Call it a creative supergroup if you like, but please don’t call it an agency.
Separately, and in various combinations, Naoki Ito, Masashi Kawamura, Morihiro Harano, Qanta Shimizu, and Hiroki Nakamura have produced an impressive array of distinctive and critically acclaimed work. Earlier this month, the five stars announced they were leaving their respective jobs at ad shops in Tokyo and the U.S. to launch Party, a Tokyo- and New York-based creative company that they prefer not to call an agency.
The partners say they want to make Party a creative lab, and do work that marries entertainment, product development, technology, and advertising. They'll work with brands, and on entertainment and self-driven projects across platforms and borders.
Kawamura comes from Wieden+Kennedy New York, and BBH, but is equally well known for his own projects, including the award-winning "Hibi No Neiro" video for the Japanese band Sour. Shimizu was a technical director at Tokyo digital shop IMG SRC, and recently worked with Kawamura on a more recent, interactive video for Sour called "Mirror."
Ito was creative director at Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo, where, among many other things, he masterminded the "Music Shoe" project for Nike. Harano was cofounder of Japanese agency Drill, and responsible for the Gold Lion-winning "Xylophone" for NTT DoCoMo. Hiroki Nakamura was a digital creative at Dentsu, working on lauded campaigns for Uniqlo.
They all became acquainted through their work and had long entertained the idea of pooling their talents. Life schedules eventually aligned and they decided to make the leap, launching their new venture during a fraught time: the aftermath of the March disaster in Japan.
"We thought it was a miracle that we were all able to finally come together," says Masa. "So we looked at the tragedy as an opportunity for something good—to reboot the creative culture of Japan."
Key to the Party approach is a small, agile structure and bringing together creative and technology in a more seamless way. The essential creative unit at the shop will be the creative director/tech director team, and, similarly, creative and strategy will also be united.
While many agencies have tried to bring these disciplines together, with varying degrees of success, Party may have an advantage in that its creatives are already hybrids. Kawamura, for example, started out as a coder before working as a creative; Harano is a strategist with a strong design background.
"A lot of places are trying to make this happen... but instead of trying to help it happen within that system we wanted to get together and make it happen ourselves," says Kawamura.
Party will be based in Tokyo and New York. The Tokyo office is nearly completed, the New York office will follow. The partners plan to revolve between the locations and they will also bring in local talent to work in, and between both markets. They are interested in bringing the Japanese sensibility, so manifest in their previous work, to Party’s output.
"Japan has traditionally been very closed," says Kawamura. "There are lots of skilled people there, but not many ways to expose them to outside markets. It's such an established market that people always felt that they could just work there on local projects. I thought that was leaving Japan out in the cold to an extent. We want to make this a hub between eastern and western worlds."
In addition to a few music video projects currently in progress, so far the shop is working with Toyota and a large Japanese telecom and electronics company. The partners also plan to develop joint ventures as well as their own IP.
Here, Masashi Kawamura talks about the new creative team, the marriage of tech and creativity, and Party’s plan to draw Japanese creatives out of their traditionally insular world.
Below, some highlights from the careers of the five Party partners.
While at Wieden Tokyo, Naoko Ito created this award-winner, in which Japanese DJ Hifana uses Nike Free shoes to play music.
Ito was also a creative on this unusually touching condom ad.
Kawamura created this video for his friends’ band Sour as a side project, but the labor of love earned the agency creative much industry recognition.
Kawamura and Shimizu teamed on the interactive follow-up, "Mirror."
Nakamura created several of Uniqlo’s countless award-winning campaigns including "Lucky Machine."