RudeVC: Five films filled with lessons for entrepreneurship

Mar 11, 2014
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Apparently the Academy Awards took place last week. This annual distraction represents one of the primary conversation topics at watercoolers in American workplaces for a week each year (French workplaces treat the Oscars with a bit less ceremony; then again, fewer conversation topics are taboo around the office Nespresso machine).

Even though I haven’t viewed any of the Oscar film nominees yet, I imagine they are the usual mix of contrite Hollywood redemption plots, mind-numbing escapist flics, and even some deeply moving stories and fresh original film-making. This is not a criticism. I’ll probably end up watching a handful from each genre, even those disparaged by my card-carrying friends of the intelligentsia.

Yet there are certain films that, often not deliberately, carry some fantastic lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs. The list is so numerous, that I’ve decided to restrict my top five recommendations to only Japanese films:

1. Tampopotampopo

A truck driver stops at a small family-run ramen shop and decides to help its fledgling business… Tampopo is one of my top favorite films of all time, and not just because of its mouth-watering footage of steaming bowls of ramen. The story is practically a recipe for would-be business builders: optimism, determination, perseverance, observing the market and out-performing the competition, even capitalizing on the luck of a passing good samaritan.

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2. Jiro Dreams of Sushijiro

In the basement of a Tokyo office building, 85 year old sushi master Jiro Ono works tirelessly in his world renowned restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, relentlessly pursuing his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi. This is less a film about sushi than about the importance of enjoying the journey. Jiro is a humble perfectionist who credits his team [75% of the work is done by the time the food touches my hands…], and strives to provide a customer experience of the highest level of excellence (famously massaging an octopus for almost an hour to unlock its flavors). Pure umami.

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3. Akiresu to kame (Achilles and the Tortoise)Akiresu_to_kame

This film depicts the life of a boy who loves art and feels destined to become an artist, though he fails to achieve success due to lack of originality and excessive imitation. The story reminded me of the common startup pitch, “Our product is like that of [successful company X], but on steroids.”

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4. Sur/Face (juyon-nin no gendai kenchikuka-tachi)surface

This documentary by Roland Hagenberg and Karl Neubert follows several contemporary star-architects from Japan over a period 12 months. Featured architects like Tadao Ando, Arata Isozaki, and Yoshio Taniguchi represent a generation of innovators that came of age in post-war Japan. Their styles emphasize the beauty in simplicity and thus have inspired some of the great product designers of our era, even in mobile apps.

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5. Okuribito (Departures)okuribito

Daigo Kobayashi is a newly-unemployed cellist that moves back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled “Departures” thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a Nokanshi or ‘encoffineer’, a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for cremation and entry into the next life. The lessons for entrepreneurs in this beautiful film are abundant: identifying a market need, taking pride in one’s work, performing a job that the mainstream disrepects. Talk about a business with a recurring revenue model (yet hard to say it has high customer lifetime value)!