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Anime Key Player Interview #11
Sumimasa Morita, CEO of FIREWORKS Part.4


I think there are many events that have limited budget while overseas fans are increasing. How do you improvise to meet the expectations of the fans?

It’s not a good example, but there are times when we reuse a lot of soft materials such as CG or animation from past events. Of course we get permission; even if it is an event overseas, we still need to get approval to use the materials. If we make new materials, that would naturally cost money so we just try to make minor changes on existing materials. That way, we can reduce the budget and still aim to put up a good show as much as possible. Of course, we cannot achieve this without the connection with and trust of other companies.

Companies that think they can make money with anisong and start organizing events are not that few, but there are also companies that attempt to do events even without sufficient skills. These companies face the same problems most of the time: the quality of course, and troubles stemming from conditions with artists happen easily.

Is there an overseas event or music festival that has left an impression on you?

“MOTTO ANISONG FESTIVAL” held in Guangzhou, China (laughs). It was the first year we started it and naturally, it was really tough. But towards the end of the show, the whole audience sang “Butter-Fly,” Digimon’s theme song together and it was very moving. It was a coincidence that the producer of “Butter-Fly” is the same producer for Konomi-sensei of Prince of Tennis, so we were able to use it. Kouji Wada passed away a year before the event; I do believe that he heard the singing all the way from China. 

I remember they told us that the stage was about 60m high. If the person in front of you is taller than you, for sure you won’t be able to see anything. We told them ideally the stage should be 180cm high, but their response was it’s difficult. Upon negotiating, they made it 150-160cm high. As a result, deciding to adjust the height of the stage was the right thing to do. It happened in other events, too, and it those instances, this experience came in handy. In the case of a live house, having a low stage is not an issue since there’s not much distance between the artist and the fans and the audience can move around freely. When it comes to huge events, it is usually assigned seating so the fans cannot move away from their seats. I think being able to only hear the voice and not see the actual person can cause a lot of stress. In case we can’t make the stage higher due to venue restriction, we have to think of another plan, but we want everyone to be able to see the performer so the height of the stage is one of the points that we worry about.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Now, we want to hear about the future of concert business overseas. The number of record labels looking outside Japan to expand their business is increasing. What’s your take on doing concerts overseas that will make the fans happy on the one hand, and will also make a profit on the other?

In terms of the way to succeed, producing an event that will make organizers from other countries ask for your services again is I think the Japanese way. When the country changes, the way of doing things changes as well. In addition, make the organizers specify their maximum budget. Of course, there may be cases when you can’t agree on the conditions, but as a Japanese company, I think the important thing is not the financial side, but to produce results that will lead not only to a good reputation, and also to the next step, and to gain trust. There are companies that took a decade to actually make money from overseas events. Overseas projects are not volunteer work, but it orders to make it a win/win situation for both sides, trust and time are essential.

Likewise, it will take an organizer skills to monetize an event with a limited budget.

That totally makes sense.

You know, in most cases the trouble starts when the side of Japanese performer starts saying ambiguous things like “we don’t want you selling the event ticket too cheap or too expensive.” There are also cases when they push through things saying “in Japan we do it like this.” However, if this continues, not only will business not go well for both parties, the relationship of trust will also deteriorate. They should both understand where each party is coming from and determine how to move forward. Both should suggest and discuss things such as “this is how we plan to make the stage” or “this is how we plan to sell tickets,” “if we don’t sell this number of tickets, we won’t make profit.” If both parties create an event after reaching a consensus, then I think they will get results that will satisfy them both.

Indeed, cooperation between the two parties is very important, such as the overseas partner will provide the technical support and logistics while the Japanese provide the content.

Right, the Japanese will provide the soft materials of the event in the form of contents and secure budget that is appropriate for that, while the overseas organizer will operate in such a way that will gain profit following their own company’s business plan in their own country.

Thank you for your advice. With regards to artists, what do you think they should be mindful of when going overseas?

Well, first and foremost, the food. It is necessary for artists to be careful of an upset stomach or getting ill, but there are also cases when they cannot eat the local food at all. In this case, they should bring food that is sold in Japan. If they don’t eat, they won’t have the energy to perform so it will just make them more ill. It is also important for the manager to do research on restaurants and convenience stores nearby the hotel, as well as the conditions in the area that they will be visiting as much (they can ask the organizers to do this).

Another thing is the air conditioning. Most of the time, it’s centralized, so you can’t do separate adjustments in room temperature. In overseas countries, they really turn the air conditioning to the maximum level, so I suggest bringing thick pajamas. There are times when the dryness of the air is terrible and the ventilation is poor, so bringing moisturizing face masks is essential (laughs). There are actually people who get sick because of the time difference and so on....

In terms of speaking, it’s not a problem if they are good at the local language from the start, but I feel like they don’t have to go to great lengths to remember the local language. Of course, remembering the basic greetings will not hurt and I think that will make the fans happy. Instead of trying your best to remember the local language and in turn sacrificing the quality of your performance, I think it’s okay to say just say everything in Japanese. Fans of anisong study Japanese through anime, so I think they can understand basic Japanese, and they may want to hear Japanese as well. 

Another thing is, and this is not limited to anisong but applies to the whole entertainment industry, the more popular artists become, it’s inevitable for them to sing the same songs tens, even hundreds of times. In the process, the artists themselves get bored, so there are instances that they don’t sing the best hits, or they arrange the song’s melody or way of singing. This is probably okay when it comes to solo concerts in Japan, but for overseas fans, it’s not everyday they get the chance to meet an artist or listen to the songs, so I think it is better to do a performance that is faithful to the original version.

Yes, we agree that’s very important.

Moreover, when they get sick, they won’t be in the right frame of mind, which directly links to their facial expressions and performance so they should properly take care of their health. This is not only limited to overseas events, but particularly in overseas events, I think there are fans who can only see that artist once in their whole life, so I think it is important to perform in the best condition for every each and every stage event they have.

Apart from those I see for work, I also go and watch concerts a few times a year, so as a consumer who watches artists, I personally wish this passionately (laughs).

No, it was very enlightening! Thank you very much. We’d like to ask things that you’re personally looking forward to, or would like to try.

I want to retire early (bursts out laughing). Not this year, or next year but I want to age well. It is because of everyone around me that I was able to do what I had done until now. I don’t really have something like an ambition. I’m always grateful when I receive job offers. Of course, I would also like to continue doing this job since I am needed, but I think another path for me is to teach young people from here on. I’d like to nurture young people with people skills to whom I can turn over myself including the internal aspects. It’s easy to teach skills or to pass on connections, but if that person does business that is similar only on the outside, and he or she doesn’t have the spirit, it’s the same as not being able to raise that person. There’s the difference in age, the environment where we grew up, values and experience, so it doesn’t seem like a very easy thing to do. 

So this means I am looking for assistants (laughs). Even foreigners are welcome, as long as they can speak Japanese.

On a different note, I would like to go across or visit all the states in the US on a car or a bike (chuckles).

Lastly, what is anisong for you?

That’s a very difficult question.... I wonder what would have happened to me if I didn’t encounter anisong....

I might have been working at a factory in my hometown, and have gotten laid off due to corporate restructuring, or I may be working as a store manager at an Italian restaurant in Akasaka.... There was a time I was mired in debt in my 20s, did not have a house to live in so I lived inside a car for around two months (laughs). I’ve thought about ending my Tokyo life and just go back to my hometown, but now I think it was good that I did not do that.

For me, anisong is something that made a guitarist who used to live inside a car be able to go wherever he pleases, to eat whatever he wants, and to buy clothes without minding the price tag. Anisong changed my entire life. 

Thank you for your time, Mr. Morita!

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