Okinawa Festival: Yoshimoto CEO Hiroshi Osaki Talks Second City, CAA Collaborations (Q&A)

Hiroshi Osaki P

Osaki talked about the fast-growing Kyoto festival, similarly backed by Yoshimoto, and where both OIMF and Kyoto fit into the company's strategy.

The seventh edition of the Okinawa International Movie Festival (OIMF) came to a close on Sunday and there was a big shift in focus. Backed by the giant Japanese entertainment group Yoshimoto Kyogo, OIMF has reinvented itself as a community-orientated festival with general entertainment, rather than movies specifically, as its big attraction. 

At OIMF, THR caught up with Yoshimoto CEO Hiroshi Osaki and he talked at length about his company's commitment to the people of Okinawa, as well as the shifting priorities of the festival.

Osaki also gave us further insight into collaborations with Chicago's Second City improv theater group as well as giant talent agency CAA and how both link ups are helping the company in Japan as well as helping to export content to other Asian countries. 

Finally, Osaki talked about the fast-growing Kyoto festival, similarly backed by Yoshimoto, and where both OIMF and Kyoto fit into the company's strategy. 

Could you tell us why Yoshimoto created the OIMF in the first place? 

Okinawa is obviously known for tourism, but they don't have any other industry that really generates income, and that's because of geographical reasons and other things, so we thought about what we can do as a company to help. We can actually create a sort of entertainment hub for Asia here. I thought that would be ideal as geographically it's closer to other Asian countries. The business aspect actually came second. The first thing that Okinawans are known for is they're open-minded for other types of entertainment. 

So can we talk a little about Second City and Yoshimoto’s relationship with them? First of all, how did it come about? And secondly, how does it work?

Some 30 years ago I was booking all these comedians, entertainers, from around the world to theaters in Japan. And one of them was this guy, Chris Bliss, he was a juggler. So he happened to have a book about Second City that he was reading. Of course I didn't understand English, but what I understood was there is a place called Second City in Chicago and they actually teach improvisation. The whole idea was sort of like new to me, but I thought it was interesting because I was, at the time, also managing and teaching comedians. And I thought I could actually teach some similar principles. And so years later, now I've become the president, I remember that I read this book about Second City and I knew that there was a school there. I wanted to go to Chicago and actually see what it is for real, as it is. I brought that discipline back to Japan and applied it to comedians here, and this was a whole new world as far as the Japanese entertainment industry. 

So in terms of the actual practical relationship, is there an official relationship? And what do they provide and how does it work?

We actually invited instructors from Second City, and we actually have schools in Osaka. The instructors did some sessions there and we held a performance, live performance, probably 40 to 50 shows maybe. And this was very successful. It turned out to be good business inviting Second City — it was a popular show. Not only was it a popular show, but also our comedians enjoyed it very much and they would sort of get to increase, expand their repertoire because this was a new thing.

Regarding your relationship with CAA, there was a great deal of noise a while back and not much has been heard since. What's the latest on the relationship?

CAA, they're big on secrets. Sometimes we have trouble actually trying to collaborate with them, but we actually also represent athletes, baseball players, and when the Japanese baseball players go to MLB in the States, CAA helps out a great deal. And rather than dealing with them directly, their lawyers, it's much, much easier to go through the CAA. So in that sense, CAA is helping us a great deal, on that front. As far as the co-production on the TV programs, that hasn't gone as smoothly. We did produce about 10 programs, and we sold the format to a couple of different territories, but not much is happening there now. So we hope, maybe in the future, [to] produce music for films. We're seeking possibilities.

Why do you feel that Yoshimoto needs to expands its horizons and sell content abroad, and Asia in particular? 

To be able to deal with companies like CAA, on the same level, that's why Asia was a very important territory for us. We've had our eyes on Asia for the last 30 years, to be able to go against the counterparts like CAA, companies from Europe and things like that. And don't forget in Japan there's a dramatic decrease in population over the next few years, there's going to be a market shift in that sense so we have to go outside.

Where do Okinawa and now Kyoto fit within the Japanese festival circuit?

Do we need more festivals in Japan? Tokyo is the king of the festivals and you can't really go against Hong Kong either because Hong Kong is big, established. So we want to do something different with Okinawa and Kyoto, of course. We happen to call it a movie festival, but it's more of a festive event with the local communities, together with the local communities.