Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has never been known as a particularly hip place — even though it’s in charge of the government’s “Cool Japan” push to promote trendy industries like anime, fashion, and Japanese cuisine overseas. But a home-made Cool Japan video shot by two ministry officials and uploaded to YouTube last month has attracted so much criticism that it’s gone viral, prompting Japan’s online community to ask: Can something be so uncool that it’s actually cool?
“We made the video half as a joke, but the scale of reaction and the view count for it was unexpected,” one of the creators, Kazunori Sakamoto, told JRT, noting that the video racked up over 100,000 views, a thousand times more than other offerings on the economy ministry’s YouTube channel normally get. (The normal range is only 60-200 views.)
The video’s purpose is to explain the government’s Cool Japan policy, and tease the launch this fall of an organization that will coordinate public-private partnerships for Cool Japan projects. The video was made in two weeks on a low-powered computer, by a pair of twenty-something bureaucrats in the ministry’s creative-industries division, according to an interview with online technology news site, IT Media News. The two officials, Mr. Sakamoto and Seito Furuya, had only been in the ministry for three years; they worked on their own time, without a budget, they said in the interview.
At first, it was the clumsiness of the production that caught the attention of Japan’s online community. While comments are disabled on the ministry’s YouTube account, bloggers, tweeters, and frequenters of Japan’s 2-Channel bulletin board tore apart the video’s quality piece by piece.
The video was panned for being created largely in Microsoft PowerPoint, complete with cheesy transitions and misaligned word boxes accompanied by a cartoony rendition of the Minister of Economy, Toshimitsu Motegi, drawn using a computer mouse. On Twitter and blogs, it prompted a wealth of sarcastic wordplay.
“The economy ministry’s Cool Japan explanation video was so cool that I feel like I’m catching a cold…” tweeted one user identified as Jin115.
“The Cool Japan video was so ‘cold’ that I laughed. Even I could make a better video than this,” wrote another Twitter user named hig_ken.
A blogger identified as Taka on geek-culture website Gadget News delivered a detailed critique, noting that the video appeared to parody the cult Japanese anime hit Neon Genesis Evangelion — though not very successfully. In particular, it copied some music and a font style often used in the anime, but didn’t get either quite right,Taka wrote. “It seems like they’re trying to parody Neon Genesis Evangelion with a Microsoft Mincho-style font and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as background music,” Taka wrote in the blog entry. “But it doesn’t feel nearly as stylish as the bold-faced trademark font used in the anime. And halfway through, the music changes to [Johann Strauss’] Radetzky March, which has nothing to do with the show. Why?”
Mr. Sakamoto told JRT the video parodied Evangelion because he’s a fan of the anime.
All the scoffing commentary attracted eyeballs, and after the IT Media News interview with the video’s creators, many people took a second look.
“We wanted to make something that would leave an impression on whoever watched it once,” explained Yuichi Moronaga, an advisor to the ministry’s creative-industries division, in the IT Media News interview. “Our biggest worry was that no one would watch it at all, but it’s already passed 100,000 hits, so we’re happy it became such a hot topic.”
The ministry’s public relations team called the creative-industries division at one point to tell them the video was getting flooded with negative comments, and asked whether or not they should take it off the site, Mr. Moronaga added. Far from worrying, the creative-industries division celebrated, he said.
The revealing interview collected 2,000 tweets and Facebook “likes,” causing more people to take a look out of curiosity. Some Twitter users who’d previously criticized the video wondered they’d fallen for some sort of clever prank.
“This was fantastic trolling,” tweeted one user ku_ro_u.
“Ah, I see it now–They had us dancing in the palm of their hand….” tweeted another user, C_HAL_A.
Mr. Sakamoto, the ministry official, told JRT that his goal had been simply to reach out to more people, in an easy-to-understand way.
“Occasionally we are asked to submit public press items about our activities, and usually they come in the form of documents. But sometimes the information is hard to understand in that form, so we wanted to try our hand at newer media that presented our policies in a simple way,” he said. “Although I wish I had more time to prepare it properly before putting it out there, it achieved its basic purpose of getting attention.”