Super Cute

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The world of Japanese artist/designer/director Nagi Noda is both whimsical and strange. It involves a collection of half-panda stuffed animals, pigtails that swarm around a model's head like butterflies, and aerobicizing poodles led by a poodle-like human instructor in a surreal short film called, simply, Fitness Video. According to Noda, her work offers a twist on the Japanese fascination with kawaii, or "cuteness."

"A lot of people call my work kowa kawaii, " she says. "It means cute, but a little bit weird. But I can make lots of styles: kowa kawaii, just kawaii, beautiful kawaii, fashion kawaii ..." Noda, who's in her early 30s, is an acclaimed art director and graphic designer with a number of Japanese and U.S. design honors to her credit; she's designed, among other things, stuffed animals (the aforementioned Hanpanda line of half-panda creatures), book jackets and shopping bags. Through her own company, Uchu Country, she's also directed short films and commercials for the likes of Nike and Laforet, the fashion-forward shopping mall in Tokyo's Harajuku district. Music videos are also part of her palette, most notably a sublime triptych of clips for pop singer Yuki. In one, for the song "Sentimental Journey," Noda simulates time-lapse photography with an epic tracking shot and dozens of Yuki lookalikes. Using a similar technique in an ad for Laforet, Noda casts separate women as models and their shadows, creating a visually compelling effect worthy of Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry. In fact, Noda is now a directing colleague of Gondry's. "Her work is fresh and unexpected, and her execution is organic, which makes it more emotional," says Sheila Stepanek, executive producer at Partizan, which signed Noda to its roster in January. "She doesn't rely on heavy post effects to get her point across."

Her first Partizan job was a much anticipated spot, featuring music by Jack White, for Coke and Mother/London. The spot is a stylistic departure from the usual Coke ad fare in that it features an eye-teasing cast of Noda's clones and the unmistakable sound of White singing an original track about love. "We were looking at a few young, interesting Japanese directors and Nagi's work really impressed us," says Stepanek. "We were familiar with her Fitness Video piece, but when we saw the rest of her shorts and the 'Sentimental Journey' video, we felt that she really fit in with Partizan's sensibilities."

Since her South African shoot for Coke, Noda has wrapped a video for Montreal-born DJ Tiga in Japan and is currently up for several more video projects, according to Stepanek.

This story appeared in the March 2006 issue of Creativity.
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