Could you become a Takumi? In Japan it takes 60,000 hours to reach the highest level of craftsmanship – new documentary reveals
Lexus to distribute a new documentary on Amazon Prime Video that poses the question of whether the most devoted craftsmen and women will survive in an increasingly ‘AI powered’ world
In the West it’s often considered that it takes 10,000 hours of study for the average person to become an expert in their subject. But in Japan you’re not considered a master of your craft until you’ve spent 60,000 hours refining your skills. That’s the equivalent of working eight hours a day, 250 days a year for 30 years.
A fascinating documentary unveils the world of the Takumi, the highest level of artisan in Japan. The visually stunning, character-driven portrait, made by Chef’s Table Director, Clay Jeter, for luxury automotive brand Lexus, is due for release on Prime Video, through the Prime Video Direct self-publishing service, on March 19, 2019 globally.
Takumi: A 60,000-hour story on the survival of human craft follows four Japanese artisans who are dedicating their lives to their crafts, including a double Michelin-starred chef, a traditional paper-cutting artist, an automotive master craftsman and a carpenter for one of the oldest construction companies in the world.
The documentary, which premiered at the DOC NYC film festival in New York, is unique in that the medium is also the message. There will be a feature length version plus a ‘60,000’ hour cut, which loops scenes of each Takumi’s essential skills of their craft repeated over and over again to highlight the hours, days and years of practice involved.
Narrated by Former British Museum Director Neil Macgregor and including interviews from world experts in craft and AI, the film asks how we will honor and preserve human craft as we simultaneously design machines to act more precisely and quickly than humans ever can.
“In the time period we live in, which is so attention-deficit, we all feel like we don’t have enough time,” said Nora Atkinson, Curator of Craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “So, the thousands of hours it really takes to become a skilled craftsman is something that a smaller sphere of artists will experience.”
By 2050, it’s estimated that machines will be capable of surpassing human performance in virtually every field* “We’re in the midst of exponential progress,” said Martin Ford, author of Rise of The Robots: Technology and The Threat of a Jobless Future. He adds that this rate of transformation hasn’t been seen before: “In the next 10 years, we’re going to see 10,000 years of progress.”
Will human craft disappear as artificial intelligence reaches beyond our limits? Or will this cornerstone of our culture survive and become more valuable than ever? This documentary looks at how to take the long road to excellence in a world that’s constantly striving for shortcuts.
“The essence of Takumi is to gain a sublime understanding of the nuances of a particular art,” said Nahoko Kojima, the paper cut artist who appears in the documentary. “To be focused and spend countless hours on one thing, and to carry on requires one to empty the mind and focus in a way that is simply not possible when still acquiring a skill.”
“The concept of Takumi has physically and philosophically been at the core of the Lexus brand since it started 30 years ago," said Spiros Fotinos, head of Global Brand at Lexus International. “Our Takumi masters have over 60,000 hours (30+ working years) of experience developing their craft. To celebrate the brand’s anniversary year, we wanted to capture the essence of Takumi, and their 60,000-hour journey, on film.”
Viewers can enjoy the 54-minute version or see the full 60,000-hour version on www.takumi-craft.com, allowing them to soak up the level of dedication and commitment it takes to achieve a special kind of mastery.
The documentary, created by The&Partnership London, will be available on Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Instant, Google Play and iTunes.
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ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
CLAY JETER – Writer/Director
American director Clay Jeter has worked on projects such as the Emmy-nominated Chef’s Table, the first original Netflix documentary series. Having produced six episodes from 2015 to 2018, he has developed a unique and visually engaging style which is clear throughout his work. Another of his works, film ‘Jess + Moss’, made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and since then he has continued to grow as ‘one to watch’.
DAVE BEDWOOD – Writer
Dave Bedwood started his copywriting career in 1998. In 2004, after working for several London Ad agencies he and three colleagues set up their own called Lean Mean Fighting Machine. Within four years, they had won ‘Agency of the year’ at the Cannes International Advertising Awards. Dave has worked and won awards on clients such as Emirates, Virgin, Samsung, The Guardian and Lexus.
RUPERT MACONICK – Producer
Rupert has a long track record of producing content with major feature film and documentary directors.
In 1994, Rupert founded Saville Productions, which has produced projects with some of the most widely acclaimed, prominent award-winning documentary and feature filmmakers including: Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), Fernando Meirelles (City of God), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), James McTeigue (V For Vendetta), Gavin O’Connor (Warrior), Barry Levinson (Rain Man), Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects), Spike Lee (Inside Man), and Paul Haggis (Crash), Wim Wenders (Paris Texas), Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), and Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams).
Saville produced a Global World Cup short film with Adidas directed by Fernando Meirelles (City Of God). He also produced a Werner Herzog directed 35-minute film for AT&T “From One Second to the Next” was a huge web and PR success. The film is now being shown in over 40,000 schools and colleges.
Other notable projects include Bending the Light, a Michael Apted (The Up series) directed project about the art of photography through the lens of photographers.
ABOUT THE TALENT
The first subject of the documentary, carpenter Shigeo Kiuchi, 67, was trained by his father in the art of ‘Miyadaiku’ – an ancient form of carpentry founded in Japan. “I see myself as like a custodian,” explains Kiuchi. “I learned from my father who worked here before me, and now I’m passing on the skills to future generations.”
Kiuchi works at Kong? Gumi in Osaka, a temple-making company started in 578AD that he joined as a teenage apprentice. Kiuchi plans to continue his career indefinitely- “carpenters don’t retire” he says. However, in contrast, he describes his lifelong contribution to the company as “like a blink of an eye” in comparison to its history.
Kong? Gumi is the world’s oldest existing company, founded when Prince Shotoku commissioned Japan’s first Buddhist temple. It’s been in the hands of the same family ever since, and today a 41st generation family member sits on the Kong? Gumi board.
Hisato Nakahigashi runs Miyamasou, a two-Michelin star restaurant in Kyoto. He is a fourth generation Kaiseki chef whose great grandfather founded Miyamasou, an inn for pilgrims to stay when visiting the 12th century temple on which the restaurant shares its grounds. “For Hisato, his turning point came when he was 20,000 hours into his Takumi journey,” says the documentary’s director Clay Jeter. “His father died unexpectedly at the age of 55, and Hisato had been finessing his craft working in fine dining restaurants overseas. However [at this pivotal point in his life] he made the decision to come home and continue the legacy and he’s really elevated the restaurant to something extraordinary.”
Every morning, to source his ingredients for his honoured guests, Hisato fishes in the local river and forages for local herbs and mountain vegetables – and says he “gives thanks” to nature for supplying his food. This dedication is all part of Kaiseki – a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner with a time honoured tradition of going above and beyond for your guests.
The third subject of the documentary, artist Nahoko Kojima is 37 years old, but already has dedicated 60,000 hours to her craft. Kojima began ‘Kirie’ (Japanese papercutting) under private tutelage when she was only five years old and continued throughout her formative years. At 18, she moved to Tokyo, and in 2004 she graduated with a degree in Design from Kuwasawa Institute. She briefly pursued a career in Graphic Design in Tokyo, but ultimately moved to London to study arts further, and within a few years exhibited her first solo paper-cutting show. Then in 2012, her piece ‘Cloud Leopard’ was unveiled at the Saatchi Gallery. It is a sculpture that took five months to complete, cut entirely of one sheet of black paper. Kojima’s process begins with careful sketches and tests using much smaller pieces of paper. Her practice “is labor-intensive in the extreme, and demands tremendous concentration; if she makes a mistake there is no way to repair it. She uses scalpel blades that are half the thickness of normal blades and are replaced every three minutes."
In 2013 she won the Jerwood Makers Open award for which she created ‘Byaku’, the swimming polar bear. In 2018 she faced her biggest challenge by creating a 32m life sized sculpture of a blue whale, Shiro. This sculpture was shown being cut in the film.
Though she primarily lives in London now, in 2016 at a ceremony in Tokyo, Kojima accepted the coveted Kuwasawa Award for her contribution to the arts.
The documentary also introduces us one of the Takumis at Lexus – Katsuaki Suganuma, who has worked at the company for 32 years. Katsuaki, who’s a Takumi in charge of the final inspection line at Lexus, has seen big changes in terms of technology, with the introduction of artificial intelligence and robots. But he’s proof that humans still play a vital role in car manufacturing. The documentary takes us behind the scenes at the 4 million square meter plant at Tahara in Aichi, Japan, which is regarded as one of the world’s most high-tech factories.
Katsuaki is one of a handful of extraordinarily dedicated individuals with the quarter of a century of practice required to become a Takumi Master Craftsman. That’s 60,000 hours practice.
This extensive time is spent practicing and refining with minute precision. The result is a group of superhuman Craftsmen with razor sharp senses. They are seen and see themselves as the guardians of Lexus craft at every stage of production.
This approach to craft is a philosophy that runs throughout the business, which the Takumi are responsible for passing onto the new generations. Each Takumi will train their youngers to ensure that their expertise, their tradition, and the Takumi spirit develop in all the new talent. This is why we know that nothing is crafted like a Lexus.
Nora Atkinson is a prominent American expert on craft, with a specific focus on the role and importance of handmade in modern culture. Her current role is a Curator of Craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC. She was recently named Washingtonian Magazine’s 2018 “Best Boundary-Pushing Curator” for her work on a number of critically-acclaimed shows.
Earlier this year Atkinson spoke at TED event called ‘The Age of Amazement’ – a future focused event exploring AI and new forms of creativity and social change. We have filmed Atkinson in Washington. Her commentary was about craft in general and its role in the digital age. Importantly for us, she linked craft to luxury in terms of real handmade objects and their value in the future.
Martin Ford is a futurist and author focusing on the impact of artificial intelligence and robotics on society and the economy. He has written two books on technology. His most recent book, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015), was a New York Times bestseller and won the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award in 2015.
Martin’s TED Talk on ‘How AI could cause job loss’ discusses the dichotomy between the negative effect on industries that AI could have, versus the undeniable progress it can cause and the new industries it could inspire. He has a loyal following on Twitter, with 42.3k followers and had actively engaged in the discussion on Japan and Technology, tweeting on the 31st of July about ‘Why Westerners Fear Robots and the Japanese do not’.
Jon Bruner is a journalist and programmer who runs the Digital Factory program at Formlabs, a company that builds professional-grade 3D printers. Before joining Formlabs, he oversaw publications on data, artificial intelligence, hardware, the Internet of Things, manufacturing, and electronics, and was program chair, along with Joi Ito, focused on the intersection between software and the physical world. He is a prolific contributor online with articles such as ‘Making AI Transparent’ and ‘Integrating Data with AI’ where he talks about the relationship between ‘human experts’ and algorithms. Jon has been interviewed by The Economist’s own Podcast on the subject of the ability of machine to mimic man. He asks if ‘computers can create beautiful music; can 3D printers adopt traditional techniques to give us reinforced floors?’ In fascinating contrast to Martina Ford, Jon Bruner is an optimist. He’s the kind of futurist who is excited about the opportunities that are opened to humans when AI replaces certain tasks and jobs. He speaks to the beauty of the man working side-by-side with a machine.
Neil is a highly regarded expert in the history of humankind, having been director of the National Gallery and British Museum for many years, and now as a director of the soon to open Humbolt Forum in Berlin (Germany’s answer to The Met). Neil has used the lens of human made objects and craft, to tell the history of the world. His bestselling book, exhibition and podcast – A History of the World in 100 Objects, is his most famous work in this area. He is a globally renowned expert in this field and a highly respected author and broadcaster.
Lexus launched in 1989 with a flagship sedan and a guest experience that helped define the premium automotive industry. In 1998, Lexus introduced the luxury crossover category with the launch of the Lexus RX. The luxury hybrid sales leader, Lexus delivered the world’s first luxury hybrid and has since sold over 1.45 million hybrid vehicles.
A global luxury automotive brand with an unwavering commitment to bold, uncompromising design, exceptional craftsmanship, and exhilarating performance, Lexus has developed its lineup to meet the needs of the next generation of global luxury guests, and is currently available in over 90 countries worldwide.
Lexus associates/team members across the world are dedicated to crafting amazing experiences that are uniquely Lexus, and that excite and change the world.
ABOUT THE&PARTNERSHIP LONDON
The&Partnership London is a future-focused creative agency whose mission is to bring together creativity, technology and data in new, exciting and effective ways. Originally founded in 2001 as CHI, the agency rebranded in 2018 as The&Partnership London, underlining its position as the creative and strategic heart of WPP-backed The&Partnership, which is both the UK’s largest and Europe’s fastest-growing independent agency network. The&Partnership London believes the future of the creative industries lies in big, bold and bionic ideas which blend world-class creativity with smart data, progressive technology and artificial intelligence.