IMAGICA 80TH ANNIVERSARY DIALOGUE
Celebrating the Past and the Future
In 2015, we had a dialogue with Fumio Nagase and Yukihiro Fujikawa about IMAGICA's past trials and tribulations, and plans for the future.
Tokutaro Nagase the founder, sees what is to come from the founding of Kyokuto Laboratory to Toyo Laboratory — the film industry before, during, and after the war.
Fujikawa : It is IMAGICA’s 80th anniversary this year. Chairman Fumio Nagase and I would like to take this opportunity to look back on our past and speak about our future. Let’s begin with our founders, the Nagase Family and their enterprise.
Nagase : The company began in the 1800s – Denbe Nagase founded Urokogataya in 1832 in western Kyoto. Nagase Shoten Company was established in 1917 and changed its name to Nagase & Co. Ltd. in 1943. Nagase & Co. Ltd. has already been importing cinema films for over 80 years. They were Japanese distributors for the Eastman Kodak. But they didn’t work in film development then. That was when my grandfather, Tokutaro, thought about introducing film developing instruments to Japan. But then Nagase & Co. Ltd. was a trading company, so the company was reluctant to take part in film processing. My grandfather had his mind set, however, and he led the whole operation with the company’s backup. In 1935, he founded Kyokuto Laboratory in Uzumasa, Kyoto. And that is how it all began.
Fujikawa : Was the Kyokuto Laboratory not an affiliate of Nagase & Co. Ltd.?
Nagase : Some employees transferred to, but Kyokuto Labratory was not an affiliate of Nagase & Co. Ltd.. Kyokuto Laboratory soon became quite successful. They built a strong bond with Eastman Kodak. The Eastman Kodak sent people over to share techniques and best practices at the top of the field. Colvin (Kyokuto Region Technology Representative) was the one who taught them how to use the imported instruments for film developing. My grandfather was quite close to Colvin and his family. The film industry’s development at the time expanded the Kyokuto Laboratory business. Unfortunately, the Pacific War began just then. The company changed its name to Toyo Laboratory in 1942. Then, the war finally ended in 1945.
Fujikawa : The film development for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East is from that time, am I right?
Nagase : Yes, in that sense, we have shaped the history of the filming industry. We received offers from the GHQ after the war, and the recordings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East is one of those.
From the beginning of movies to TV and commercials — transforming into IMAGICA, carrying half a century’s experience in films and the ability to anticipate the coming of new ages.
Fujikawa : That’s a valuable footage. You have been a part of many other important works, am I right?
Nagase : Our history after the war, is the history of the filming industry – or rather the history of films. We developed the official documentary film for Tokyo Olympic in 1964. But in the 1970s, TVs hit it big, and the films were being replaced by videos. I came back from the U.S. in 1983 (lived in U.S. from 1981 to 1983). And I actually had a thought that films would someday disappear.
Fujikawa : Is that because you saw the decline in the U.S. film industry?
Nagase : It’s more so that TVs were becoming increasingly popular. The visual entertainment was shifting from films to TV. We changed our name to IMAGICA Corp. in 1986 because Toyo Laboratory didn’t fit the new generation.
Fujikawa : The CI committee was launched on the 50th anniversary, and you were the committee chair. Was the CI objective to expand into the television market?
Nagase : I would say there was a focus on the non-film market rather than just television. I expected that films would completely disappear, and it would just be a non-film market. If you’ve held a film can, you’d know that it’s quite heavy. We used to haul that around with us until recently.
Fujikawa : It was just last year when all film businesses were transferred to IMAGICA West Corp. from IMAGICA. The film business must have still been thriving when the company name changed in the 80s. Was the company reluctant to focus on TV and change its name?
Nagase : Yes, if I remember correctly, the 1980s was the peak of film sales, and our business was doing great. It was a bold move to invest in videos. The initial investment was expensive since we had to purchase all the video editing instruments. Not to mention that the video department was largely in the reds. But as you know, we are always the first ones to take on new projects. If we were to anticipate the growth of videos and the coming of the non-film era in the film age, we have to do it while the films are still in power. And who else would do that but IMAGICA? It would be too late to do that after the films are gone.
From the late 80s into the future — IMAGICA’s new challenges and development in human resources: maximizing talent within an evolving market and leading change management.
Fujikawa : I remember VTR set possibly cost ¥200 million at the time, and we are Japan’s first video post-production.
Nagase : Yes, videos slowly gained popularity, but the films did not go away as I’d expected. It was fortunate because we were making a profit from the film services, but that slowed down our strategic shift. When the business is going well, neither the business nor the people will change. The key then was just technique. When the equipment is cheap and accessible, we have to do much more than just processing. That led to us to purchase our affiliate, Photron, in 1992. Back then, we made our own processing devices, so we competed in the quality of the equipment, but when manufacturers began distributing the processors, the only way to compete was in our technique. Our chemical and mechanical technique weren’t enough so after marketing various possibilities, we arrived at Photron.
Fujikawa : And that’s how the group began.
Nagase : Yes, indeed. And when I thought about elements that would stand the change of time, I arrived at Robot and P.I.C.S., which were creating contents in their own company. That is to say, creativity. No matter how developed the equipment is, if there is no one to create it, you cannot make a film.
Fujikawa : Looking back to the company history of 55th anniversary, you spoke about the people’s power in making progress in an active marketing style and leading changes and development in the society. You’ve also mentioned it today. Have you always been thinking about that since then?
Nagase : I have been thinking about that all this time. But it doesn’t happen easily. It’s important to introduce changes into an organization. We have affiliates like Robot and P.I.C.S., who have a lot to offer. I think we should ask their honest opinion on IMAGICA’s post-production and improve what we can.
Fujikawa : Taking a part in the CS channel in 1996 as Cinefil IMAGICA (now IMAGICA TV Corp.) was also our challenge.
Nagase : Yes, that’s another example of having an open mindset. Broadcasting networks are our clients so to have one under our umbrella is a huge step. You get to step into the shoes of your clients and understand what it is that they are doing. All that information is shared among our group.
Fujikawa : And that led to the founding of IMAGICA Robot Holdings Inc. in 2006.
Nagase : Yes, we wanted to keep aiming for the best. We listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2012. It was partially for the funding, but our main objective was to obtain talented human resources. This year is the 80th anniversary, and it’s a huge accomplishment to have made it this far without being in the reds after the film processing was gone (in 2014). I think that IMAGICA is going to be a movie industry hub where people go for something new. They come to us for anything related to movies. We have the most advanced technologies, newest ideas, and the best people. I hope that IMAGICA will stay that way forever.
Fujikawa : What do you think is the most important in achieving your vision?
Nagase : Reliability and credibility. We’ve earned the clients trust in the eighty years of our history. Our mission is to bring that trust even further. It’s a foundation that we shouldn’t forget about.
Fujikawa : We also think that reliability is IMAGICA’s forte. If founding the Toyo Laboratory was the first stage, then the second stage is the 55th anniversary when the paradigms shifted. We are now all standing at the beginning of the third stage, where films have disappeared completely. IMAGICA used to be the one to add the finishing touches to films. Now, our goal is to expand our business to distribute these contents to the world.
Nagase : I agree that we should look at the market from a global perspective now that we can electronically distribute contents. The best place to start is the Asian markets. We already have a base in Malaysia (IMAGICA South East Asia Sdn. Bhd.) founded in 2014. IMAGICA has a good eye for targeting the quickly growing Asian markets. More than anything, the employees involved in this project are an inspired group of people. We encourage that. We will be competing on a global scale, and I hope that each and every one of them will be able to reach their full potential through the people and the community that we have built so far.
Fujikawa : As a chair, what do you think IMAGICA should change and what do you think they should keep?
Nagase : IMAGICA should think outside of the box and continue to change. I have said this before, but IMAGICA has always been the first to try new things. With that comes many difficulties and challenges, but we have to keep up with the times – or rather be ahead of the times. And IMAGICA has always done so. It sounds harsh, but those who can’t keep up, end up leaving the arena. The most important thing is our reliability; the clients trust our ability to provide them with the best quality. It takes time to build that kind of a trust. IMAGICA has been around for eighty years, and that is our forte. The times and technology have changed, but IMAGICA’s social and industrial roles haven’t changed at all. We are always pursuing something new for those at the forefront of the movie industry. Changes need to happen, but we must do so with consistency and full dedication. In that sense, our culture becomes most important.