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Interview with Sasaki Hiroshi, Creative Director of the Tokyo Olympics “Sneak Preview” at Rio

The closing ceremony at the Rio Olympics included an eight-minute performance offering a glimpse of the 2020 Tokyo Games. Prime Minister Abe appeared in the show dressed as the game character Mario, creating a buzz around the world. We sat down with Sasaki Hiroshi, the creative director of the show, to find out more about its intended message as well as his views on how the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games should be staged.

Sasaki Hiroshi

Sasaki HiroshiCreative director. Born in 1954. After graduating from Keiō University, entered the advertising agency Dentsu in 1977. Involved in many advertising campaigns and corporate branding projects as a copywriter and creative director. In 2003, established his own advertising agency, Shingata, which has handled advertisement campaigns for major Japanese firms including Toyota and SoftBank.

Astounding the World with Refined Wit

INTERVIEWER  Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s appearance as Mario got the most press, but the scenes in your preview show featuring Doraemon, Hello Kitty, Captain Tsubasa, and other made-in-Japan characters got a huge reaction worldwide. The aim seemed to be to convey some idea of what the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be like in 2020.

SASAKI  Our main goal was to build a sense of anticipation about Tokyo and, indeed, Japan as a whole. Many people around the world already have an image of Japan, to some extent. It is not some unknown country. So we didn’t see the need to explain more about kabuki, Kyoto, Tokyo Tower, and things like that. The important thing was to convey an unexpected, surprising message that would also make spectators happy that Tokyo had been chosen as the host city—that would make them not want to miss the chance to see the Tokyo Olympics first-hand.

I view the Tokyo Olympics as a global event that just happens to be held in Japan. I wasn’t interested in a message along the lines of “Tokyo is fantastic—be sure to attend the Games.” Rather, I wanted to present the feeling: “I’m glad Tokyo is the city hosting this global event.” If we had used the eight minutes to just tout one thing after another, it would have fallen flat. And that’s true in the world of commercials as well. I thought that the key was for people to come away from the sneak preview with an impression that Tokyo is a charming place and that we don’t have a run-of-the-mill view of sports. Positive impressions like that.

The first thing proposed by Shiina Ringo, our musical director, was to create a sharp-witted show. And this gave me the idea to present Tokyo as a city known for its wit and refined taste. We set about creating a show that would naturally create the impression that Tokyo is a cool place.

A behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into creating the handover presentation. (© Tokyo 2020)

Characters Create a Peaceful, Interesting Vibe

We wanted to spotlight the idea that the athletes will be front and center. Instead of featuring some traditional dance, we wanted to present images of athletes to communicate the importance of “peace” through sports. This is why we used augmented reality technology to superimpose images of Olympic events inside the stadium. Having game and anime characters like Mario and Doraemon participate with the Japanese athletes, passing along a red ball symbolizing the Japanese national flag as they made their way toward Rio, was another way of conveying the peaceful message of Team Japan. And this all culminated with the surprise appearance of Prime Minister Abe at the closing ceremony, dressed up as Mario.

The sneak preview for the London Olympics featured the soccer star David Beckham, and that of the Rio Games followed suit by showcasing the soccer legend Pele. But in the case of Tokyo, we did not really have the option of a sports superstar that everyone in the world would immediately recognize. In early discussions, the idea was raised of having Mario and Doraemon serve as our national representatives. And that decision to include lots of characters worked out well because it contributed to the image of Japan as a peaceful nation.

In other words, people could come away with an impression of Tokyo as a fun place, full of such characters, and a view of Japan as a playful land of peace. Having the characters and Japanese athletes take part in a relay race, using a giant red ball representing our flag, was very unique. And I think this added to the impression among viewers of Japan as an interesting country.

  • [2017.04.22]
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