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Meet AOI Pro.’s Palme d'Or-Winning Producers

Production Company
Tokyo, Japan
Shoplifters producers tell LBB’s Laura Swinton about winning Japan’s first Cannes Palme d'Or in 21 years and working with Hirokazu Kore-eda
Japanese production company AOI Pro. might be best known to readers of Little Black Book for its commercials, but it has proven to be a dab hand at full-on feature films too. Together with director Hirokazu Kore-eda, it recently produced a film called Shoplifters – a film that has just won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. 

We caught up with producer Akihiko Yose and assistant producer Megumi Banse, who, we hear, have been ‘walking on clouds’ ever since last week’s award ceremony, to learn more about the production of film itself and what it means for a commercial production company to soar so successfully in the movie world.

LBB> How did the Shoplifters project come about and how did you get involved? Had you worked with Kore-eda-san before?

Akihiko Yose> After the Storm, filmed in 2014, was the first feature which we worked with Kore-eda-san on, and that project came about based upon a long standing relationship of mutual trust which started more than 10 years ago through working with him as a commercial film director. Shoplifters began with the original plot that he sent to us about two years ago.

LBB> What was it about the story and Kore-eda-san’s vision that made you want to get involved in the project?

Akihiko> Our president Yasuhito Nakae felt that this particular story amongst all the others proposed by Kore-eda-san was the strongest. I felt the same, because all the elements Kore-eda-san had depicted before and was willing to depict were composed so carefully in a perfect balance – sometimes boldly, sometimes sensitively. That attracted me.

Megumi Banse> His “film-oriented” stance attracted me. His mindset and belief that everyone involved in the film is there to make the film better, not for the client, sponsor or cast members. I saw his magic with my own eyes, creating a “Kore-eda film” by inviting and welcoming the opinion equally from the crew's main staff and young staff, sometimes trying everything, eventually making his own decision. 

LBB> When and where did the shoot take place and how long did it take place? What were the interesting challenges of the project from a production point of view?

Megumi> Summer scenes were shot over two days in August 2017. Shooting started in full swing from mid-December for the on-location shoot and the studio shoot was from this past January for about two weeks, then we went back to location shooting. In total, 40 days. Most of the on-location scenes were filmed around Adachi ward, downtown Tokyo, where the story takes place.

The first big challenge was the way we had to combine the set shoot and location shoot. We had to shoot a one-year story within the limitations of our budget and the limited hours a child cast member is allowed to work. This led us to the decision to duplicate some of the set both in the actual house on location and inside the studio. This was challenging, because we had to make exactly the same set in two different places, and that requires very careful editing. In the end everything succeeded and also fulfilled Kore-eda-san’s wishes.

The second big challenge was shooting on a snowy day. On one of our shooting days, Tokyo was going to be hit with the heaviest snow in four years. The script originally had a scene where Osamu says to Shota "I wish it would snow." The whole crew was trying to figure out how we could still shoot this in our location with the impending snow expected. When Kore-eda-san knew about the expected snowfall, he began to change the scene setting and lines. This resulted in the scene of Osamu and Shota making a snowman. The shooting was seamless as if the scene was set in the snow from the beginning and I felt really proud that we were able to capture this unforgettable moment in the film. It became one of my favorites.

LBB> How did you feel when you heard that the film had won the Palme d'Or? Were you in Cannes to celebrate? 

Megumi> AOI Pro.’s main staff who were involved in the production were all there at the ceremony. Amazement and exaltation overwhelmed me, it was like seeing a dream come true right in front of me. We had a brief conversation with Kore-eda-san and hugged each other after the awards ceremony, as he had interviews right after. Cast members and a few of the other staff had already returned back to Japan after the initial screening, so those who were still there celebrated peacefully after midnight, after the closing ceremony and distributor’s party.

LBB> Our readers may know AOI Pro. for its commercial work, but how often does it produce features? Does it produce many features in a year or only occasional feature films?

Megumi> Currently we have three upcoming feature films coming out in 2019, two in 2018 and in 2017 we had four. 

Akihiko> We produce a wide variety of entertainment content, from extremely artistic work like Shoplifters to entertaining work aimed at teenagers. 

LBB> And what does the award mean for AOI Pro. and for Japanese cinema?

Akihiko> This award is the first ever achievement of its kind in AOI Pro.’s history. We cannot even begin to imagine the immense impact that this will have on our commercial film production business. We feel that this special opportunity will give us the chance to make an even greater leap forward. This is the first Palme d'Or in 21 years for Japanese cinema, and we are receiving broad attention, not only from the ad industry. 

Also the fact that AOI Pro. is a commercial film production is drawing attention. This award has great significance for all of us at AOI Pro., and from the numerous messages I received, I felt that this award is a hope for all people who are involved in Japanese cinema. 
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