At Colossal Pictures in the 1990s, I directed a new title sequence for the popular Japanese comedy variety show “とんねるずのみなさんのおかげでした” by the comedy duo TUNNELS. I’d watched the show years earlier, when attempting to learn the Japanese language while living in Japan in the 1980s. I barely attained the comprehension of a Tokyo pre-schooler, and rarely understood their gags, but it was fun to try. So this promised to be a interesting gig and I was excited to do it.
Producer PAUL GOLDEN & I met our client, director SHINYA NAKAJIMA, and it immediately appeared that the project would be impossible. Because his client wanted the spot to AIR on FUJI TV in under a month.. In the analog era, 2D animation was laborious. A quick schedule for a 60 seconds of animation at Colossal Pictures was 8 weeks. 6 weeks maybe, but anything less was impossible. Mr Nakajima asked what we’d normally have at the 3-4 week point. I showed pencil tests (from one of my earlier commercials) and Mr Nakajima said he liked that look. He’d simply air our TUNNELS pencil test until the colour was done, when swap in that final version. He made this decision himself on the spot. Such bold decisiveness was extremely rare dealing with agencies. I liked this client a LOT.
My first task was to design caricatures of the two stars, “Taka & Nori” (Takaaki Ishibashi & Noritake Kinashi). When I’d first encountered them, they’d reminded me of the “Pete & Dud” TV comedy partnership (Peter Cook & Dudley Moore) from the 1960s. Both duos had a small ‘cute’ guy who’d break character and giggle at witty adlibs from a tall dry guy. Both duos did broad pop culture spoofs (Pete & Dud’s “Superthunderstingcar” vs Taka & Nori’s “Kamen Norida”). I could follow Taka & Nori’s visually silly stuff better than their bantering. What little wordplay I could understand was often filthy (and reminiscent of Pete & Dud’s dirty alter egos “Derek & Clive”).
Our Japanese clients gave us remarkable freedom to get this title sequence done. I remember contacting Mr Nakajima in Tokyo to get his feedback on alternative ideas for the storyboard. He made it clear that he trusted me, and that no further back & forth was required. I’d never had such a vote of confidence from anyone I worked for (before or since). We got approval on my designs & storyboards remarkably quickly, and I got cracking on laying out the scenes and animating.
In a short piece of animation, the efforts of a few makes a huge difference, so I was very lucky to work with master cartoonist Dave Feiss. Funny drawings simply fly from his fingers. I’d been a fan of his work for years, and had recently worked over his animation on commercials (directed by others at Colossal Pictures). It was a sheer joy (and major schedule saver) to have his monster talent animating on this silly spot. With Steward Lee & Bosco Ng, I enjoyed cleaning up Dave’s animation (when not animating myself) then flew to Tokyo to deliver the pencil test. After some quick fiddling in post, it was on air:
The first deadline had been met, and the pressure was off somewhat. I had a few days with friends in Japan. Then caught a train to Kyoto, flying from Osaka to San Francisco to finish the spot.
When I‘d lived in Japan years prior, Taka & Nori’s partnership (known as “Tunnels” for reasons I never understood) was at peak popularity. Their shows got an astonishing third of the viewing audience. Taka & Nori’s comedy style (and Nakajima’s too) apparently didn’t involve much second guessing. They randomly chose their silly outfits for this spot from what was available in the Fuji TV wardrobe department. To ridiculous effect. I tried to channel that spirit in finishing the spot, always going with first choices.
I’d been interested for a while in combining PHOTOS with animation, and tried it here (the skies were color copies of photos). Having just turned in a black & white version, I went in the exact other direction for the final. Choosing colour combinations for maximum POP.
Mere weeks since being there, we flew to Tokyo to deliver the FINAL, and sit in on a post session. Mr Nakajima and his entourage seemed very happy with the spot. However, we discussed that the pencil test might have been cool enough, with a few simple tweaks. I agreed (I’ve always loved pencil tests).
The final cartoon was maybe TOO much of everything at the same time, but it was the closest thing to improv I ever did. Animation tends to be an endless discussion until the money runs out (in America at least) so I’m fond of this kooky nonsensical spot where nothing was discussed at all:
After the delivery, I had a side trip to Kanazawa, a city that I’d always wanted to see. I enjoyed the city a great deal, and returned years later for a homestay language course. Having learned on this project that my already creaky Japanese had rusted from years of disuse.