Nobuhiro Yamashita has used a variety of sources for his films since his 1999 feature debut "Donten Seikatasu (Hazy Life)," including his own experiences as a struggling indie director. But the inspiration for his latest, "Moratorium Tamako (Tamako in Moratorium)," is out of the ordinary by any standard: 30-second ads for the Music On! TV cable station.

Filmed by Yamashita, the ads featured Atsuko Maeda, who had appeared in Yamashita's 2012 black comedy "Kueki Ressha (The Drudgery Train)"; in the ads she played a slacker named Tamako in cute, goofy situations at various times of the year. This don't-care character was miles apart from the energetic image Maeda had projected in her former incarnation as a leader of girl group AKB48.

"That was the start; I was asked to make shorts showing the four seasons," Yamashita tells The Japan Times in an interview at the offices of Sony Music Group. "Maeda was involved from the beginning. We had done 'Kueki Ressha' together, so I knew what she could do, and the character (of Tamako) came from that."