

When recording the album, they did all the basic tracks live at once, with everyone in the same room. This is not a common way of recording. Because of using this style, the tracks have a lot of energy and organic feeling, according to Nomura. Recording like this allows there to be more energy, with better dynamics and conversation between each band member, just like a live show.

“It was awesome. I barely knew the band members at first but we got along very quickly. Everyone in the band was very easy to work with and fun people. We always had a great time at the recording sessions. I cannot wait to work with them again,” said Nomura.

The album is expected to be released later this summer, which is highly-anticipated due to the release of the first single Candle Glow, which was released May of last year. The single received positive reviews and was featured by popular music blogs like Speak Into My Good Eye, That New Jam, and Revolution Tunes.

Candle Glow is definitely one of my favorite songs from this album. It has a nice catchy melody and lyrics. I’m really happy with the recording too,” said Nomura. “The success it has seen since being released is great. We started off the album recording with this song. It was the first time I could even play with the band since our schedule didn’t match before the first recording session, but I think we were already locked in at the first session.”

As a guitarist and bassist, Nomura typically plays progressive rock, metal, funk, R&B, jazz, and fusion. He says progressive rock and metal require a lot of technique, with the sense of odd meters and solid timing. Funk and R&B require a nice 16th note time feel and a good sense of call. Jazz and Fusion require great skill with improvisation, nice swing, 16th note feel, pocket and of course sophisticated technique. The music that Smokey Lenses plays is far different from these genres. It doesn’t require either an amazing technique or the skill of improvisation but a good time feel/pocket on mostly 8th note beat, importantly the skill to stay on the groove and not overplay, technically speaking. Many musicians so familiar with other genres would have found themselves overplaying and not staying on the groove, which would interfere with the vocal melody. This was not the case for Nomura. He even tried to sing on everything he played on bass. His adaptability was appreciated by the band, who may not have been able to make the album or see the success that they say with Candle Glow without Nomura.

“Yasutaka is very professional and easy to work with. The work process went smoothly and he produced exceptional results. Yasutaka is a professional musician, so he understands the importance of being excellent at his craft and has a dense knowledge of music theory. He is respectful, focused, observant and learns extremely quickly,” said Singer and Guitarist Adam Oberst.

With talent like this, there is no doubt Nomura will continue to come through our speakers for years to come. Listen to Nomura’s work and Smokey Lenses’ song Candle Glow here.

Check out Nomura’s YouTube, Instagram, and Soundcloud to hear more.

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Production Designer and Art Director Katsuya Imai brings life to ‘The Next Generation Patlabor’

Patlabor2_by Eri Kobiki
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

Katsuya Imai is more than an artist. He is a storyteller. His passion for art that started as a child, painting and building models, transformed into something much more as he grew. His love for movies became more prominent; not just watching them, but observing them, noticing the craft and skill that took place behind the scenes. With interests like these, it is no wonder why Imai became a production designer and art director. However, it is his talent that has made him the success he is, and recognized as one of Japan’s best.

Throughout his career, Imai has had the opportunity to work on projects that he was already a fan of throughout his life. As production designer on the film Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger: 10 Years After, he was able to design for his childhood heroes. While working on the films and television series The Next Generation Patlabor, he was able to do the same.

“I have loved the animation in the original Patlabor films since I was a student. I watched these so many times and have some books about the art setting and method of directing in them. I have knowledge of these background, so it was very helpful to design it,” said Imai.

The Patlabor franchise includes three films and a television show. Therefore, The Next Generation Paltabor has many background stories that do not need to be mentioned in the script. Imai has worked on many different aspects of The Next Generation Patlabor, including the film The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War.

“It was very exciting. I was so happy that I could read the new script of the film. The script was connected to Patlabor: The Movie 2. That is my favorite film. I really enjoyed designing it. I thought it was one of my dreams coming true,” said Imai.

As a fan of Director Mamoru Oshii’s films (Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and the original two Patlabor films). Imai also wanted the opportunity to work alongside one of his filmmaking heroes. He immediately impressed all those he worked with, and contributed greatly to the film’s success.

“Katsuya had years of experience and was very skillful, so we could leave the shooting to him. He is very serious and calm as art director. He always directed surely to the other crews,” said Supervising Art Director, Masato Ando.

The film tells the story of an attack that takes place on Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba, Tokyo by the fighter helicopter `Gray Ghost`. Two days earlier, the Gray Ghost was stolen. The perpetrators are followers of Yukihito Tsuge. Yukihito Tsuge planned a coup of Tokyo 13 years earlier. The leader of Special Vehicle Section 2, Keiji Gotoda, sets out to stop the terrorists. It went on to be an Official Selection at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Patlabor3_by Hitoshi Ohta
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

“I was very happy to hear that. It’s always an honor that the film I worked on is watched by many audiences,” said Imai.

As Art Director, Imai went to location scouting, trying to find the perfect set for the film. His knowledge of the Patlabor series were designed elaborately and rated highly by the fans. This made him an asset to the television series The Next Generation Patlabor as well.

“Normally working on a television show, we shoot each episode at a time. We are given the next script during filming the previous episode. The production has to reflect the review and reaction from the audience to the script. However, this project already has all 12 episodes scripted in the pre-production. This made it easy to plan and design the whole project,” said Imai.

The show is a story of a world where giant robots are built and used for labor, a special police force of robots is created to handle crimes relating to these machines. Imai built two full-size robots. Each one was eight meters high. This made the series a bit conspicuous.

“While we were filming, fans were not aware of a Patlabor revival. However, we had to do shooting at the location with a full-size robot. It was impossible to hide it because it’s too huge. Some people noticed that robot and posted the photo to Twitter. All the Patlabor fans were excited on Twitter,” said Imai. “We ended up using the full-size robot for the promotion. It’s huge and attracts people. The Patlabor fans said the film became reality.”

Episode 10 of the series went on to be screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2014. Without Imai’s keen eye while designing the set and special props, such as the iconic robot, the show may not have achieved what it has. Fans of the original series were immediately enthralled with The Next Generation Patlabor, enjoying how true it kept to its base story. Imai, as a big fan of the show, knew exactly what was needed to win over the hearts of other fans, and he definitely succeeded.

BIRDMAN BRINGS SCIENCE FICTION TO REALITY

Akane Inada Millar loves electronic gadgets. Honestly, who doesn’t? While there might be a few who don’t embrace the constantly evolving change which electronics bring to everyday life, most of us are waiting with baited breath for the newest and most innovative of these products. Luckily for Millar, she is ahead of the curve. As a member of the interactive design agency Birdman (based in Japan), Akane is part of a creative team that is at the forefront of promotional campaigns presenting a variety of products to the public. The core of Birdman’s approach is the use of technology to interact with the public in ways never before seen. Virtual car races, running against your own life-size avatar in an LED stadium, and many other innovative campaigns have resulted in Birdman’s notoriety as one of the most successful and forward thinking companies in the world. Akane and her Birdman team members have received more than 200 international awards for their work including: the Grand Prix at Spikes Asia, Silver at Cannes Lions, Gold at Adfest, Grand Prix at Code Awards, and countless others. Birdman approaches each project as no other. While many are fixated only on metrics, Birdman appears to sometimes create presentations simply to prove that they are possible. One distinct example of this is the Nissan Intelligent Parking Chair production. This campaign literally appears to be inspired by the Jetsons cartoon and makes viewers feel as if we have reached the space-age future. It was recognized at the Cannes Lions 2016 “PROMO&ACTIVATION” with the Bronze Award as well as the Code Award 2016 “Jury’s Special Award.” Upon viewing the seemingly aware and self-mobile chairs in this presentation, one feels that the title of Visual Producer is a very accurate interpretation of Millar’s skills.

Millar views modern electronic gadgetry as another form of fashion; that’s a unique perspective to say the least. This perspective serves to further reinforce Akane’s positive contributions at Birdman. She embraces both the “techy” excitement and discerning aesthetic approach to the companies many presentations. For the “Nissan Intelligent Parking Chair” production, visuals were of the utmost importance to communicate the impact of this technology. Nissan wanted to exhibit the auto-park technology in a unique and outstanding way. The team at Birdman used the “Intelligent Parking Assist” function as a way of tidying workspace from its unused rolling chairs. With a simple clap of one’s hands, unused chairs would leave an untidy environment and go back to their “parking space.” This demonstrated the ability of using the technology in a very familiar scene, making it both approachable and practical. The system organized the parking movement of the chairs by using the automatic steering device included in each wheel; allowing them to roll by themselves and make a full rotation of 360°. Motion capture cameras monitored the spacial information from the room’s four angles, transmitting a “top view” of the room and wirelessly creating a system that moved the chairs to the previously decided “parking space.” Birdman joined the project from the planning stage and was in charge of the chair development and realization as well as the demonstration display. Upon viewing the presentation Takahiro Hosoda (Creative Director for Nissan Intelligent Parking Chair) commented, “Arthur C. Clarke once said, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ To me, Birdman is a team of sorcerers.

They take my out-of-this-world imaginations seriously and bring them to real life. The intelligent Parking Chairs could not have been built with such durability without the Birdman team. Because of them, we can challenge ideas with higher hurdles. I am excited to see what magic they will come up with next.”

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Birdman’s “thinking outside the box” approach applies to hiring the professionals who make up their team as well as their promotions. While Millar is known for her successful career in fashion before joining Birdman, her talent and perspective have added many components that have strengthened this Japanese company. Roy Tsukiji of Birdman confirms, “As founder, CEO, and creative director of Birdman, it is essential for me to find professionals who are not only creative and forward thinking but those who also add something unique to our team. Birdman strives to always be at the forefront of promotion and brand awareness for our clients. To enlist team members who are any less than the most elite in the industry would weaken us and is therefore unthinkable. Akane Inada meets this criterion in every way. Akane came to us after an already successful career in the fashion industry. That might seem like an odd fit for a company such as Birdman which focuses on such an intensive use of technology; but this is exactly what makes Akane so valuable to us. She understands the changing avenues of promotion and brings her own unique perspective that has served to strengthen our company. As a leading creative force behind promotions such as the Nike Unlimited Stadium, Nissan Intelligent Chair, and Shiseido Red, Akane’s ideas and implementation of these ideas were essential to their creation and success. I can directly attribute the overwhelming success of these brand awareness campaigns to Ms. Inada’s talent and vision. Her achievements at Birdman speak for themselves. Birdman has become so successful that we are now opening an office in New York City and Akane’s mastery of the English language is just another example of how she continually adds to the strength of our company. The possibility of having Ms. Inada be a leading force in our New York location would be of great benefit to both Birdman and the clients in the US that we would serve.”

Akane’s connection to New York is just another example of the positive attributes which she brings to Birdman. Birdman’s entrée into the international market is almost unthinkable without Millar’s involvement. Akane was originally born in Osaka, and moved to Scarsdale, NY with her family when she was only three. She recalls, “Back when I was living in NY there were quite a few Japanese expats living in our neighbor. I went to the local public school and all the Japanese kids tend to gather up but I wanted to play with different group of kids. I spoke Japanese at home but when I was at school I spoke English and hung out with kids with different backgrounds.” Her exemplary talent and ease with both languages and cultures makes Millar the keystone for Birdman’s success as a member of the New York City promotional industry. Contemplating her position as a Visual Producer for Birdman’s NYC office Akane comments, “I think it is necessary to have the experience of actually moving your hands to create something. I admire Visual Producers who not only know about the design but also have knowledge in the technical part. I feel people have more respect for producers and directors who have been in their shoes. When I first came to Birdman it was because I wanted to widen my view of promotion. I had no idea that it would affect me so profoundly. I am so thankful that they want me to have to opportunity to use my expertise to help them with this new growth potential for Birdman. Every time I am stopped in another country by someone who knows Birdman and their innovative promotions, it’s a reminder that I made the right decision.”