The idol boom from the past couple years has made a staggering impact on how Japan promotes content. Idols have gone from catering to a small, focused fandom to becoming an effective medium in of itself to grab an audience of their own. But what interested me the most out of all this was how the shift in digital medium and importance of video gives such a broad level of accessibility for not only the consumers of idol content, but the creators as well.
It was only a matter of time until someone utilized all of the new and trendy avenues that exist on the internet today to promote a home-grown idol group with a minimal team — and that’s exactly what Soezima Shingo (known as Soezimax) accomplished with the idol group Osaka Shunkashuto. I had the pleasure of speaking with him a few weeks ago to talk about his background, Osaka Shunkashuto, and various thoughts as a videographer.
Soezima is a filmmaker, actor and producer in Osaka, Japan. He has won awards for videography and graduated from Osaka University of Arts as a film major. He has run his own independent production company ‘SOEZIMAX’ since 2006 and established a Youtube channel in 2007, where he regularly updates with video blogs, making-of features, and completed projects.
Soezima was naturally attracted to Youtube as a platform because it’s arguably the largest stage in the world right now. He never intended to keep any of his projects in a closed, local environment. He wants international fans to be able to enjoy Osaka Shunkashuto as well as Japan, and there’s action to prove it. To the best of his ability, he tries to add in English closed captioning to all their content: PVs, video blogs, and making-ofs — a rare sight in this industry.
The members that make up Osaka Shunkashuto are all performing high school students from a local dance school, and hold performances in public. It was at the mall where Soezima became acquainted with the dance group, through a senior friend who suggested he produce for them. As a fan of all music genres and having produced music videos before, he took up the challenge and wasted no time preparing for Osaka Shunkashuto’s debut.
The first order of action was setting up a crowd-funding campaign on Camp Fire, accompanied by a video that outlined what the budget would be used for — an original song (to be physically and digitally available), a music video, and a series of blogs that would regularly cover the goings on with Osaka Shunkashuto. It was completely funded in the following weeks and Soezima has been hitting the ground running for the past 6 months.
What was incredibly surprising to me was that Soezima was producing Osaka Shunkashuto largely by himself. He calls a few friends in for help with more ambitious shoots, but he has no full-full time crew. It of course helps that all of his friends are also talented with backgrounds in studio work and even music. He has maintained good relationships with people he’s worked with, which includes an indie rock band ‘Minor School’, who he’s made music videos for. The band was responsible for the music provided in Osaka Shunkashuto’s cover song recordings, as well as for their upcoming original single.
When you see Soezima’s cover song PVs, his expertise really shines through. Using long takes and limited space, he accomplishes a whole lot with technically very little. Using every visual trick in the book, these music videos end up better composed and more interesting than a great majority of idol PVs out there made with a hundred times the budget. Soezima has used his adaptive skills as a filmmaker to pull out polished videos with a skeleton crew.
Another striking feature of these music videos is the singing quality — most notably the lead singer and center of Osaka Shunkashuto: Maina. While tiny in stature, her voice is brash with energy and very impressive. “Maina is a very good singer. I think [Osaka Shunkashuto] have very good vocalists” remarks Soezima. He also stated that because of the wealth of vocal quality, his own approach adapted to show the girls more as artists. This approach includes listening to and taking suggestions from the girls themselves. For instance, Maina approached Soezima to cover Justin Bieber’s single ‘Baby’.
The dance choreography is determined as a collaboration between the girls and their dance instructor — who also happens to be Maina’s mother. That could explain how Maina has such a strong stage presence, as I imagine she started pursuing dance at a very young age.
An avid student of history and military hardware, Soezima wears his hobbies on his sleeve. He makes trips to America for exhibitions, admiring retired war planes with reverence and glee. He often incorporates military elements in videos he produces on his own time to expand his ever-growing portfolio. “I like guns. I like American action Hollywood movies, and I want to make action films.”
This is very apparent in his series of short films called SGS9 (School Girl Section 9), which are short snippets of complete action scenes that involve a school girl marksman against a mob of enemies. On Soezima’s channel you can currently see video blogs of Osaka Shunkashuto members receiving training and audition videos on how to handle firearms, using prop weapons, which will likely be a feature in an upcoming movie.
Soezima said he had one or two more cover songs in the works for Osaka Shunkashuto, but after they release their first debut single, he said he is unsure what his future plans are as a producer. His involvement from the get-go was somewhat temporary — he was able to accomplish as much as he has because of Camp Fire donations. Now that he is nearing the completion of all the promises from the initial pitch, Osaka Shunkashuto could go back to being a purely local Osakan dance group. However it turns out, Soezima will continue doing what he loves.
He stressed to me how much he enjoyed working in Osaka, despite Tokyo being the media center of Japan. “In, Japan, Tokyo is the biggest city for media and TV. In Japan, you have to go to Tokyo to be famous.” But Soezima has no immediate plans to go to Tokyo. “Osaka has more countryside. I like the countryside. It has good food, easy filming and great locations.” With the general quality of smaller productions like Soezimax no longer being as limited as they were in the past, Soezima wishes to expand his audience using channels that are available to everyone.
What do you guys think of Osaka Shunkashuto and Soezima’s approach to producing? Leave a comment and let us know!