by Karuna Shinsho
Iku Mohamed, President of Japan Digital Entertainment, Inc., talks about the worldwide appeal of his successful animation BuBu ChaCha.
It's a seemingly simple story. A three-year-old boy's pet dog dies, but returns in the form of a car to embark on a journey of countless adventures with his former owner. But this story, the foundation of an animation series, has captivated, not only audiences in Japan, but fans from around the world.
BuBu ChaCha is the brainchild of Iku Mohamed, who prefers being called Iku. Born and raised in Japan by Pakistani parents, 38-year-old Iku, who is fluent in Japanese and Enslish and conversant in Urdu, seemed on track to follow in his father's footsteps and join the trading business. After graduating from the Marist Brothers International School in Kobe, Iku went onto Sophia University in Tokyo for his undergraduate degree in Economics. After a stint at his father's trading firm, Meiyo Boeki Shokai, Iku worked as a financial analyst and then a consultant helping international companies set up shop in Japan. He then joined Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan and helped him acquire Japanese content for broadcast in Asia.
But it wasn't long before the entreprenurial bug hit and Iku decided to strike out on his own, understandably with some trepidation. "I had absolutely no experience in anything creative. So I was unsure about what I would do if I started my own company; I worried about having no work, no revenue, and no idea how I should do what I wanted to do."
Yet he was inspired enough by the hugely successful Japanese animation Mononokehime to start working on what he calls "a little idea." "I wanted to send out a message to children about love; love between family and friends, with animals, with the environment... Then I saw Princess Mononoke in the theater. The opening sequence was simply breathtaking. It looked so real. I watched the movie like a child. As I began to understand what Miyazaki sensei was trying to convey, it just hit me. I said to myself, 'I wonder if people around the world needed more love and to return to the basics of life.' But I am now sure they do, now more than ever before. I then decided to risk everything I had on something totally unknown to me."
Being relatively new to the creative side of the animation bsuiness, Iku teamed up with established animation director Amino Tetsurou. Of his decision to approach Amino, Iku says that "You know when you see water in a big pond and the water is so still you can't tell if there is any water in it? That's the kind of heart he had. I thought I wanted to throw my ideas at him and it clicked between us immediately. He had been making many robot animations and he was in the mood of making something nice for children."
Armed with his story idea, Iku gathered a team of four hundred people, including writers, directors, and character designers, to create BuBu ChaCha for the television screen. He opted for the traditional route of using celluloid and applying ink and paint by hand over computer graphics and favored orchrestral music over the commonly used synthesizer, reportedly for a "warmer" effect.
Then, in 1999, Iku clinched a deal with Japan's national broadcaster, NHK, to air BuBu ChaCha on one of its satellite channels. "This is a very simple strategy I took. I am not a genius. I cannot sit down and churn out creation after creation. So how do I protect the very few, maybe the one and only creation? I went to NHK so that I could negotiate not giving up the copyright, while retaining creative freedom... I didn't go to other private stations because BuBu ChaCha was completely unknown. Most Japanese animations are based on best-selling comics. BuBu ChaCha was zero from day one. I knew ad agencies would not be able to get sponsors. And even if they did, they may withdraw after a few episodes. NHK does not rely on advertisement so NHK was the best place to be on."
After garnering top ratings at NHK, BuBu ChaCha then became the first Japanese animation to be licensed by Disney Channel Asia. Since then, the 52 half-hour episodes of BuBu ChaCha have been broadcast in over 25 countries around the world, including South Korea, China, Indonesia, Italy, the U.K., and even his parents' homeland Pakistan. But despite his success, Iku remains grounded in his original mission. "I did not make BuBu ChaCha in order to make animation. I wanted to make something very decent for pre-school kids. And I chose animation as the best medium to convey the various messages I had to children."
Iku's messages are positive ones, also reflective of his own positive upbringing in Japan as a so-called foreigner. "Growing up in Japan was a lot of fun. People had complained about discrimination, but I nver experienced any. I mean, other kids pointing a finger at you occasionally and saying 'Ah! Gaijin!' I didn't consider that to be discrimination. It was an opportunity to start up a conversation and get a new group of kids to play baseball with."
Even his reason to become a Japanese citizen several years ago is an example of his positive attitude toward his adopted country. "I wanted to produce BuBu ChaCha as a Japanese. Japan has treated me very well. It has given me a safe and honest environment to live in, for education, friends, and especially a wonderful wife. My wife is Japanese. So it was my way of saying thank you to Japan by being Japanese and making a Japanese animation for kids."
It's something that now strikes closer to home as Iku is currently busy being a first-time dad to his 8-month-old daughter. That's on top of overseeing BuBu ChaCha's expanding worldwide business, several consulting jobs, upcoming art film projects, and work on a book about Malaysia's former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. But despite his passion for his newfound entreprenurial spirit, Iku still marvels at the "basics of life." "THE best moment of my life is when I take a walk holding my daughter in one arm and holding my wife's hand with the other hand on a quiet and sunny Sunday morning."
Chanpon Q & A
How has your chanpon background helped you?
I would say in every way possible. One learns to look at everything from various angles and that helps.
How has your chanpon background hurt you?
It hasn't hurt at all. I must say I am a lucky man.
What makes you feel Japanese? What makes you not feel Japanese?
I describe myself to others as follows: "Western mentality with an Asian discipline!"
What do you miss about Japan when you're away?
Nothing. Believe me, not even the food. I could go without a single bite of Japanese food for months.
What do you miss about overseas when you're in Japan?
Again, nothing. When I am in a particular country, I want to enjoy the culture, traditions, food, people, etc. of that country only, and in as much depth as possible.
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Posted by Karuna Shinsho at 2003年11月15日 05:02