Walking Asakusa with Olivier Gondry

Former musician Olivier Gondry changed his career to being a film director due to his brother Michel Gondry‘s strong recommendation. Olivier has made it big through his co-directed music videos with Michel such as The Chemical Brothers “Star Guitar”. Last week, Olivier came to visit Japan for the first time for MTV‘s “CREATIVE TALK SESSION”. PingMag offered to be his guide for a day around Asakusa, the old eastern part of Tokyo. So, here are some photos from our sunny day together with stories from his work and his family.

Written by Chiemi
Photos by Maris Mezulis
With the kind cooperation of RESFEST

Here is a ryokan (Japanese style guest house), Sadachiyo in Asakusa full of Edo atmosphere.
… and Mr. Olivier Gondry on today’s guest list. Welcome to Japan!
Nice to meet you! …Shall we go?

Olivier Gondry, you are a French director based in LA, mainly working on commercials and music videos now, but when I read your biography, it said you were a musician before?

Yes, I played the trumpet between 18 and 30 or so. At one point, I almost became professional. (laugh)

Well, it’s lunch time… Let’s get some food at Daikokuya first, where the grannies are queuing up to get a table, which means… the taste can’t be bad!
Daikokuya’s Tendon (tenpura on rice) – deep-fried huge prawns in sesame oil.

Why did you change your career then?

I was doing special effects on the computer for videos. One day, Michel asked me to do some special effects for his stuff, though, so we started collaborating. 4 years ago, I did quite lot of work for the Chemical BrothersStar guitar” which Michel directed and he then decided to emphasize that this video was co-directed by both of us. That was the beginning of my new career. I never wanted to be a director, actually. That was simply a very strong push from him.

Kaminarimon is the gate of Sensouji. Have you seen this huge lantern before?

Why did he push you to be a director so much?

Because it’s a great life. (then, his wife Lilly said “No, that’s because he thought that you were talented.”) Yes, that is another reason, too. He discovered my talent and gave me lots of advice.

Nakamise-dori is full of little shops. It is very busy anytime…

You co-directed a few videos with him after that, but do you still work together these days?

We don’t any more – and he is a bit upset about it actually… I now work as an independent film director for commercials and music videos. I’m supposed to shoot a commercial starring Michel soon. So this time, I will be the director and he will be the guy on the screen. I’m a little bit nervous about it, actually but I am pretty sure it will be a good one.

Let’s try Omikuji (written fortune)! Shake that cylinder, then a stick with some number will come out…
…then take a sheet from the drawer with the number you just got… and how did your fortune turn out to be?

By the way, I realized that many of your videos make an interesting use of cameras, for example OK GO’s “Do What You Want”. Is that a speciality of yours to put a lot of emphasis on camera work when creating something?

I used 28 cameras for that video, but I have shot those kind of videos only twice so I don’t really do that usually. You might have thought that though, because one of the basic ideas I always have is how the camera moves. What I always try to do is to keep my video entertaining.

When you create a music video, do you usually use an idea you already have or listen to the song nonstop until you get an idea?

Basically what I do is to lie on my bed and listen to my iPod or something. Then, I wait for the idea to come. Sometimes I use ideas I already have but that is getting harder and harder. To get an idea for a music video is the most painful part of the job for me… Sometimes I get the idea right away and sometimes I give up. (laugh)

People don’t usually allow enough time for getting good ideas these days.. I remember, a few years ago, you used to get a couple of weeks to get an idea, but now people say “by the end of the week!” or something like that. Sometimes I feel really relieved when I don’t get certain jobs, because there is just not enough time to work on.

Did you get “great blessing”!? Mine is “small blessing”…oh well… Anyway, let’s tie those omikuji to make things even better.
People say, by touching the incense smoke with your body, that part of you will become better… so try to put as much as possible!

What are your favorite videos so far?

All of them are great videos, but I really like TIGA’s video you directed last year. I actually watched it more than 5 times yesterday.

That’s great. When you see a good video, you want to see it again. That’s also a very important factor for me. I realized that I don’t really like short films… like 2 or 3 minute ones…

How and when did you realize that?

One day I wanted to find out what it actually is, that I liked and don’t. So I took Michel’s DVD and watched myself carefully while I watched it. Everytime I saw something visually entertaining I wanted to watch it again, but everytime I came across something more story based, I didn’t. Probably that’s why I prefer music videos to short films – and I like entertaining music videos.

Japanese carps welcoming Olivier, too.

I heard that this is your first visit to Japan. Do you get inspired by Japanese culture?

My wife, Lilly knows more about Japanese culture than me. We’ve known each other for a long time, and she showed me so many Japanese films and books! The first film I really liked was mmm… what is the title…. the one with a pig and a red balloon… (maybe he means “Porco Rosso“) and I like Totoro, too. Anyway, the connection between me and Japanese culture is definitely through my wife. She is like my little Japanese girl (smiling at her).

I like the craziness of Japanese people and I get amazed by that sometimes.

Quick rest in front of a five-story pagoda.

What were you interested in most when you were a child?

I loved soccer and I still love it now. I liked subbuteo and also train models. And computers, too! When I was 16, we got an Apple II and I was just crazy for it.

I heard that your oldest brother is still doing music while you and Michel are video directors. So was there always art and music in your family from your childhood on?

Yes, my parents are both musicians. Mom writes and teaches music. Dad loves jazz and is a big fan of Duke Ellington, but he was also a technician and electrician. So I guess you could say that our family has a connection with technology and art.

A music video director and old-school tv… Here we are at gallery ef , which we already featured on PingMag before.

Besides being a director you are also a father of two sons, right? What are you going to tell them if they say “Dad, I want to make a music video!”?

I would say “don’t you want to be a rock’n'roller!?”. No, no I’m joking. (laugh) I would probably say: “That’s great! That’s fantastic!” because every time they show me something, I say “That’s very beautiful!!” (laugh)

Olivier looking at tinware created by Seiwa Hada in the old storehouse galley.

This is the last question: what are your future plans?

Maybe in the future I will write a script for a feature film, but for now I take one job after the other and do my very best. Whenever I don’t work, I spend most of my time with my kids. Both work and family are very important for me.

Walking around, we got to Akihabara, Tokyo’s electric town where Olivier got a little overwhelmed with all the latest cameras…. Sorry, but we have to go, Olivier! Sayonara!

Olivier, thank you very much for spending time with us today. We all are looking forward to seeing that commercial with Michel you were talking about! And bring your sons next time you visit Japan!

At MTV’s talk session 3 days after this interview, Olivier told us that he already got three ideas in Japan he wants to try and he was very keen on making a music video for a Japanese band! Also, one of his videos will be screened at the international film festival RESFEST. So if it comes to your town, check it out!

  • mike

    you guys rock! i love the starguitar vid! thanks for another great article ( ^ ^ )

  • munchy


  • http://www.markrushworth.com mark rush

    I WILL be going to japan next April/May. im hoping to bring back lots of great memories and planning to go to Kyoto and Tokyo based on recomendations at http://www.newstoday.com (anyone suggest the best way of experiencing japan? because so far ive only looked into package holidays)

  • http://001969.blogspot.com sun.

    I never knew before, that Michel Gondry has a brother that make music videos too, i must see some of them, they must be good too i think :)

  • henry

    hey chiemi, nice article and great videos.


  • http://www.rich0d.co.uk richard

    @ mark rush, the best way to experiance Japan is by dumping all your clothes into a massive backpack and going around the cheapest hotels\hostels, you get to meet loads of interesting people, also roughing it is quite cool too, just getting on a sleeper to one side of the country to another waking up going for a wander for a day, and returning back to tokyo or wherever. :)

    Hokkaido is a nice prefecture to goto as well, some nice scenery, and Sapporo is really laid back, a nice break from the hussle and bussle, very westerner friendly too.

    btw, if you goto Kyoto, find a resturaunt called “Gogyo” it’s the best ramen ever. :)

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    It is so encouraging to read about people that re-invent themselves midway (or at least closing in on midway) through their life. I many times find these people to have such an innovative outlook on their new vocation as they bring such a different and fresh perspective to the table.

    Great interview.

  • frank

    I have visited Japan 6 times in the last 4 years. First thing you have to do is buy the Japan Rail pass. Even though the rail system in Japan is second to none, if you travel on the local train it will take you forever to travel between cities. The shinkansen is the way to go. You can also get cheap rates at business hotels, love hotels and capsule hotels. Buy food at kombini or from noodles shops and you will not spend a lot

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    Great interview.

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