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Translation of article in Dec. 1 issue


A Tokyo native, Shochiku’s 62-year-old president has a Bachelors degree from Keio University and a Masters from the University of California. He began working for the company, which produces kabuki shows and films, in 1998. Shochiku studios marks its 120th anniversary this year.

Keizaikai: Lately the company has been focusing more on internal changes rather than consumer-driven ones. Why is that?

Junichi Sakomoto: To engage in monozukuri (craftsmanship), we need to build teamwork, by continuing to build on the fundamentals within the company and our business groups.

Now I feel we are ready to take our productions to more places with new audiences, including spectators around the world. We’re going to try new, unfamiliar endeavors, which will require us to have a sense of unity. If things are in order within the organization, we can deal with any situation.

What is the most important aspect of the company’s 120-year history?
The first thing that comes to mind is that the company has been able to maintain its excellent craftsmanship. Our productions must continue to consider the feelings of both producers and audiences.

Unless the audiences’ views are borne in mind, a work simply reflects the producer’s ego and, should that happen, audiences will be alienated. We have continued to place importance on the creation of top-quality shows, while considering how best to reconcile them with audience perspectives.

People still recall a time when Takejiro Otani, one of the founders of Shochiku, asked his son Ryuzo—who later became president—what his impression was of a certain drama. Ryuzo replied, “This performer did this and the drama was like that . . . ”

The father countered, “That’s not what I asked you. I mean, how did the audience react?” I believe this is Shochiku’s starting point.

Kabuki has gone through some hard times over the years, hasn’t it?

In my student days, even when free admission tickets were distributed, about half the seats at Kabukiza [theater] performances were empty.

Our previous chairman, Takeomi Nagayama, wished dearly that the theater could be utilized year round just for kabuki performances, and finally we’ve achieved that. We are working to keep things that way.

It will soon be three years since the Kabukiza theater reopened. What factors have contributed to its success?

The first is the enthusiasm of the people involved with kabuki. Another is our work to make the theater user-friendly. There’s an underground entrance connected to the subway station, and we devised a variety of features that attract not only fans of drama, but other audiences as well.

These efforts to expand our horizons have paid off. While the world of entertainment is diversifying, a revival of authentic Japanese culture has begun, and I suppose according to current trends, people want to see the real thing.

In addition, more young people are going to the theater, correct?

Yes, the number of young people in the audience is gradually increasing. But we would like to make it easier and more enjoyable for young people and non-Japanese to attend kabuki performances, so that they might become core fans.

By making it just a little easier to understand the many subtle details each performance entails, we hope to eliminate the need for lengthy translations and explanations, thereby expanding the possibilities.

I believe these subtleties aren’t exclusive to kabuki but, rather, are characteristics of many aspects of Japanese culture.

Tell us about the recent kabuki performance at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.

Five performances attracted audiences of 100,000 in total—one of the biggest turnouts ever at that hotel. The show was a fusion of kabuki and new projection-mapping technology. In the future, I’d like to see more collaborations that are unique to our company being conducted overseas.

How about films?
Fundamentally, I would say the same applies to films. While we might not be able to claim any major hits, through our films we are engaging in the kind of craftsmanship of which only we are capable.

Thus, we will continue to produce films aimed at young people and works with high entertainment potential, as well as release distinctive Shochiku films, like director Yoji Yamada’s Living with My Mother.

Nearly all the [Japanese] hits that gross over ¥1 billion are in-house productions. Of course we also tie up on productions with other film companies, but our basic thinking is to work at nurturing strong production crews.

Would you say that Shochiku films have a certain something that sets them apart?
Yes, it’s a sense of humanism, which is depicted in three ways. One is by portraying people as having both positive and negative qualities.

The second way would be the view that, while people’s negative qualities are portrayed, humans overall are fundamentally good. And the third would be that our films reflect the lives of ordinary and disadvantaged members of society.

I suppose this is a shared philosophy, which we apply to cinema, the stage, and other activities.

Have you considered reviving any of the iconic Shochiku film series, such as It’s Hard Being a Man or Fishing Fool’s Diary?

That’s also something to consider. We would like to produce some sort of regular series. At present, TV Tokyo and its affiliates are broadcasting Fishing Fool’s Diary as a drama series. The cast has worked out well and received good viewer ratings.

How would you describe your years as president?

Looking back, well . . . it’s been a long 11 years.

Who or what has been your guide over the years?

It depends on the situation. There are many difficult things about management that have to be overcome. I have spent a lot of time poring over Nanami Shiono’s 15-volume series about the Roman empire, Stories of the Romans, which has given me a lot of inspiration.

What kind of company do you want to see Shochiku become?

Well, we have to do our best with the limited human resources at our disposal. Nevertheless, I want to confront new challenges without fear of failure, producing people who succeed in meeting those challenges, and whose successes, through diligent application, are not limited to Japan.

Keizaikai magazine
We would like to make it easier . . . for young people and non-Japanese to attend kabuki performances . . .