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Dream Teams: Toshi Ochichy and Yumi Tanabe Arnaudo

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Creative director and founder at Command-E and COO and head of production at Syn on the challenges of developing complex creative concepts together, standing out from “industry gangs” and their best collaborations

Dream Teams: Toshi Ochichy and Yumi Tanabe Arnaudo

LBB spoke to Toshi Ochichy, creative director and founder at Command-E and Yumi Tanabe Arnaudo, COO and head of production at Syn to find out more about the ways in which their careers intersect, why they were drawn to work together and how they always manage to meet each other’s creative expectations.



LBB> How did you two meet? 

 

Yumi> 1999 - We met at Promax Asia (in Singapore) where Toshi won the first Rocket Award (named by Rob Middleton) at MTV Asia and I was a speaker for ‘Trends in Japanese Content’ forNickelodeon. We introduced ourselves to each other in the hallway of the Hilton Hotel surrounded by a bunch of industry people. 
 

Toshi> We didn’t meet in a dramatic situation so it isn’t super clear in my memory but I was working in Hong Kong for MTV Asia and there weren’t many Japanese there. Like Yumi said, we met at Promax Asia where there was a small world of creatives connecting casually. It was perhaps meant to be, although I never dreamed we’d be such long term working partners. 
 

 

LBB> Were you ‘put’ together or did you proactively decide you wanted to do something together? How long have you known each other and how long have you been working together?

 

Yumi> When I had just launched the production at Nickelodeon as producer/creative director, I was looking for a talented director and/or production house who could create promos and vignettes in a fun and edgy style. When I saw the award-winning spots Toshi created at Promax, I was intrigued by their making, as it was very unique, and wanted to find out if we could work together.

Steve Grieder, who was his boss previously and a creative industry hero for many at MTV Asia, was working at Nickelodeon when I had joined and he also encouraged Toshi and I to work together. It was around that time that Toshi had launched his own company called Command E. 
 

Toshi> It was a time (25 years ago) when new channels were launching worldwide and I was busy creating channel IDs and GFX packages for many networks. I recall that Yumi was also working ever so busy in the feverish era of media. 

 
 

LBB> What were your first impressions of each other – and have they changed? 

 
 
Toshi> During the busy channel launches, Yumi stood out in the ‘industry gangs’ as someone who was extremely energetic, positive and remained optimistic in any circumstance of production and channel management. I was intrigued by her capability of being able to conduct creative production and then running and managing a channel. 

There were several US channels that were launching in Japan at the time and I remember Nickelodeon kicked off with a lean team. Yumi’s fundamental role was as a creative producer but I remember she was also handling admin, HR and managing the channel all at once and I remember being mesmerised. I thought she was a superwoman! She is very dedicated and humble. She doesn’t allow herself to be overcome by obstacles but instead seems to enjoy the challenges. It took me years to realise that she was actually pushing herself beyond the smile at times (to the point of burning out) to overcome and achieve the goals and demands of different aspects of the business. 
 
 
Yumi> I was super impressed by his creativity and knew he would be a superstar not only in Japan but throughout Asia. I checked out the MTV ID spot he made working around Volvox expressing the letter M of  MTV in using delicate lighting and how it grows and/or utilizing how it moves. He has attention to creative details and a sensibility like no other. And he is, and was, super humble about it. When he started his creative company, I remember going into his office in Ebisu Tokyo and he had designed it in a super cosy stylish way so that his staff was happy to come in and join his creativity. 

I am impressed with the many creative disciplines he has cultivated. It’s not something that happens in days nor is it simple but it’s the constant trial and error and nurturing that he brushes up on even now on editing, camera and creative methods. 

We would gather and talk through any hurdles in production. His creative vision and plans are so heightened that I am convinced he can see the future. When our creative seeking culminates in a concept, it feels like a blessing each time, and I feel excited to produce it and bring it to life. 






LBB> What was the first project you worked on together? How was that process? 

 

Yumi> I asked Toshi to create Station IDs, shorts, and promotion packages together for Nickelodeon to launch its very first look and feel for Japanese viewers. We went through creative idea development where we each would come up with many ideas and then gathered to discuss how it would be created – carefully assessing whether it matched the goal and principles at Nickelodeon - ‘kids first’. Sometimes it took weeks and sometimes we whipped it out in days including shooting to post production. Then we would script it and start developing the visual concept and storyboard it. Even if it was a Station ID where the duration is around five seconds, we started with big ideas and brought it to a realistic approach that can be executed in a fun way to last when it’s shown repeatedly on the channel. 
 

Toshi> As I explained earlier, since we were in the midst of the channel launching rush era, I can’t remember exactly what the first one was. So I remember working on Station IDs, program packages and promos. There were times of sleepless hard work where we were constantly up all night or shooting till the morning to deliver by the deadline – which was a norm. I remember Yumi had a big heart even in very hectic situations. 
 


LBB> Why do you think you complement each other? 

 

Toshi> Yumi has what I don’t have – she’s very detailed in her thinking and mindful at the same time. At times, when I lose motivation being so busy and almost worn out, she managed to help motivate me and I was saved by her many times with much appreciation. 
 

Yumi> I respect Toshi’s way of coming up with great ideas and his creativity that stands out while fitting our goal – thinking out of the box together,  knowing how to bring it back to the ground together while still keeping the creative essence that matters. In addition to actually starting the set-up, prop and production in a super-efficient and creative way all from his cosy studio in Ebisu to the streets of Tokyo. 
 
 

LBB> Is there anything that can frustrate you about each other? Or that you disagree on? 

 

Yumi> Toshi takes in everything. Even issues in production that he is not in control of. He then suddenly shuts down and goes to a shrine to go and ‘train himself’, which is an even harder training after such hard work! I am sometimes convinced that he will end up becoming a monk but I know this is coming from his very humble personality and his will to constantly learn from a deeper end, which I respect greatly. I just hope he will release his stress earlier and pray that he doesn’t disappear into the mountains as a monk one day... We still need his creativity!
 

Toshi> Creative process is about sharing common ground that requires very sensitive and delicate thought processes. We are always in debate one way or another as to if this is a healthy or appropriate process. As Yumi is creative as well, she adds to each direction with careful decision-making in the making – so of course, there are times we develop frustration on both ends. But we also build on each other’s ideas for the betterment of the project. 

 

LBB> How do you approach creative disagreement? ( e.g. Do you like to keep emotion out of it, or is that emotion important? Do you have ‘rules of engagement’? Or do you find you agree on everything?) 

 

Toshi> When my creativity hasn’t reached its peak, Yumi doesn’t compromise and knows how to bring extra creativity to me. This is an extremely rare talent. Some people give up in the face of obstacles, most especially when a creative idea is rejected.  However, Yumi is different in her approach and is patient to keep believing, sharing feedback and giving space to redevelop until it can be done. We would even keep developing thoughts for many hours during our post-work Izakaya meetings.

It’s like climbing a very high, challenging mountain when we are developing creative concepts. This ‘Dream Team’ is what made our work happen. We would go to Yakitori joints when we reach a point that needs to resolve creative disagreements. We would go committedly as if the Yakitori place was a sacred place to resolve any issues. We would go to Yakitori until we can win the pitch. I feel like we’ve been doing this routine for more than 20 years...I’m really grateful to have a creative partner like Yumi where we can really challenge our right brain to the max even until now. 
 
 
Yumi> Toshi always meets creative expectations even at the most challenging times whether it be the concept itself or the production process. The ideas he comes up with are always on the mark in terms of what would make a spot stand out – and he knows how to deliver it. As a visionary creative, he’s often ahead of his time so we work together to bring it back to something that works today. We intentionally push each other creatively from script to concept building. It’s like a repetition of becoming creatively crazy and allowing ideas to spontaneously pop up. That’s when magic happens. 
 


LBB> What is the collaboration that you’re most proud of? 

 

Toshi> The Nickelodeon ID shot in a pre-school. We borrowed a school film and had the students cooperate to create Nickelodeon Japan’s Station Local ID which aired in other regions outside of Japan. It was a great way of showcasing the target market to actually be in the Station ID as a core element in the creative.


Yumi> GG (character dev and series spot) - we produced a character from scratch called DJ GG who answers Kids’ genuine questions they write in on a weekly basis. We created a character that is goofy yet  cool – a DJ from Planet Natto (fermented beans) who loves his gooey dishes and is generally silly and playful. This series was loved by kids because they can openly ask any questions they had in life and they were answered through GG’s voice in a friendly style but with the subtle spark of educational advice.  



LBB> What are the benefits of having a creative partner or regular collaborator in the industry? 

 

Toshi> In a time when many large corporations are putting creative personnel into top management, I believe the creative role is being increasingly appreciated in the industry outside of entertainment as a whole. I believe we have entered into an era where creative talent is proving to be beneficial to productivity and efficiency. I feel excited that there is someone like Yumi who can share creativity as a partner. Yumi and I both naturally expanded trusting creative networks which helps us to execute with our resources which is very beneficial. 
 

Yumi> I feel very fortunate and it’s rewarding to have encountered Toshi, as a professional, a human being, a friend, and a creative partner to go out there in the field with – our antenna raised to evolve our process and craft. I believe the rich partnership stems from the fact that we can share views in depth on any topic, not just production. I also respect that Toshi teaches at media schools about production - it is where he keeps up to date and also passes on knowledge to upcoming talent - while being inspired by their perspectives - thereby ensuring a bright future of production. 
 
 

LBB> Tell us about a recent project that involved some interesting creative challenges that you overcame together.


 
Toshi> The renewal of WoWoW’s station ID and brand image was a great challenge where I was able to create, from scratch, their new image implementing meaning and design values anew for the channel. It was WoWoW’s first refresh of their brand image in 15 years. I brought various traditional aspects of unique colours and Japanese cultureinto the visual image whilst giving a bright and inviting tone to welcome the younger generation with the motion graphics approach.

I thought it would be a great project to work with Yumi at Syn to be involved in creative development and incorporate the music and sound design which I value highly in visual spots. Since I have also been involved in and directed music, and various music videos as well, I understand how sound matters, and how beneficial it is to work with a music and sound partner from the beginning of the production process.
 


Yumi> We’ve worked together on so many projects over the years, including  ‘NHK Biz Cast’, which launched an e-commerce site, created short films and other projects at Syn where I am head of production. Though we keep in touch regularly to catch up and discuss the next creation we can do, I was very excited when Toshi asked me to work together on WoWoW to win the pitch to renew their ID from scratch. 

Being at Syn – an award-winning music and sound production agency -  I knew this would be a perfect collaboration to be able to work with him from scratch. Our composers and sound designers at Syn went through a very deep process of creative development collaborating closely with Toshi’s visual GFX team through the final delivery. We have received positive feedback from both WoWoW and viewers who unanimously say how much they love the new image. I believe this great collaboration is an example of how our long-term creative partnership can be fruitful and builds on shared experience. 
 
 
 

LBB> What or who inspires you and your work - another creative duo perhaps? 

 
 
Toshi> Yakitori – There’s nothing more relaxing when you can share a meal to relax and still talk about creative works. 
 

Yumi> Shochu – Shochu and Yakitori are the best match when it comes to needing a situation where you can continue to talk about ideas after a hard day of work. We’ve been doing that now for decades. Need to know good places in Tokyo? We have you covered.
 
 
 

LBB> Do you enjoy socialising together outside of work? If so, what do you get up to? 

 

Yumi and Toshi> We both love exploring and wandering around the Ebisu neighbourhood. Toshi goes to strict shrines and temples under a hard-core master and Yumi goes hiding in retreats to hear the voice of nature… Both with a similar purpose – to try to achieve silence in the mind… And to start anew, and welcome fresh ideas with an open mind. 
 

 

LBB> What have you learned from each other? 

 
 
Toshi> We have learned to be able to discuss creativity without compromise. And to understand how to put these ideas into action. We both know we will face challenges, but will respect each other throughout. This is why I think we could be called a ‘Dream Team’.  
 
 
Yumi> I appreciate that we can work through creativity, logic and research in a detailed way to bring spontaneous ideas to big ideas to life. Creatives can be restless by nature, and Toshi’s patience is a very respected part of his nature. 

I believe that because we constantly strive to keep up with trends and techniques, it enables us to bring out the best in what we produce. We have launched e-commerce platforms, created short films, produced programs at NHK World called ‘Japan Biz Cast’, and Toshi is working on loads of progressive projects including digital mapping, signage interactive technologies and one of the first kinds of camera angles. Because it is a relationship built on trust, there’s nothing to lose. We will keep learning from each other whilst we continue to enjoy creating meaningful content to share. 

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Syn, Tue, 05 Apr 2022 16:22:03 GMT