Last year, I attended the Lexus Short Films world premiere at the DGA Theater in Los Angeles. Produced by The Weinstein Company, it was a showcase of young and upcoming filmmakers asked to create a story around the theme “Life is Amazing”.
Two of the five produced films were shown at the premiere, and while I enjoyed both Swimming in Air & Beyond Memories, I left the theater searching for a deeper meaning — what did this project mean for Lexus enthusiasts?
Last week, I travelled to Tokyo for the world premiere of the second annual Lexus Short Films, where I was determined to solve the puzzle.
The venue in Tokyo is the Shibuya Hikarie, a huge skyscraper with a movie theater on the 11th floor — you can see the venue from the outside, it’s the massive glass box in the center:
Debuting as part of the Short Shorts Film Festival opening ceremony, there are two films in the 2014 series, rather than five films like last year.
As to be expected, the entire ceremony is in Japanese — in lieu of a translator, Lexus International general manager of branding, Atsushi Takada, provides me with a running commentary of the proceedings (for which I am eternally grateful).
The Short Shorts Film Festival is now in its sixteenth year, and approximately 200 films will be shown over the next two weeks in theaters across Tokyo. It’s obviously a big deal, with Japanese heartthrobs and Cat Samurai mascots and celebrities even I recognize.
Eventually, it comes time — Lexus International vice-president Mark Templin & Weinstein COO David Glasser appear on stage, accompanied by the two film directors.
Once the Short Films project is explained to the audience and each director gives a little speech, the lights dim and the two short films begin.
The first film is Market Hours, written and directed by Jon Goldman. It tells of a security guard at the Sixth Street Market in Los Angles who’s lost in his own thoughts, in love with one of the vendors, and on the verge of losing his job.
The RC F SPORT makes an appearance late in the film, bright and white and very noticeable:
Operation Barn Owl
The second film is Operation Barn Owl, directed by Satuski Okawa and co-written by Ken Ochiai. The story is tough to describe without giving too much away — essentially, a woman in love with her best friend must help with his marriage proposal to another woman.
Overall, the film has a whimsical air — it’s quirky, musical, surprising in its conclusion, and really quite enjoyable. Like the first film, a Lexus makes an appearance:
Watch both films and it’s obvious why the program was reduced from five to two films — the production quality has been improved, with more elaborate set pieces and slow-motion special effects, the stories are fuller and more developed.
“By making two films instead of five, we can invest more in the each film,” Mark Templin tells me later. “It’s like everything else we do at Lexus. We’re not about quantity, we’re about quality.”
Following the film premiere, there’s an after-party at INTERSECT with most of the Japanese personalities from the opening ceremony and everyone who was involved with the two Lexus Short Films.
Mixing corporate business and creative endeavors can be an awkward marriage, but both directors assure me that the Lexus vehicles in their films were entirely optional.
David Glasser, chief operating officer of the Weinstein Company, is crystal clear, “We’re not making a Lexus commercial. Lexus wanted the filmmakers to have a vision, and to do what they want to do.”
Next for the films are premieres in New York & Los Angeles, followed by a tour of approximately 70 film festivals around the world. The films will be released digitally in October.
(The Lexus Short Films series has been recently endorsed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science, and mentors like actress Katie Holmes and director Phillip Noyce will be on hand to help the young filmmakers make the most of their opportunity.)
The next day, I’m back on a plane home, my whirlwind trip complete and the puzzle solved.
Despite the name, Lexus Short Films are not exclusively for people with an existing interest in the brand. These short films are meant for a wider audience, for all types of people.
Admittedly, it was a nice touch involving Lexus vehicles in the films this year, but it’s beside the point. These films are meant to be enjoyed on their own, independent of title sponsor.
What does the Lexus Short Film series mean to Lexus enthusiasts? It’s a statement by Lexus, and a tangible example of their commitment to bringing new emotion to the brand.
The filmmakers involved are young and talented, and are so thankful for the opportunity — writing and directing a big-budget short film at the beginning of their careers is a remarkable achievement, and they should be proud of the result. And so should Lexus.
(My special thanks to Lexus International for arranging my trip to Japan, particularly John Thompson & Tadashi Sakamoto. I would also like to thank Mark Templin & David Glasser for taking time to talk with me.)