Japanese All-Stars Launch Tokyo and N.Y.-based Party

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Party founders, from left: Morihiro Harano, Masashi Kawamura, Naoki Ito, Qanta Shimizu, Hiroki Nakamura
Party founders, from left: Morihiro Harano, Masashi Kawamura, Naoki Ito, Qanta Shimizu, Hiroki Nakamura

Nike's Music Shoe. NTT Docomo's Xylophone. Sour's "Mirror." Uniqlo's Lucky Switch and Lucky Machine. Microsoft's "Big Shadow." Sagami "Love Distance." If you're familiar with some of these impressive demonstrations of creativity, you'll probably see the connection. The multi-awarded efforts can all be traced back to Japanese talent.

Until recently, you'd have to knock on a several doors to reach the various minds behind the work. Masashi Kawamura, one of the creatives on "Mirror," had worked at W+K, N.Y. and BBH, N.Y. His collaborator on the project, Qanta Shimizu, was previously a technical director at IMG SRC, Tokyo; Naoki Ito, CD on Music Shoe and Sagami, was last seen steering creative at Wieden's Tokyo office; Hiroki Nakamura was directing digital work for Uniqlo, Honda and Sony at Dentsu while Morihiro Harano, the CD on "Xylophone" was CD/Founder of Tokyo agency Drill. Today, however, you'll find them all under one roof, at the newly launched Party.

The founders bill the new Tokyo- and New York-based shop as a creative lab and a "new kind of ideas company" meant to address the changing industry. While Party will work on traditional advertising, the founders will also be applying their skills in technology, storytelling and creativity to a broad range of products, services, causes, entertainment and social platforms--all of which has already surfaced in their past work.

Creativity asked Party leaders CD/CCO Naoki Ito, CD/CEO Morihiro Harano, CD Qanta Shimizu, CD Hiroki Nakamura and CD Masashi Kawamura about their plans for the new company, what kind of work they hope to produce and why they decided to launch a new company so soon after a national crisis.

Why did you decide to launch PARTY? How long has this been in the works?
MK: The five of us have always been talking about doing something together from a couple of years ago. It was really difficult to line up the timing since we all worked in highly established boutiques, but miraculously the moment finally came, and we felt it's an opportunity we shouldn't overlook.

MH: We wanted to create a lab with an agile team of creatives, where Creative Directors and Technical Directors work closely together to create something more than advertising. Party aims to bring innovation to products, services, social platforms, environmental causes and branded entertainment content, through our expertise in, interactive contents development and creative direction.

How do you all know each other? Had you all worked together before?
NI: We've always known each others' work for a long time. These five are really the best creative talents you can find in Japan, and we constantly collaborated/rivaled with each other. All five of us never worked together on a single project, but some of us have been working on separate projects. For example Qanta and I on Big Shadow, Hiroki & Qanta on Uniqlo Lucky Switch, Masa & Qanta on SOUR/MIRROR.

SOUR / MIRROR: Innovating the music video genre through the use of social network, interactivity, and customization.

Does it seem a strange time to launch a new company, given what's been going on in Japan?
HN: We did have a discussion in terms of timings, but we actually felt that this is an opportunity to bring real change to Japan. The tragedy has left a big scar in Japan, and the economy is in a really bad condition, but when you look back in history, Japan has always been strong in coming back from disastrous moments. We not only want to help Japan come back from a negative state, but to shake up the old structures of Japanese creative industry, and bring positive change.

Masa says that you will be a completely independent boutique. Did you receive any interest about backing from a larger agency? Was it always your intention to be independent and if so, why?
QS: We want to keep our lab agile and without any confinements (and politics!). Nowadays, we feel that the strongest model of creative development is in collaborating with specialists and following the "cloud model." Rather than binding ourselves with too many rules, we wanted to keep the core members to a minimum number, and collaborate with the right partners for each unique project we work on. We have a great network of amazing creative talents around the world.

NTTDocomo(TOUCH WOOD) / Xylophone: Classic film work, but made with huge care in craft. We don't want to just do interactive work that involves the latest social network technology for the sake of using it. We want to use the right medium for the right idea to create the most engaging experience.

Can you give me some context about startup creative boutiques in Japan? Aren't many of them backed by large agencies like Dentsu? What are the challenges they face, compared to the States?
NI: There are several boutiques supported by large agencies, but it's actually not such a big number. Many times, talented creatives tend to run their own personal office. In that regards, it's quite unique that the five of us decided to join forces to startup this company together.

You're opening in both Tokyo and New York. Are you expecting different challenges doing work for the States vs. Japan?
MK: We aren't worried about the differences. Wherever you are in the world, we're all confronted by the same need for innovation. Also, we believe in the strength of simple and universal ideas that can transcend language and cultural barriers.

Who will be manning each office?
MH: The Tokyo office will be the headquarters, where the five partners will be based. Masa will be in New York for several months at the end of the year, starting up the New York office, but we plan to take turns running the New York office.

What are you goals for the company? You say you want to merge art, technology commerce. Would you also call yourself an advertising agency?
NI: We call ourselves a "Creative Lab." We are purposely trying to avoid the terms like "brands" and "advertising," although we will be working on "advertising" assignments as well. We strongly believe that the boundaries of advertising and art are becoming blurred. The methods of advertising are leaning more towards creating useful tools or entertaining content, and through that experience, people love the brand and the people who gave them that experience. Rather than shouting messages at people, we create content that genuinely interests people, and let them come to you.

Nike Music Shoe: Creating a new product (shoes that plays music)>

Can you please describe your business model? You've been at creative boutiques in the past, big agencies. How have those experiences shaped your model for Party? Will you be working with your own clients/partnering with other agencies, etc.?
MK: We looked back at our own experiences at different agencies, and we realized it's important to create a new business model that allows us to expand our area of business further into non-advertising categories, and work closely with a more wide range of creators & clients. For example, we're looking into a model focusing more on intellectual properties. We'd like to work closely with our clients to create product and service prototypes, which we can also help in terms of branding and communications. We'll be working mainly with our own clients, but will be totally open in different forms of partnerships and collaborations.

Combined, and individually, the talents at Party have an impressive pedigree of creative work. Is that sort of work harder/easier to do coming out of Japan, or out of the States? Does even matter anymore where it's made?
MK: It's always the same challenge anywhere in the world to create groundbreaking work. We were able to experiment a lot of interesting ideas online, because that was the field where we can explore our ideas without the restriction of the traditional advertising media buy in Japan. Nowadays, it doesn't matter where the ideas came from. That's why we have a chance to create big ideas from Japan that can compete in the global market.

How many people will the company have at launch?
QS: We have twelve members in our office already including the five partners. We plan to keep our operations small and agile, but will be expanding the number. We'll be hiring a few more creative staff soon, so please check @prty_tokyo for further updates.

Do you have any clients yet? Are you planning to be selective with your clients?
NI: We cannot mention the names just yet, but we are already working for clients both big and small. Some are projects about creating a new product, some are interactive music video contents, and some are more closer to a typical ad campaign. We don't want to be overtly selective, but we do feel it's important to work with clients that can share the same visions with us.

How will your creative department be modeled? What will your creative teams look like?
HN: We won't have the classic "copywriter and art director" teams, but more of a "creative director and technical director" teams. For every project, we will assign a "project leading team" from the five partners, who will concept and prototype the ideas. From there, we will reach out to appropriate production partners we know around the world to best bring the prototype to life.

Why did you decide to call your new shop Party?
MK: To us, Party meant, "a place where different individuals gather for one same purpose." The five partners shares the same ambition to innovate the creative market, and gathered together to start this venture. We also liked the positive vibe you get from the name. Who doesn't like to party?

Rainbow in your hand: Product concept and development.

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