Tales Of The Industry Oyaji-san Leaves A Gift
by Justin Sevakis,
Welcome to “Tales of the Industry,” a column where we will share stories from real working professionals in the anime business. This week, we have another anonymous tale contributed by a current or former members of the industry, with details changed/removed to protect certain people.
Are you a current or former member of the anime business or convention staff? Do you have a story you've been dying to tell, but just can't tell it the normal way? Get in touch with Justin Sevakis through any social media you like. His Twitter account is @WorldOfCrap, if you aren't acquainted.
The large anime conventions like Anime Expo or Otakon are huge events for anime publishers like us, and for obvious reasons. We have huge booths to construct and run, stuff to sell, autographs sessions to put on, events to coordinate, and guests to wrangle. Every year, these major shows are, without exception, all-hands-on-deck, you-will-forfeit-all-sleep-for-a-week sorts of events. This is immediately apparent to anyone who's been around the scene long enough.
But there's yet another task that's somewhat less visible that occurs on those weekends,, and it's a big one for us industry types: when Japanese guests arrive, their time in the States is valuable. It's a perfect time to descend on them in a hotel suite with a camera crew, and shoot some interview footage, for later use as DVD extras, or other promotional material. Most anime staffers that come over as guests, be they producers, directors, voice actors or whatever else, are extremely nice, and are happy to do what they can to help market their shows in America. But every once in a blue moon, you get a special one, a guest that completely throws you. When that happens, you can only roll with the punches.
We were releasing a hotly anticipated new show, and were in the middle of a huge pre-release promotional blitz for it. We asked the licensors who was available to attend Anime Expo that year, and no voice actors were available. “Can we get some of the key Japanese staff of the show?” we asked.
“Sure,” the licensor responded. “But you have to take one of the show's designers too.” Really? Another guest to promote the show, and for free? We didn't mind that one bit!
Things were going okay. We had a big premiere, we had cosplayers, and we put on a good show. Right after the premiere ended, the guests were to come to our hotel suite, where we had a camera crew ready to tape an interview. This interview was intended to be used as internet promotion, and the licensor also wanted it for… something, we weren't sure what.
The suite was all set up. We had chairs setup and properly lit, a full camera crew ready to go, waters and refreshments… it looked pretty nice, if I do say so myself. As part of the drill for shooting things, we had to turn off the air conditioner, because the noise it makes would ruin the audio. It being summer in Southern California, the room started to heat up pretty quickly.
It must've been almost 80°F in there by the time the guests arrived at the suite, phalanxed by a large team of handlers from the TV network, the licensor and animation studio. Despite the weather, the designer (let's call him Oyaji-san) was bundled up in a coat, hat, scarf, and fuzzy gloves. He immediately asked us if he could drink hot coffee.
I was confused. I turned to his handler, since I didn't speak Japanese. “Is he… cold?”
“No. He's been complaining non-stop how hot it is,” the handler replied.
“Did… someone want to tell him to, you know, take off the layers?” I said, asking the obvious.
“We don't TELL him anything,” said the handler, looking politely ready to commit murder.
The production assistants were scrambling around, and realized that the room had no coffee maker, and called down to room service. “Hotto kouhii nomitai,” said the strange man.
A co-worker of mine who had been overseeing the premiere came up to me and smiled huge. “I see you've met my friend,” she chirped.
“The Eskimo over there?” I asked.
“Did you know that in addition to being obsessed with model kits, he's a huge Japanese right-winger, who considers Japanese culture to be superior to all others? You should've heard the comments he was making downstairs!” I peered over my shoulder at him. He was an older dude, in his 50s or 60s, and I wondered if he was one of those extreme right-wing Japanese nationalists I'd heard about, the kind that drive down city streets with bullhorns telling people to dress more Japanese, and that they should've won the war.
The licensor contact came up to me and reported, “they want you to go on camera before them, and make an introduction.”
“Uh, sure, I can do an intro,” I said, trying to keep things moving along.
Our video director made a face. “That's an entirely different setup. We're going to have to reposition the camera and all the lights.”
“We have to do what they want. Just see what you can manage that doesn't screw with your setup too much, okay?” I pleaded.
While the crew scrambled to reposition the lights and camera, the designer wandered over to the adjacent room of the suite, which we were using for storage, and was actually where I was planning on spending the night. He promptly went into the bathroom and closed the door. Mentally, I sighed, “ugh, he's in our BATHROOM.”
And then we heard many… musical noises coming from said bathroom. I mentally reiterated my sigh: “Ugh, he's REALLY in our bathroom.” He re-emerged just as the video director called me over. “We're ready for your introduction now!”
I started mentally recounting everything I know about the show. My marketing cohort informed me that I was looking too shiny for the camera, and needed a little bit of make-up before I went on, so as to not look like a giant greaseball. Forgetting what had transpired moments before, we walked over to the bathroom.
I can only describe the sensation of walking into that bathroom as being whacked with a baseball bat made of rotting corpses. The natural reaction would be to immediately run from the room. However, the licensor followed us in. We now were not only trapped in that horrible, fetid restroom, but we had to be in “polite mode.”
The licensor wanted to go over my introduction and otherwise make sure I knew what I was talking about when I introduced them. Her questions were strange: she was grilling me on the show, its storyline, its characters, but once I answered each question correctly and to her satisfaction, she said I couldn't talk about that in the introduction. Somehow she managed to get out entire sentences without dry-heaving, or her eyes watering up. In fact, in a stunning display of stoicism, she didn't bat an eye. I struggled to answer her questions while every cell of my brain was screaming with fight-or-flight endorphins. While all of this was happening, my co-worker was putting make-up on my face.
About thirty seconds into the discussion, the thought occurred to me that the smell was not, in fact, dissipating. I glanced at my co-worker, her eyes wide with the dawning realization that Oyaji-san DID NOT FLUSH. If I were to guess, it seemed like the licensor knew it too, but circumstances mandated that we keep quiet. After the she left, my marketing co-worker quickly tapped the toilet flush handle with her foot, and we both started cry/laughing at the sheer weirdness of everything that had just transpired in the past five minutes. I will always remember this as one of the most surreal moments of my life.
I taped the introduction in one take. It went fine. The crew set back up for the interview, and the guests took their seats. Things seemed to be going better. The taping began, and it being conducted entirely in Japanese, I had no idea what's going on.
The designer was in the middle of talking about… something, when one of the lead Japanese guys with our licensors standing off to the side suddenly jumped out and started screaming and yelling at him. In the middle of the taping! It was all in Japanese, so my co-worker turned to the licensor and asked, “is everything all right?”
The licensor, clearly downplaying what just happened, responded, “he said something he shouldn't have about a future project.” And she left it at that. I looked back over at the guy in the suit, who was still screaming. Except he was switching to broken English at this point. I was making out phrases like, “interview is over,” and “asshole.” Perhaps that was for our benefit. I have never seen an interview go like this, before or since.
Finally, the guy in the suit calmed down and resumed his quiet, leering stance from the side of the room. The designer glared back at him, almost as if to say, “come at me, bro.” He clearly placed as little importance on what the guy was screaming about as he did dressing appropriately for the weather.
We finally finish taping the interview and usher them out of the room to do an autograph panel. As they left, we all stared at each other in awe. We'd never seen someone associated with a Japanese licensor completely lose it in front of us like that before. They're usually always the coolest heads in the room.
The rest of the day I was getting stories about how Oyaji-san had decided to hold up the autograph line in spectacular fashion, because he wanted to draw something on every individual person's item. Of course, all the fans wanted a sketch, but there were way too many people in line to accommodate them. The handler politely leaned over and said, “uh, excuse me, but there's a long line. Could you please not draw?” to which Oyaji-san replied in Japanese, “shut up, you American dog.”
After that, the team was ushered back to our booth for a photo-op, but Oyaji-san kept holding up the caravan to stop at every booth that had model kits and shop. My marketing co-worker mentioned to one of the Japanese licensors that he was dragging behind and might get lost on the way over to our booth. They simply reply, “Good.” By the time they got to our booth, the entire staff looked like they wanted to shoot him. And at the AX closing ceremonies, he shot his mouth off about a big new upcoming project that hadn't even been announced in Japan yet. The same guy who was yelling at him during the interview sat in the audience, quietly fuming.
I can't know why this guy, who nobody even wanted at this convention, was forced upon us, but clearly nobody could stand him. Perhaps he had a photo of some company president in bed with a Rottweiler or something. I can't remember the last time we were so happy to see a guest leave. Most of the time, we wish they would stay longer. This was not one of those times.
There was one remaining complication: we still didn't know if we could use that interview for anything! We'd sent a copy of the raw footage to the licensor, and we waited for permission. The deadline to use it for internet promo passed. And then, the DVD release deadline came and went. We never heard back, and never got permission to use it.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the expressing party and do not necessarily reflect those of Anime News Network, it's staff, or it's owners. While Anime News Network will never knowingly publish a false or inaccurate story, please remember that there are two (or more) sides to every story.
If you are a current or former anime industry professional and have a story to share (we can keep everyone anonymous), get in touch with Justin Sevakis via social media.
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