The party people

Five of Japan’s top creative and technical talents have come together to launch Party, a new ‘creative lab’ with offices in Tokyo and New York…

Earlier this summer a new creative super group was born. Party has launched with offices in both Tokyo and New York, and it comprises five founding members – Naoki Ito, Morihiro Harano, Qanta Shimizu, Hiroki Nakamura, and Masashi Kawamura – who together represent a significant chunk of Japan’s top creative and technical talent from the last decade.

A glance at some of the agencies and boutiques that the five have passed through on their way to forming their own company gives an indication of the talent on display: Wieden + Kennedy, GT Tokyo, Dentsu, Drill, BBH, and 180 Amsterdam all feature on the company’s collective CV. As might be expected with this kind of experience, Party intends to offer something unique to the industry, and is focused especially on interactive experiences. “Party is a purely creative driven company,” they explain. “The unique mix of creative directors and technical directors means it’s a company of both thinkers and makers…. Although we will work on traditional advertising, Party’s core philosophy is to bring technology, storytelling and creativity to a wide range of areas, including products, services, social platforms, architecture and branded entertainment content. This wide remit positions Party as a new kind of ideas company, one built for a changing industry.”

Describing themselves as a creative ‘lab’ more than an agency, Party’s founders view the development of interactive technology and social networking sites as having had a seismic influence on the design and ad industries, seeing the emergence of these areas of communication as “starting to blur the boundaries between advertising, design and art”. “In the 20th century, design changed people’s lives, and the industry changed with it,” they continue. “In the 21st century, we believe that interactivity will change everything once again and we are at that turning point. We think this is the perfect time to use our expertise in this field to create content that can lead to bigger change.”

Regular followers of the advertising and design industries might feel that they’ve heard this kind of talk before. Certainly over the last few years, it has become de rigueur for all new creative companies to try and position themselves as different from everyone else out there, and uniquely attuned to the changes in the industry. More often than not, this has proved to be largely hot air. Yet what genuinely sets Party apart from other start-ups is that they have already produced work that backs these assertions up.

The rest of the world has long looked to Japan for innovative technological ideas, and as digital technology has begun to infiltrate all aspects of our lives, this cutting edge knowledge seems more important than ever. Projects coming out of the country have come to be admired not only for their quirky creativity, but also for what they can teach others about using the world of digital effectively.

Many such projects have been created by the members of Party. The combined list of work created by the founders is long, but includes highlights such as the Sony Rec You project from 2007, a web campaign for Sony Walkman that invited users to upload photographs of themselves that were then automatically animated to appear as if they were headbanging or singing along to music. Another early interactive idea appeared in a campaign for the Microsoft Xbox game Blue Dragon, which utilised a giant wall on the side of a building in Shibuya, the popular shopping area in Tokyo. The campaign saw magnified shadows of ordinary people in the street below projected against the wall; these would then dramatically turn into images of a giant dragon that appeared to be terrorising the humans.

Such innovations are continued in other projects, including two interactive music videos for Sour, both of which invite fans to contribute to the band’s promos via webcams and social networking sites. Party’s founders have been behind large scale online ad campaigns too, including the Uniqlo Lucky Machine, a pinball game that offered players the chance to win cash prizes and Uniqlo products, and a game site for Verbatim that allows users to turn rather boring products such as memory sticks into ‘media monsters’ that can then fight other players.

Party’s talents also stretch beyond digital and online technology. While at Drill, Morihiro Harano created the delightful Xylophone commercial for Japanese mobile phone operator NTT Docomo. Running at over three-minutes long, and apparently featuring no special effects, the film utilises a giant wooden xylophone built in a forest. A wooden ball is rolled down its keys, causing the instrument to tentatively play Bach’s Cantata 147. The film has so far received over six million views on YouTube and has picked up a clutch of awards.

Other highlights from the Party back catalogue include Naoki Ito and Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo’s Nike Music Shoe, where the musician Hifana presents a live performance that uses Nike Free Run+ shoes as sound controllers, with each shoe making a different sound when flexed; and Masashi Kawamura’s charming Rainbow In Your Hand, where a simple flipbook is used to create a 3D image of a rainbow.

While their output has been diverse, the projects produced so far from Party’s founders are unified by certain common traits; in particular an element of surprise and originality and a heavy dose of charm. It is therefore somewhat surprising that while the individual members may have collaborated on certain projects, this is their first experience of all working together. “The five of us have always known each other through our works,” they say. “We’ve never had much chance to work together, since we’ve all worked in different boutiques, but there was a moment when all of us thought we can perhaps become one team, and we felt that spark was an opportunity we shouldn’t overlook.”

With the global recession continuing to cause financial unease, plus the tragic events in Japan earlier this year, it might seem a strange time for Party to start. Yet these challenges have spurred the team on. “Not only the recession, but also the 3/11 tragedy in Japan did make us think if this is the best time to launch the company or not,” they admit. “Our answer was yes. In order to bring new and disruptive creative processes to the industry, we felt this was the best timing. There has been no time in history where people are this much in need of change. We feel that creativity will be the strong driver of that change.”

The Party founders will work across both the Tokyo and New York offices, and also have plans to open a further office in London. Despite this global outlook, they intend to continue drawing on aspects of Japanese creative culture in their work. “Although Japan is full of advanced technology, we also value our tradition,” they say. “We feel the balance of innovation and learning from tradition is something that makes our original creative culture. Tradition needs constant maintenance to be kept alive and active, and we respect our ancestors that have always kept it that way. There is a long history and tradition of high-quality craftsmanship, and this stays as the core of Japanese creativity.”

Party has already begun releasing new works, with a sweet iPhone app for Toyota – which uses GPS to allow kids to be backseat drivers, responding to real landmarks that their car passes – and a music video for Japanese band Androp both recently released. Also in the works are an interactive music video, a mobile video platform and several social network campaigns. It all suggests an exciting future for Party, and in turn for the ad industry as a whole, which needs such innovative thinkers pushing it forward. As testament to their individuality, the members of Party are keen to avoid comparisons between their company and existing creative boutiques or agencies, and instead are more inspired by talent outside the industry. “Our company structure is still under development,” they say, “but we see it as a mixed style of agency, production company, and art studio…. There are many amazing companies around the world, but we feel that there isn’t any with the same model as our company. We are more inspired by the individual and collective creativeness that is springing up online.”

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