Columns/Interviews

Getting to Know the Expo

#5

MONTAGE Inc.’s OCHIAI Masao × CEKAI Corp.’s IGUCHI Kota
Where Ideas Meet, Shown by Diverse Avatars

Where Ideas Meet, Shown by Diverse Avatars Where Ideas Meet, Shown by Diverse Avatars

With the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai, the Japan Pavilion was finally unveiled and excitement continues to build about the exhibits. The theme of the Japan Pavilion is “Where ideas meet,” but what is this like to actually experience? What can visitors gain from it? We spoke with creative and stage director OCHIAI Masao and creative director and motion designer IGUCHI Kota to go behind the scenes and learn more about what makes the Japan Pavilion so special.

Bringing Ideas Together to Meet Another You

Ochiai

The exhibits are divided into six “scenes.” Visitors move through each scene, letting their senses decide the route to wander along and discover the perspectives they like. By doing these “actions,” they get what we call “elements.” The elements are collected on the smartphone used to view the exhibits. As the elements build up, an avatar appears that is like another “you.” This ultimately creates an experience of the pavilion theme of being a place where ideas meet.

Visitors let their senses decide the route.

IGUCHI

Through the avatars, visitors get a sense of how their body is made up of different kinds of elements. They come to see how they share interests and concerns with others, regardless of where they were born, their age, or gender, but also see how they differ. It’s about first getting in the mindset for accepting your own identity or the attitudes of others in order to perceive the pavilion theme. Of course, it’s important that visitors directly experience the encounters of ideas, but the preparation for doing that is also carefully integrated into the design of the pavilion.

Ochiai

The scenes in the first half really show the story of encounters along which Japan has traveled over the centuries. Japanese culture is globally unique, the result of Japan’s geography, whereby culture gradually reached the island nation at the easternmost edge of Asia, and of a polytheistic sensibility cultivated in a diverse natural environment. Japan is a treasure trove of examples of “Where ideas meet”. But in terms of the presentation, we can’t simply tell people, “Look, this is how to deal with the world’s problems” or “You should learn from the example of Japan.” We instead describe the various encounters that have occurred during the long history of Japan to convey the possibility for encounters between humans and nature, among human minds, and among completely different cultures.

Iguchi

The main purpose isn’t for people to learn about Japanese culture, but to encourage visitors to go around the exhibits comparing with their own circumstances by asking themselves about the kinds of problems they have in their own country. The design of the pavilion also emphasizes attuning visitors to encounters with ideas, so that not only at the Japan Pavilion but also after returning home from the expo, they will be able to talk with others to solve problems. As such, though the Japan Pavilion is experienced fundamentally through digital technology due to the pandemic and language barrier, the members of the team shared the desire to integrate physical experiences in the exhibits: such things as what we might call the Japanese spirit, like greeting people by bowing, and the fundamental form of human communication that is walking side by side.

Ochiai

Yes, the first step toward connecting with others to bring about a meeting of ideas is always such things as moving the body, speaking, or copying an action. Technology is the same in this regard. At the Japan Pavilion, visitors can experience various kinds of technology within the packed array of content on offer, but I especially want them to pay attention to the mist that encompasses everything and conjures up a sense of subtle yet profound mystery. The mist blurs the divisions that separate visitors and conveys the pavilion’s message in a way that appeals to the senses of the visitors.

Meeting Various Attitudes Different from Your Own

Iguchi

The avatar that is born out of the elements is then ultimately incorporated into the four blocks of land that appear in the fifth scene. This is a massive picture on a wall that completely surrounds visitors on all sides. Along with the elements and avatars, it was designed and made collaboratively by sixteen creatives. I prioritized involving creatives in their twenties to connect with Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan in four years’ time. I thought that this approach would encapsulate diversity.

The “land” in Scene 5, created by sixteen designers

Ochiai

The avatars that your team designed are unlike anything I had seen before. I researched various things for how to present the exhibits, but the interpretation of avatar was limited to just my own. Having lots of people participate in the project and making a mash-up of the reinterpretations that then arose is truly what “where ideas meet” is all about.

Avatar level 1 (art direction: NEW)

Iguchi

That’s right. If I’m honest, I was completely unsure how the elements made by the younger creatives would work with the more classically Japanese style of the first two scenes that you made. [Laughs] But this was the current sense of “temperature” that the process revealed, a kind of new Japanese culture. So I prioritized doing what I didn’t understand. It’s generally considered that international events should be easy to understand and accessible to all, but I feel like we can’t update things if we emphasize that too much.

Ochiai

I am really impressed by the creative work of young people. But we tend to feel like we just can’t understand traditional things. If we read ancient Japanese texts like the Kojiki, we’re completely stumped. Why did that happen? Why did that people suddenly die? How come that person suddenly changed into something else? But despite all these questions, it’s super interesting to read. It has the power to make something we couldn’t see, to change our way of seeing things. What we now regard as “standard” is actually just the accumulation of those changes, right? The things you have made have that same power too.

Iguchi

As the host nation of the Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan, I think our job at Dubai is to show things that build expectation.

Accepting New Encounters for the New Era

Iguchi

At the Expo 2020 Dubai, creatives who don’t normally meet came together to make a 360-degree wall, which also represents a really important opportunity for the Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan. As I mentioned before, international events tend to adopt conventional approaches and attitudes, and I feared that young people wouldn’t take an interest. “Where ideas meet” is the theme of the Japan Pavilion at the Expo 2020 Dubai, but I felt like I was being confronted by the question of how far we could really tolerate that.

Ochiai

It’s similar for the visitors’ experiences too. With a class of children—let’s say thirty kids—each of them will do something different. But these different elements all come together in Scene 5 and form the four blocks of land, so the more people there are who do different things, the more interesting the results are.

Iguchi

That’s right. In the simplest terms, it’s a kind of stamp rally where you collect things along a course. When the actions up to Scene 5 come together, the same types of elements are combined and a similar avatar ultimately appears. By experiencing something differently, that “difference” manifests visually at the end.

Ochiai

Just comparing how the avatars differ or sensing the presence of others different from you in the mist will lead to new encounters. We have included physical parts of the experience, like greeting people, but even I don’t think I could say something to other visitors. No way! [Laughs] But you don’t have to say anything, you can just do it however you like.

Iguchi

Kids can just run around or can stay in one spot, lost in thought. There are lots of experiences that differ from person to person. It’s like you wanted ideas to appear and to usher in encounters at the places where there are “gaps” in the design.

Ochiai

That’s right. Different kinds of experience appear and then come together as the “land” at the end, and are accepted as the point where ideas meet.

Iguchi

Accepting unexpected attitudes helps us solve problems. Encounters between ideas are tied together by diversity. For both creatives and visitors, we face the challenge of freeing ourselves and accepting others in order to bring together ideas. But I hope that by firmly demonstrating this kind of genuine tolerance, the younger generation will feel inspired to take part in the Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan.

Profiles

OCHIAI Masao

Creative Director, Stage Director
MONTAGE Inc.

After experience as an animator, computer graphics designer, and visual effects director, he became a director for promotional videos, events, and installations. He has contributed to projects at Milan Design Week, CES, motor shows, video game expos, and more.

Exhibitions and Prizes

7 Dimensions, KUKAN, Milano Salone 2016
Milano Salone Design Award 2016 People’s Choice
Electronics Meets Crafts, Milano Salone 2017
Milano Salone Design Award 2017 Best Storytelling
JAAP Awards 2017 METI Minister’s Award
Air Inventions, Milano Salone 2017
Milano Salone Design Award 2018 Best Technology
FUERZA BRUTA WA (spatial direction)
DIGITAL SIGNAGE AWARD 2018 DSA10 Anniversary Prize, Creative Category Award, Entertainment Category Award
Meet Mr. Matsushita, Panasonic, CES 2018
JAAP Awards 2018 METI Minister’s Award, i Award

IGUCHI Kota

Creative Director, Motion Designer
CEKAI

Born in 1984, he founded TYMOTE Inc. while studying design science at Musashino Art University in 2008. In 2013, he founded the creative association CEKAI. With a focus on kinetic design, he directs live-action videos that integrate motion graphics, and also specializes in team building–centered creative direction. In 2020, he produced the “kinetic sports pictograms” for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the first such pictograms in the history of the Games. He also served as video director for the opening ceremony and created the 3D animation for the drone show. His major awards include the Tokyo TDC Award in 2014, the D&AD Yellow Pencil 2015, and Gold at the Art Directors Club of New York Annual Awards 2015. He is a visiting professor at Kyoto University of the Arts and an adjunct professor at Musashino Art University.

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