Directors to Watch 2008: Woof Wan-Bau

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Woof Wan-Bau
Woof Wan-Bau
What is the sound of three dogs barking? In this case, it's "Woof Wan-Bau," the pseudonym of London-based director Joji Koyama. After graduating from art school—where he trained as a painter—Koyama turned to directing music videos as a substitute for attending film school. When choosing a name with which to sign this work, he borrowed the sounds of dogs barking in three languages: English ("woof"), Japanese ("wan"), and Italian ("bau"). "My joke was that it kind of sounded like a trendy Asian director, like Wong Kar-Wai or something," he says. Luckily, it also fits well with the humor and scope of Koyama's work. Born in Japan but raised in England—he moved to the U.K. when he was eight—he says he doesn't feel completely at one with either country. "If it's reflected in my work in any way, it's in the fact that I'm able to look into other cultures and borrow from them in a way that maybe I wouldn't be able to if I was held in one place."

Koyama first appeared on the international ad scene in 2005, when his short Watermelon Love—a curiously erotic animated film for Channel 4—was included in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase. It was at this year's festival, however, that he broke through by winning two Gold Lions for "Damn Boots," a wonderfully whimsical live-action commercial for shoemaker Nomis, which chronicles the end of a soccer player's career as the result of inferior footwear. Meanwhile, Koyama's videos and short films display his command of a range of techniques—from stop-motion to computer animation to live action—that make his work difficult to pigeonhole. "My ethos is to be as playful as possible," he says. "To make something that is not just simple and glossy—with something a little bit more imaginative going on."

Read about Keith Schofield, another of our 2008 Directors to Watch.

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