With his work on commercials like KDDI’s au Santaro series, Try Group Tutors, and Hino Motors, Shinji Hamasaki is likely Japan’s busiest commercial director. Commercial planners come up with projects, directors refine, and ultimately film them using the techniques of major film directors.
Hamasaki got his start in the business after being shocked by watching a commercial for Suntory BOSS. At the age of twenty-six, he started working in the planning and directing department of a major production company, but as a new director with no credits to his name, no work came his way. As a result, he decided to make a commercial for his family’s soy sauce shop.
“I wanted to win an award to get people’s attention, but I was paying for this out of my own pocket, which meant filming the commercial without spending any money. I thought of a way to film just on one tabletop,” says Hamasaki.
His comical commercial of a fish being served live with soy sauce won an award at the 2005 ACC CM Festival. As requests started to come, Hamasaki met Makoto Shinohara, a commercial planner for Dentsu. They then began collaborating on projects for companies like Pilot and Try Home Tutors before finally starting the Santaro series for au.
“The relationship that I have with Mr Shinohara allows us to talk about anything. We come up with the characters in our commercials while chatting. To give you an example, one of us will say, ‘Momotaro had a strong sense of justice, but is there anyone like that now?’ ‘There isn’t. But who needs a sense of justice anyway?’ Or, ‘Urashimataro was a fisherman, so he was out in the sun every day. Does that make him like a surfer?’ ‘Long hair and flashy? That makes him kind of stupid, right?’ That’s how our conversations usually go.”
The Santaro commercials, which are Hamasaki’s most important projects and are loved by men and women of all ages, were conceived in this way. As a director, Hamasaki says he was influenced by Nakajima Tatsuya, who directed Sapporo Black Label’s “Hot Spring Ping Pong”, and Yamauchi Genji, the director of Soft Bank’s “Shirato Family”. He has a brilliant ability to show how amusing conversation can be.
“I’m pretty loose, so I let the actors perform freely at first, then I make modifications by saying something like, ‘That was good. This time how about trying it like this?’ I actively pursue humor, especially in the Santoro commercials which have a friendly feeling, so I keep the shooting location loose and utilize ad lib dialogue.”
One factor in bringing about this humor is his exquisite sense of spacing in his commercials.
“I prefer to think of each of my commercials as first time projects so that the performers can relax. Nothing good comes from a nervous director. If I’m tense and give direction, the performers square off with me.”
The way Hamasaki draws out the best of his staff is smooth like a pickpocket snatching a wallet. That is why he can continue filming commercials that are loved by everyone just like his first time at bat.
Words: Takahiro Tomari
- Shinji Hamasaki, Commercial Director
Born in Tottori Prefecture in 1976, Hamasaki began working as a director at TYO in 2002. In 2013, he became affiliated with TYO’s Wonder Club. His work primarily includes commercials, such as the “Santaro” series for KDDI au, “OBAKA’S UNIVERSITY” for Nissin Cup Noodle, “TOYOTOWN” for Toyota Motor Corporation, “The Wife” series for Neo First Insurance, and “Hari Kore” for Tokuhon.