The Takumi craftsmen in Japan are guardians of an ancient artisan philosophy. A Takumi craftsman applies a subtle human touch to every aspect of design and development of the objects they create. It takes at least 25 years of experience to be considered a Takumi.
I learned about Takumi from the Japanese car-maker Lexus. Of their 7,900 technicians and craftsmen working at the Lexus car plant, only 19 are Takumi. It’s considered the highest honour on the production side of the car manufacturing process. They exercise their amazing skill at detecting the tiniest imperfections. Glide your eyes and hands over the precision-machined aluminium audio controls or beautifully stitched leather work. Their cars’ gleaming paintwork is painstakingly wet sanded by hand to ensure a perfect finish.
So too, a filmmaker gains skills and knowledge over years of experience. I thought I’d research the Takumi philosophy and see what we as screenwriters, directors and filmmakers can learn from Takumi.
25 Takumi Life Skills Filmmakers Need
I first thought it strange that a filmmaker could learn anything from a Japanese car maker until I was shown that the philosophy they employ is very similar to what I have been preaching for the past quarter century. The ancient Japanese concept of ‘Takumi’ is essential to all that we do. Takumi means a highly skilled person. It symbolizes not only excellent skill but also devotion to object creation and thorough pursuit of perfection in its creation. With respect, we call such high-minded creators behind excellent Japanese products
1. The ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations, of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state.
2. The projection
of one’s own feelings
or thoughts onto something else, such
as an object
in a work
or a character
in a novel
or film. The Free Dictionary
“Empathy” — the ability to feel what others feel — is what makes good filmmakers and great storytellers. This is one of the great traits of a Takumi: the ability to relate to what others feel.
24. Mastering your sleep
Sharp hands, a quick eye, and a smart mind demand a rested body. Are you sleeping wel enoughl?
If you are having trouble sleeping, there are literally dozens of ‘sleep well’ blog posts.
Or perhaps you’d like to reduce the amount of sleep you need to give you more spare time. Leonardo da Vinci would be considered a Takumi. His sleep patterns are studied today. His sleep patterns are called the ‘sleep of genius’ or polyphasic sleep.
23. Time management
I don’t care who you are or what you do. Your ability to manage your time effectively is what is going to predetermine a large part of your success. If you were a Takumi craftsman working on one of those high-quality consumer goods we associate with Japan you would know how to create an efficient workflow that would not only employ your creativity but be able to adjust to commercial challenges.
American filmmaker Ken Burns has amassed a fantastic career. In this short video he talks about his workflow and how he multitasks.
22. Asking for help
Way back when I applied for a job for the sculptor Henry Moore I was asked if I had any problems asking for help. It made me think how hard it was to admit I didn’t understand something. I later found out that the previous technician had been sacked because they never asked for help and continually screwed up.
I can only imagine that a Takumi master, like a filmmaker, earns their credentials by never being afraid to ask for help.
21. Positive self-talk
Did you know that scientific studies have shown that positive self-talk can enhance performance?
Little Buddha.com has a great article on how to develop P.M.A. – Postive Mental Attitude.
Atheletes like Mo Farah manefest success by positive thought. Be you Takumi or filmmaker don’t be afraid to give yourself this subtle edge.
By consistency I mean two things:
Firstly, in your daily routine, and secondly in your work ethic and your approach to daily challenges. Remember both Takumi master craftsmen and filmmakers share a common approach to creativity. Basically, creativity is how you solve a problem; be it a story glitch, an edit point, or how to smooth paintwork till it glistens.
19. Role models
There is no better way to improve your skills than to watch the work of past masters.
If you want to direct, here are ten cult directors to watch.
If you want to make short films – possibly to enter the Lexus Short Film Competition – here are 28 shorts you can watch in your lunchtime.
Watch. Listen. Learn.
18. Minding your business
There will be many times when your fellow workers and collaborators will be getting the stick from someone higher up the food chain. Learning when to keep to yourself, and when to leap to your colleagues’ defense is a fine art.
One of the easiest ways to earn Takumi cred as a filmmaker is to listen to people talking to you. It makes them feel like you care (creates empathy) and makes you fun to be around.
16. Knowing when to shut up — and actually doing it
The Takumi masters forge car parts by hand.
15. Resisting gossip
There’s no quicker way to reduce team spirit than to engage in gossip. Don’t fall into this trap. If you do you will seriously damage your reputation and your personal branding. If you hear gossip ask the instigator why they are saying it – it might make them think.
14. Staying present in the moment
Happiness researcher Matt Killingsworth has found most people are thinking about something else when they are trying to get something done. Nearly half of people studied fall into this category. This hurts your happiness and affects your success and productivity. The trick is to stay on topic. To stay on the tasks at hand. Without distractions. Watch his terrific TED Talk.
13. Mastering your thoughts
To do what you want to do and accomplish what you want to accomplish, you need to consciously direct your thinking, Mark Givert writes:
The challenge is that we are the product of our past experience and all of our thinking is the result of this. However, the past does not equal the future.
What great advice for us, be it Takumi, or filmmaker, or master filmmaker and visual storyteller! We are what we think. Focus.
12. Learning a new language
What a random thought, and how strange to think of our Japanese Takumi craftsmen learning another language. Balázs Csigi found that learning English opened up a new mindset, a new set of emotions, and a new way of thinking. He adds that the key to learning another language is to master every single aspect of the culture. Imagine that!
11. Speaking up
Speaking up and letting everyone know your opinion, in a tactful way, is an important life skill.
10. Honesty with others
Staring the truth straight in the face and being totally upfront and transparent will make you stronger. And transparency is such a great asset.
9. Honesty with yourself
WOW! Admitting you are wrong is painful indeed. When you do it, it clears the air and somehow things start to go a bit better. Here are the six painful mistakes I’ve made.
8. Methods and work flow
A master craftsman understands the process. A Takumi is a master at managing his time as well as understanding the impact of his work within the production chain. Just like a filmmaker who is part of a collaborative process
The old adage is ‘The seat of the pants to the seat of the chair’. No one can agree who first started using this saying. But it’s true.
Remember this too: A daily routine of a few minutes or few hours per day is better than a Bank Holiday blowout. The trick is to decide if you want to be an amateur or professional filmmaker. And to set yourself a realistic daily commitment of time.
6. Persistence and stamina
One thing successful people have is persistence. If you really want something you will keep going after it again and again.
I grew up with my cousin, a pianist. I listened to him playing the same scale, or the same Chopin interlude over and over again until it was note perfect.
So too, the Takumi master craftsman is seen rehearsing, repeating, reforming, over and over again until the craft is mastered.
5. Truth to materials
Another thing I learned from Henry Moore was the value of truth to materials. Until he came along, sculptors in Europe tried to make bronze look like stone or wood. Henry Moore carved wood so it looked like wood, marble so it looked like stone and his monumental bronze sculptures used the material for what it is.
There is debate amongst filmmakers about using celluloid or digital. Digital equipment manufacturers market “digital as film” technology. Filmmakers make narratives as “fake-documentaries” and brag how their micro-budget films look like millions. Perhaps we should use the ‘truth to materials’ and use whatever it is we have to make films that don’t try to disguise their materials.
4. Understanding story
Story is everything. I don’t care if you are making a car or a poster. It matters not if you are writing a TV advert or a novel. There has to be a story. When you have the story the rest is easy.
3. Visual store
The look of your finished film is very important. Just as the Takumi craftsmen pay enormous attention to the detail of their work, so too we as filmmakers must make sure the details are burnished if not polished! And don’t forget another tenant of the Takumi craftsman: respect from brilliant design.
2. Mastering craft
A Takumi craftsman studies and works for years – twenty-five of them – until they are considered masterful enough to wear the Takumi label.
As filmmakers, we need to learn the basics: reading books and taking classes. Takumi is the founding philosophy of the Raindance Further Education programme where you can earn an MA in Independent Film in a year. Not that anyone can become Takumi status in the creative industries in a year – but you can form a great strategy to become one. Over time of course.
There are certain things you can’t learn. There are times when a Takumi craftsman has to trust their intuition along with their coordination in order to be able to bring a result. This intuition can’t be measured either. This special life skill comes from years of experience.
So too we as filmmakers need to trust our intuitive storytelling and filmmaking skills. To doubt oneself causes one to lose confidence. Of course, disappointments abound in the creative industry. And as Tukumi craftsmen know:
Quitters never win
Winners never quit.
Aspire to be a Takumi in youyr screenwriting and filmmaking
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