The name Sanwa comes from “San” which means “3” and “Wa” for peace and harmony. Company founder Tosai Yasumoto founded the company in 1955 and went to a fortune teller for advice on the name. Mr. Yasumoto had been a driver at a film studio. One day he decided to buy an ARRI camera and Angenieux zoom. He rented them out, and they never came back. In other words–they were always busy. He worked day and night, bought a big American car, added a roof rack to carry a dolly and track or to be used as a camera platform. He bought more equipment.
Sanwa Cine Equipment Rental Co. Ltd was founded in 1971. Video was added in 1974, and lighting in 1978. In 1980, Sanwa became the exclusive Panavision representative in Japan.
Sanwa introduced HMIs on the film mini-series “Shogun (1980),” (cinematography by Andrew Laszlo, ASC.) The trick at the time was shooting at 24 fps with Japan’s line frequency which was 50Hz and not always stable.
Mr. Yasumoto’s son Masa studied in England and worked at Samuelson’s. He got one of his first jobs as an interpreter on “Shogun (1980).” Today, Masa is the Managing Director of this impressive company. They have buildings in Tokyo (separate camera and lighting departments), Osaka, and Seoul (Korea), with more than 100 employees. Cameras include Panavision, ARRI, Aaton, Photosonics, Mitchell. Lenses come from Panavision, ARRI, ZEISS, Cooke, Angenieux, Canon, Nikon, Century. Sanwa has a fleet of trucks.
ARRI Alexa is the camera used most often, followed by RED Epic. Sanwa has 25 Alexas, changing most to XT (internal RAW recording.)
Sanwa’s main markets are commercials and features. 40% of the productions are still shot on film. On the day I visited, a large 16mm job was prepping, and the service department was dusting off their long-dormant inventory of Arriflex 16SR3 cameras.
Masa sees DITs as an important link between Sanwa and the customers, since they are often involved planning workflow well in advance of the production. He hires trainees from film schools. “These are our future customers,” he said. “Human relationships are important.”
Masa is enthusiastic about anamorphic production. “Our customers are always asking for a new look, especially on commercials,” he said. “We see a big demand for anamorphic.”
To see a slideshow of a day in the life of Sanwa’s Tokyo operations, click on the first thumbnail below. The pictures illustrate a wonderfully run company that pays attention to the finest details, with a great selection of the best equipment.