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Posted by Dave Bull on November 14, 2013 [Permalink]

The other day in my 'A Story A Week' series, I wrote that I would be making a kind of 'proposal' to a young lady ... well, don't panic! The title of this blog post is not related to that particular venture ... (she's visiting here from tomorrow, so that rejection may come over the weekend, we'll see. :-)

Here at Mokuhankan we now have quite a number of projects running side-by-side. The new Portraits series is well into production, and we already have more than enough subscribers to ensure a full year's production, so that will keep our staff busy right through until late autumn of next year.

The main Ukiyoe Heroes project is still with us too. Even though the Kickstarter fullfillment is now complete, there is a steady stream of orders for the 'back number' prints coming in, and we have arranged with Jed to have him supply a new image every two months over at least another year. That will keep me as a carver busy, but won't have much impact on our printers here as most of the Heroes prints will be done for us by our 'gang' of three outside professional printers.

In addition to this, we are shipping a 'slow but steady' stream of other items - back numbers of the Chibi Heroes prints, our Gift Prints, and one-off items from our standard catalogue.

But although our plates are quite full, we can't just 'sit there'. It's my job to make sure that we not only continue to have a steady supply of work for these people, but that we try and 'grow' this place, bit by bit. I intensely dislike the idea of growth for growth's sake, but the Mokuhankan venture is still a 'child'; we can't possibly ever get to a point where this business is stable unless we expand it to a wider base - to involve more designers, more craftsmen, and a wider base of collectors.

So I have been thinking about how to push this thing forward. If Kawasaki-san the young carver does agree to join us, we then have some 'open' carving time available. It's time to think of how to fill it!

Well, what about something like this?

We're well-established in the video game world now, why not move on to the anime world? And in truth, we have received frequent requests for exactly this type of print all during the past year.

We could perhaps create a 'Studio Ghibli' series - prints of a similar type to our Heroes prints in size and complexity. To make it clear - I don't mean that we should parody these images in the manner of our Ukiyoe Heroes; I would simply like to use the Ghibli characters and scenes to make beautiful prints. If we were to lay out (say) a set of 6 designs, to be produced one every two months for a year, and then arrange licensing with the Ghibli people, we could set up a Kickstarter project for a series like this that 'just might' have a chance at being successful, don't you think?

Well, I certainly think so, so yesterday I took a few hours off from my carving, looked up their address, and went over to knock on Ghibli's door to talk to their licensing division. Their studio complex is only about an hour from here ...

Now you can already tell from the title of this post how it turned out!

They are extremely secretive. It was difficult to find the front door, and when I did locate it, found that it was plastered with signs in both English and Japanese instructing everybody to keep out ("no visitors, no tours, no nothing ...") But it was unlocked, so I went in.

The girl at the first desk wanted nothing to do with me, but she got on the phone and called down somebody else. This young lady was also very clear, right from the first sentence. I had barely begun to state my request when she shook her head, and said clearly - very unusual for Japan - no.

I tried to explain my proposal a bit further, but didn't make any headway. She was friendly, but adamant; Ghibli doesn't licence their products, not to me, not to anybody. The character goods I see out on the market here in Japan are all produced by them directly. They don't licence. They didn't even licence to Disney when that company made a movie distribution deal with them. No. Sorry. No.

But I wasn't ready to give up that easily; after all, our project could be a bit 'special' for them! Surely if I were only able to make a short presentation to some of the people 'upstairs' I might convince them of the wonderful synergy we could bring to their brand, with our beautiful traditional prints ... etc. and etc.

No. Sorry. No.

I am perhaps giving the wrong impression; the young lady was wonderful to talk to. She was open and friendly, and we actually had a good laugh together as I tried everything I could think of to get past her. I even joked about going outside and then climbing in through one of the windows. But she wouldn't budge even a smidgeon; she said that no matter what 'window' I chose, it would be her who waited inside, bat in hand.

Finally, in order to get rid of me, she broke down and agreed to take my name card, saying that she would say a few words about my proposal to one of the product managers. She and I both recognized that this was said as a face-saving gesture for me, and that this was the point where I should retire gracefully.

So I did. Not much else to do really, other than make an unpleasant nuisance of myself, so I left, and trundled sadly home on the train.

But I'm still not quite so willing to give up! This would make such a fantastic series! And it would go absolutely nuts on Kickstarter ... we would have enough work to keep us busy for years, and I think there would be enough 'guaranteed' revenue to let me think about starting to scout out potential locations for our - (very) far in the future - workshop/shop/gallery somewhere downtown. That cat bus could be our meal ticket! With anime designs like this on board - in addition to the popular video game designs we get from Jed - we would be unstoppable!

But what to do? She clearly, and firmly, and unequivocally said 'no'.

I can think of a few ways forward:

  • prepare a written proposal - including some beautiful prints - and try and get it into Mr. Miyazaki's hands directly. Surely, if we could bring him to see what a wonderful project this could be, he would direct his staff to go along ... But I have no idea how to get such access; it is this lady and her compatriots who are his 'gatekeepers'.
  • start a web campaign to convince them that this should be done. Maybe I should register ghiblisayyes.com and get all our fans to send in their comments, etc. on this proposal. I could then print a giant stack of them - like a petition - and take it back to her. (I wouldn't want to start mail bombing the Ghibli people directly; that could get ugly, I think ...)
  • accept that they don't want to licence the products, but get their permission to go ahead anyway, with our agreement to pay (say) 10% of all receipts into a charity of their choice (perhaps something to do with their forest protection activities ...)
  • instead of getting properly licenced, do it the 'Jed' way with parodied images ... (I don't want to take that route with these images - we'd like, make a Dog Bus?)

Any other suggestions? Or should I just roll over ...

But I can't stop thinking about the prints! Think of this image from the Totoro film:

Can't you just see this done in shin-hanga style? Like the famous Yoshida 'Sacred Grove' design?

Please help me convince them!

[Update: OK, I've done it. You can register your input at http://ghiblisayyes.com! At this point, I'm not quite sure how I will use that input, but anyway ... I don't just want to give up, so let's see if we can find a way to make this happen! Thank you for your support!]




Added by: Anita Cage on November 14, 2013, 4:11 pm

Reading this, I anticipate much clamor around the world with everybody shouting, "Yes, please, we want this very much!"

Two big fans of Chibi Heroes are girls I know, ages 9 and 11. The Studio Ghibli prints would be exponentially more popular without a doubt.

Nothing like thinking big, Dave! This is a wonderful idea.

Added by: Dave on November 14, 2013, 4:15 pm

And speaking of little girls, we could of course also think of a 'Chibi Ghibli' series to go along with the larger images. I had some sketches for this also prepared in my backpack, but never got a chance to bring it up ...

Added by: Anita Cage on November 14, 2013, 4:33 pm

Oh, you'd have to do that. Very exciting.

Added by: Marc Kahn on November 14, 2013, 9:45 pm

It seems to me that you have 2 major selling points for approaching them: The 3-dimensionality of the mokuhanga art-form and the preservation of a Japanese cultural heritage.

To put your best foot forward, you need to perform a major stunt. Here is what I suggest:

- To show off the 3-dimensionality, design a Ghibli-inspired print making the absolute maximal use of embossing and white spaces standing up above the adjacent colored spaces.

- (You're going to hate this idea...) Make a limited edition of these prints, perhaps 50 copies, signed and numbered. Then destroy the keyblock.

- Prepare a DVD video of your pitch, stressing the ukiyo-e heritage, the slow death of your craft, and its current re-birth. Make sure to use variable lighting to show off and explain the 3-dimensionality.

- Put it all into a package (including the destroyed keyblock) and send it to Ms. Cold-Shoulder. If she opens the package, it will certainly catch her attention and it is absolutely certain that the big boss will get the print numbered "1/50" along with the ruined keyblock. You'll have his attention.

It seems to me that this would be your best shot.


Added by: Deirdre Morrison on November 15, 2013, 12:35 am

It would be great. I'll back it. Maybe you should get all the Totoro cosplay crowd to hand deliver your petition. :)

Added by: Jyh on November 15, 2013, 12:46 am

The website idea is a good start thought I'm not sure if it will give you the proper figures of support from something thats quite upfront like facebook can. That being said you can expand from petitions to organized mailing events in which people who support your cause personally send a letter to the folks at Ghibli themselves.

Added by: Guillaume on November 15, 2013, 1:30 am

What a fantastic idea this is, it certainly deserves being pursued further. I agree that your best chance would be to impress Mr. Miyazaki himself, who could cut through the studio's red tape if he were so inclined. Now that he has retired, it may be possible to reach him.

This is from his Wikipedia page:

"However, he plans on pursuing new goals, such as working on the Studio Ghibli museum, which he commented "I might even become an exhibit myself". Though it is unknown what other plans he has for the future."

It may be worth keeping an eye on the museum to see if he makes an appearance there, if only so you could hand him an envelope with your 'pitch'.

Also, anyone with a Twitter account should try to get the attention of Ghibli's social media people, it may be another way to get a foot in the door. I'll see if I can contribute on that front, pointing to GhibliSayYes.com.

I overheard your conversation with Jed yesterday on the webcam (not stalking you! Just very much enjoy watching the carving process) and I must say having him do a design of Mononoke-hime would be incredible, so I think this will be a win no matter what.

Good luck, and let us know if we can help somehow.

Added by: Marcos F. S. De Sousa on November 15, 2013, 2:53 am

Your work is unlike-wise please keep trying, I am sure the fans would go for it,

Why don't you try to make a video presentation and share in your channel, we the fans would share it till it get to them naturally - organically.

Please don't forget Brazil is the biggest japanese colony outside Japan.... we manage something over here.

Tamu junto!!!

Added by: Lemmy C. on November 15, 2013, 11:35 am

As a fan of your work, can I add my reservations about this project? I think Ghibli is already resonant with the style of ukiyo-e. Other projects in this series are interesting because they bridge the gulf between Tokugawa aesthetics and contemporary pop culture, but Ghibli has always been informed by the art history of Japan (have you seen Pompoko?)

So, I can understand that they might not really feel like there's a lot of value added by letting you rework their material in that style: they're already halfway there. Your work is more exciting when it takes material that seems unremittingly contemporary and brings them back to the Edo period.

Added by: Dave on November 15, 2013, 11:47 am

So, I can understand that they might not really feel like there's a lot of value added by letting you rework their material in that style

Aha! There is a misunderstanding here ... I have not made myself clear on what this project would be about.

I have no intention to 'rework' their characters. This is not meant to be part of the Ukiyoe Heroes concept at all. Simply I want to create attractive prints of their scenes, either taken straight from the films, or re-drawn (by them, for me) for this purpose.

Sorry for not making it more clear!

Added by: Dave on November 16, 2013, 7:56 am

A very interesting comment/criticism came in over on Jed's Facebook page:

Your prints are outstanding and to see them done with the Miyazaki characters - it would be amazing!
But as someone who researches/develops educational plans/proposals for cross-cultural communication (mostly centered around Japan), you guys went about this the wrooong way.
Just showing up, entering when clearly marked not to, not scheduling a meeting with the proper department/contacts, the pushy nature without establishing a business relationship first, etc. Check out some resources for cross-cultural communications for Japanese business/working culture.

Even if they give you the run around or make you jump through the bureaucratic loops, at least you can be pushy in the culturally appropriate way!

I replied:

"Thanks for the interesting comments. Not too many years back, Japanese business relations did indeed strictly follow the type of 'rule' and custom that you describe. Basically nothing was ever accomplished without the proper introductions. But things are different now, and it is a much more open and looser society. The young lady I spoke to was very comfortable with me, spoke excellent English during part of our conversation (she also mentioned having lived overseas), and dealt with me easily, rejecting me not because of my culturally inappropriate behaviour, but in accordance with their licensing policies.

My 'cold call' was certainly not the best way to go about things - I showed up at their office intending simply to ask for information on their procedures for applying for a licence. I expected to be given an information packet, and sent off to study it. I was actually surprised to find myself standing there in the entranceway making a 'presentation'!

Finding a 'connection' and getting a proper introduction is now going to be essential if we do want to carry this forward, absolutely!"

Added by: Karsten on November 17, 2013, 1:04 am

I wonder if this proposal could be strung up the other way:

Instead of saying "would you please permit us to make prints of your characters", you could argue that you can make what almost nobody else can these days: Original woodblock prints.

In a time where almost all the field is printing off old blocks, or duplicating blocks for old designs, you can create blocks for new designs, and work with the artists to create "made for woodblock" designs, so their characters can be part of this tradition.

Of course, changing from "will you permit us" to "we can sell you" may not make the "sell" any easier, particularly for a studio that must have seen all merchandise offers possible over the years...

Added by: George Jarvis on November 24, 2013, 5:21 pm

Rather than a licensing agreement, wounldn't an offer to be horishi/surishi for a Tottoro series with Miyazaki as the artist be an easier sell?

Added by: Dave on November 24, 2013, 5:31 pm

an offer to be horishi/surishi

Anything is on the table ... if we ever get the chance to talk to them about this stuff. And I tried to bring this up when she first poured cold water over me, suggesting that if they don't license, that they could be the publisher, and the prints could be placed in the shop at their (famous) museum. She wasn't interested ... But clearly, neither she nor the other people upstairs have any idea of the sort of product we could make for them; I'll need to get an introduction somehow, and try to wangle a chance to make a presentation to them, in which I can show them directly what we are doing/making ...


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