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Anime Key Player Interview #11
Sumimasa Morita, CEO of FIREWORKS Part.3

2019.08.19


We’d like to talk about your present work. You are involved in event productions not only within the country but also overseas. What can you say are the characteristic features of an anisong concert that are different from normal J-pop concerts?

For the large-scale ones, We think about things from the point of view of the attendee, such as “what should we do to make the audience happy?” and so on. I think the case is different for artists who have been big hits since the Showa period but J-pop is more of a trend thing; if something was popular, then we can fill up an arena or a dome, but when the popularity of an artist or band fades, they quickly lose fans. I think the speed in losing fans is slower in the anisong industry. In terms of the difference between anisong and J-pop concerts, it is normal for J-pop concert tours to be conceptualized based on an album. On the other hand, anisong depends on tie-ups, so there are only a few cases when an album is made or a concert tour is done with a theme. Hence, what we should think about is how to reflect the style, music, songs that anime itself possesses, as well as how to produce a concert for the people who love anisong and not to disappoint them by filling the gaps through what the anisong singer or voice actor/actress wants to do, or what we can do using technology.

On the other hand, there are also things we notice because we are the people who work behind the scenes, so we work hard everyday to convey that to the fans through various angles and methods.


So you introduce to fans a new way of looking at things and other appealing points that one would normally not notice?

Well... I think you are aware that anime is managed by a committee, so the use of animation materials and the like requires the committee’s approval.There’s the scale of the concert as well as the relationship between the organizing company and the committee, we cannot just use the animation legally. Of course, there are many committees that approve it as promotion. I will not go into specifics, but there are times when the sound of the music itself or the artist color does not match the world the anime portrays. In this case, there are times that we prefer not to use animation, but stage it using lasers or lighting, electric lights and so on to relay the attractive points of the song.

By doing so, I think we are able to relay the coolness or cuteness of the sound that the anisong genuinely possesses, as well as the talent of the anisong singer.


Indeed, many fans like a song through an anime. There are ways of conveying to make them realize the appealing points of the song.

That’s right. In case of voice actor/actress artists, first, I talk to the client, including the voice actor/actress him or herself, and reflect their preferred direction in the production. After asking the other party, I think about how to create a good concert within the budgetary limits and propose that to them. If I decide the production on my own and the thoughts and feelings that we want to convey through the stage are not properly relayed to the fans, it would just be a shallow concert that does not leave much impression.


What are the challenges in organizing an anisong concert?

When we do a production that is more faithful to the anime, it requires us to watch the whole series. We have to delve deeper into the contents so it requires a considerable amount of effort, so honestly, it’s not easy (laughs).

We need to understand the world (of the anime) and arrange that to convert it into a concert.


Are there times when the opinions of the anime committee and the record label clash?

There is usually none. There are amazing stage directors who represent Japan such as Yukio Ninagawa or Takeshi Kitano, but I can’t do the same thing. I’m more of just adding flavor to something I was asked to do. There are producers who want to bring their own production to the forefront; there are also artists who like to sing based on their own feelings. I listen to the opinions of both parties, select the best of the best among them and aim to be able make the best stage production. Aside from times when I am asked to do everything, I usually do not have a production plan that I want to do on my own initiative; if the client or the audience is happy then I consider it a success. However, in case the event or production goes wrong, we change perspectives and suggest improvements. For example we have goal A, but plan B and plan C won’t work, we suggest plan D or plan E to be able to achieve goal A.


That is probably the reason why a lot of people ask for your help.

It’s probably because I’m not selfish? There was also a time when I was a tyrant, though (laughs) but I thought “no, you’re just a self-proclaimed producer.” It’s because a producer’s job is not to make something from nothing; it’s taking something that is originally there, arranging it, showing it for people to enjoy. If there is something asked of us, it is only doing what you’re asked to do with your best efforts.


What do you put utmost importance on when producing an event overseas?

Of course, budget management is also important, but I don’t think it’s just the budget that you pay attention to. I also have to pay attention to the staff, the attendees, the producer, the actors. For example, when ordering catering for overseas events, there are dishes that people with food preferences cannot eat, so we prepare miso soup or cup noodles, instant curry, and so on, creating an environment that is similar to the one back in Japan.

Another thing is either I bring Japanese concert crew or ask the organizer to prepare a staff who can understand the equipment and technical requirements. In the end, an event is something made by the concert crew, apart from the artist’s performance. If the staff on site is not passionate about their work, you can see it reflected in the quality of the stage or the way they perceive the artist. In order to bring out 120% performance of the concert crew, I also do little things such as praising them for their hard work, bringing them out to lunch or dinner. As an event producer, I have to have the confidence of my concert crew. I’m happy whenever I hear “because it is work from Morita-san, I will do it until you are satisfied.”


It seems you make an effort to have a 360-degree view of everything. 

I work as humble as possible as I can be because ego just gets in the way. Sometimes, whenever I see an egoistic director or producer, I remember my old self (laughs). They work based on their own positions or logic, so I don’t particularly have any intention to negate or advise them. If I also return to my old ways, I don’t think my subordinates will remain loyal to me (laughs).


Is there a live concert or music festival that is memorable for you?

Everything is memorable but if I had to choose, I’d say “Animelo Summer Live 2007 Generation-A,” the very first event I took charge of. At the time, I felt it was very unnatural when artists who didn’t know each other had to do talk sessions to connect transitions of the concert. I thought, "In order for people to enjoy a music concert, it’s better to fills the gaps for transition with stage production,” and we started “a stage where transitions were not obvious” in 2007.

In addition, I used to watch rock festivals when I was in my teens, where the performers bring their own instruments, so transition is required. It was also a time while transition is seen until the turn of the next band, there’s only music playing in the background. In this case, when it’s an unknown band or a band who’s not very popular, naturally, people leave. Even if they do a good performance, unless it’s the artist they want to watch, the people are somewhere else taking a break... it’s probably natural, in a way, but I thought it’s kind of sad that they’re losing the chance to encounter new music. 

If they are not popular as artists or their performance is not good, that’s a whole different story, but what we can do on the event side is to come up with a good concert atmosphere that won’t make people get bored and leave their seats halfway through the show. They might even come to like artists whom they weren’t interested in, as long as the artist does a great performance. I can remember even now thinking about that in 2007 and it was probably the most memorable reform for me.
 


What are the differences between doing lives in Japan and overseas?

For overseas events, I usually get told to do it “the Japanese way,” but to do that you need Japanese staff after all. Overseas staff is improving, but there is a big difference in the passion and skills, especially passion. When the Japanese are told to do something, as much as possible they try to go through 100% to accomplish it. I will not say overseas staff are not like that, but for the Japanese, whose bread-and-butter job is concerts, there are many people who take pride and feel a sense of commitment in their work. Moreover, I feel that the anisong industry has many people who have love for the contents. While there are many local staff who seem to be part-timers who love the contents and staff who will give their best, there are also people here and there who do not even like anisong, work lazily on an hourly wage and may think, “it's just another Japanese concert.” We also get into trouble with equipment. There are many cases when we cannot find the equipment we ordered from Japan, and when we check, we get told “the equipment you ordered is old, so we prepared a better one”; our order has been changed without our consent. I think their mindset is "the company doesn’t have that equipment in their list so they probably thought if they say so until the last minute, the Japanese would be okay with it...” but to exemplify, it’s like asking for a Jeep that will run in the desert, but they bring you a Ferrari instead (laughs). Ferrari’s nice but you can’t drive it in the desert so we have trouble.


When it is an order from the organizer, are there pros doing it the “Japanese way”?

Of course, it’s difficult to change the difference in the quality and the sense of assurance among the performers. Instead, I tell them that it would cost money because I’ll be bringing staff who I think are top notch. I get asked “please come alone and run the show here as the stage producer” but that’s impossible. Our senses are different so I turn them down.


Around how many people do you take with you?

10-20 people. If it’s only concert crew, 5- 10 people is enough, but as I said before, if it’s done Japanese style, you need to prepare hair and makeup, catering, attend to the artists, then I’ll need more people. The one thing that I never want to be told is, “I went to an event run by Morita-san and I had a terrible experience,” especially in the case of overseas events. That’s why I’m really mindful of their needs. The most important part of event production overseas is to make the artists and concerned parties think, “I want to go again.” Image is a scary thing; once tarnished, you will lose the branding and trust not only in Japan but also overseas, of course, and there is no way to gain those back.


In which countries have you organized events?

China, mainly. We’ve also worked in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mexico. I haven’t been done events in South Korea nor the US.


Is the reception different in various cities in China?

More or less. It’s just like Tokyo and Osaka. I haven’t been to Beijing, but I felt the difference in Shanghai and Guangzhou which are also in China. I feel like the audience in Guangzhou is more similar to the Japanese. The reception was warm. Shanghai is saturated with anisong-style events so the audience reacts well but since many people are used to places like that, I feel like it’s similar to Tokyo.


How would you compare events in Japan and overseas?

When it comes to anisong, I don’t feel any difference. The fans in Mexico, Taiwan and Guangzhou also watch the anisong concerts in Japan, so they know a lot. The atmosphere is almost the same. I’ve watched an anisong concert once in New York, and the reactions of the audience were straightforward; they didn’t seem to be excited when they didn’t know a song.

We just held “SACRA MUSIC FES. 2019” in Japan the other day, it didn’t matter if you’re a newbie or not, as long as the performance was good, everyone enjoyed it. The fans support you, so in a way, I feel like it’s easy to get noticed in the industry.


A lot of people overseas are going to read this article. What advice would you give them to improve their events?

The most ideal way is for them to prepare exactly as indicated in the order list, and respond quickly. The problem we often encounter is not having the equipment we ordered. If they cannot procure the equipment we ordered, they should inform us early. If they tell us they don’t have the equipment the day before or on the day of the event itself then it’s not only a big problem for us, but for the event as well. If they tell us when they can prepare beforehand,  what they have, then we have time to respond “okay, if it’s that then we can use it.”

There are also events in which organizers are local amateurs who love anime or anisong. In this case, only a few professional staff are on-site, and there are many instances when even if you ask the staff they will just tell you they don’t know so we have more trouble. If they hire professionals on site, and have somebody who knows the technical aspects as well as can speak Japanese to some degree, then we can minimize glitches. 

Lastly, time. I think foreigners see the Japanese are always on time, well, it’s true! Most of the time, overseas events do not go exactly as indicated in the timetable, and there are cases that there isn't even a timetable. These instances give the Japanese artists or concert crew a lot of stress. Punctuality is very important. Although when it’s break time, I have the impression that they immediately disappear to have a break (laughs). Many attendees are waiting for the show to start so depending on the situation, there are times when we would like them to work professionally, even at the cost of giving up their breaks.


Next: Mr. Sumimasa Morita Interview Part.4 will be published on 26 August, 2019!

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