Shooting a Corporate Video in Japan: An Observation From This Week’s Adventure

One of the prominent facts we learned this week from a Tokyo-based associate prior to beginning videotaping a business here for a US-based client is that most corporate CEOs in Japan don’t earn much more than about a half million dollars a year. Their cultural idea of success is defined not by the amount of personal wealth they earn from their jobs, he told us, but rather by the health of the companies they run and the employees who staff them. They often use the word “vulture” to describe their suspiciousness of American conglomerates that move in for acquisition purposes; many Japanese companies have experienced the accumulation of individual wealth that frequently drives US businesses.  Our friend’s summary was a reinforcement of a Japanese movie I watched on the 14-hour plane ride here from New York. Called “The Vulture,” it depicted an attempted hostile takeover of a major-sized but economically suffering fictional Japanese car company by a hedge fund financed by the Chinese government masked by a trail of international bank accounts. The desperate car company brings in “The Vulture” to devise a strategy to save them, and he uses his knowledge of American business to trigger the implosion of a huge fund in a major US financial institution a la Lehman Brothers. Sensing the opportunity, the Chinese hedge fund withdraws its offer in Japan and moves into the choking US company instead.

The information is helpful to me in formulating my interview questions. Already developed and shared with the folks on the ground in Tokyo prior to our departure from the US, I was relieved that I had mentioned that the list was meant as a guide for the preparation and that I would certainly veer off its course.  Only a few hours in the country, the reformulation was already taking place – not so much on the subject of the questions, but on the vocabulary I would embrace and the tenor of the inquiry, clear that it would need to reflect my new understanding. I would ensure the interviewees emphasized indirectly but significantly the respect of the Japanese business culture that our client showed in an array of decisions.

And that was just one issue. The more I asked, the more I learned. I am much more interested in asking about others than talking about myself, so my experiences are ripe with unlimited discoveries, all of which shape the way my video producing skills kick in to  tackle any given topic. These on-the-ground, real life encounters become my creative drawing board to which I can give video storytelling color after I see, hear, and touch snippets of their realities.

As I keep serving my endless array of questions to our associate, Curt has rolled down the car’s back seat window and stuck the video camera’s lens outside. Interrupting the Q&A session with the spontaneous observations of a great photographer, the rolling tape captures the visions in Curt’s eyes, replete with angles and surroundings that give them more context than a few verbal outbursts.

“Did you get what we need?” asks the client after the videotaping is done. He had not made the trek with us, confident that we could successfully complete the task. My simple “yes” does not describe the level of depth we have actually recorded. Nor does it express the degree of appreciation we feel for the new knowledge we have gained, which has entered the mix of influences affecting our constantly changing global and individual perceptions that give form to the forever-next project we will be fortunate enough to begin.

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