Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Ryoji Ikeda

I recently discovered a sound artist I really liked called Ryoji Ikeda, who is currently based in Paris but originally from Gifu, Japan. His work caught my eye when I was browsing YouTube as the aesthetic he uses is very glitch. His visualisations of sound are in fact the product of computer programs interpreting raw sound such as sine waves, noise and signals in order to created harsh static imagery and sublime monochromatic geometric patterns. When I saw it I remembered wondering if Squarepusher may have taken inspiration from this for his recent performances. Here is a video of Ryoji’s work:

Amazing, isn’t it? He has also released albums of his music on various record labels, but it’s not easy listening by any means!


25th Tokyo International Film Festival

This year’s Tokyo Film Festival kicked-off the Saturday just gone and so with the first weekend over I’ve decided to post about some of the things I’m liking about the eight day event centred around Roppongi Hills. First off, it’s good that the Tokyo film festival goes some way to differentiate itself from the other famous film festivals – Cannes, Venice and Berlin – by adopting a theme of ‘ecology’. The red carpet at the event is therefore a green carpet, made from recycled PET bottles and that already puts it at arms length from the vulgar excesses of the likes of Cannes in particular. The film offering this year includes a few movies that have caught my eye, the first one being The Black Square, directed by Hiroshi Okuhara but shot completely in Chinese and on location in Beijing.

The ominous shape mentioned in the title is actually a rectangle, and reminds me a lot of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even the one from the Carlos Casteneda book The Journey to Ixtlan where a giant black rectangle appears spontaneously in several locations in the Sonoran Desert. The thing which most compels me to watch this movie is its mystique as there is no synopsis of what it’s really about other than that it’s a romance with sci-fi fantasy overtones. I’ll be catching it on the 24th (Wed) with any luck.

The other movie that I really liked the look of was Yellow by American director Nick Cassavetes. This surreal movie features some great acting by the lead actress and also includes an appearance by Ray Liotta. The synopsis describes it as “A drama about a drug-dependent substitute teacher who takes control of her life by confronting her estranged family”.

Beyond this, I can’t see me having time to enjoy any other movies or events unfortunately, however, a few other honourable mentions must go to: Japan In a Day which includes footage of real Japanese people reeling from the events of last year’s earthquake and tsunami, and I don’t see why it would be a crime to check out the new 007 Skyfall for some pure cinematic entertainment. One to avoid: The Woman In Black with Daniel Radcliffe in his first lead role since Harry Potter. I saw it on the plane on one of my recent trips home to the UK and it has mediocre plot and mediocre acting, so I don’t recommend it.


Deep Topography

In a connected chain of events which began with me spending time in London last week, coming back to Tokyo and watching a documentary on the England’s capital city called The London Perambulator I discovered Deep Topography, also known as Psychogeography or Cryptoforestry. The documentary follows an eccentric English writer and researcher called Nick Papadimitriou as he goes on a series of what he refers to as his ‘Long Walks’. These can last anywhere between one hour and a full day, and often take place in one of Nick’s preferred locales, almost always on the suburbs, fringes and hinterlands of London. The preoccupation of deep topography is not with finding conventional beauty in and around our built environments but with deriving stimulation from appreciating the overlooked and anonymous corners of our cities and examining the functional areas where mankind, nature, and necessity overlap.

It was through this documentary that I came to understand why I find Tokyo to be so stimulating and rewarding as a place to live and explore. For those who have become deluded with the beaten track of the world’s maintream heritage sites and historical architecture, Tokyo provides a veritable goldmine of deep topographical rapture, providing you are prepared to get lost in its streets.

If you have the opportunity, I seriously recommend seeing the documentary as it also features Will Self and Iain Sinclair. Next time you’re out with your camera taking pictures of bleak industrial landscapes, water treatment works or unremarkable suburban vistas you might feel vindicated.


Cesare vs. Disorder & Onirik – Il Viaggio

A Brazilian visual artist based in Berlin called Fernanda contacted me by email the other day and pointed to her recent project for an independent record label. What you see above is a music video she made for an upcoming release on Serialism Records featuring a montage of video shot in Tokyo in January this year. I really liked it and wanted to share it with you. Thanks to Fernanda Mattos for the info.


Beat Takeshi Kitano, Gosse de Peintre

Well this is like a dream come true – never thought I’d get to see the legendary paintings that featured in Takeshi Kitano’s movie masterpiece Hanabi (Fireworks), but now it looks like it’s actually going to happen. With news of his exhibition in Tokyo opening 11th March being broadcast on TV and advertised on posters on the metro, this will be a fairly high profile showcase of his paintings at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Shinjuku.

It’s going to feature paintings such as this:

I don’t know if his painting entitled ‘Jisatsu’ (Suicide) will be on show, which is unfortunate as it’s one of my favourites, but this one, also from the movie Hanabi, will be:

Anyway, it all equates to a must-see, don’t-miss exhibition which runs until 2nd September.


In The Glitter

This is the movie I made to celebrate the millions of neon lights in Tokyo. In Tokyo you can’t see the stars at night due to light pollution, but that’s OK, the Japanese made their own constellations. Next time you’re in Tokyo at night, remember to look up!


Peter, Bjorn & John Feat. Yoyogi Rockabillies

This great music video for the song Nothing to Worry About by Peter, Bjorn & John features the Tokyo Rockabilly Club. People will probably know them as the guys who rock out in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. Check it out – the guy’s got a motorcycle in his apartment!


Norwegian Wood Movie

Norwegian Wood Movie

Currently showing in cinemas throughout Japan is the movie adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s literary masterpiece, Norwegian Wood. The story is set in 1960’s Tokyo where the main character, Toru Watanabe, is a university student. In the book he develops relationships with two very different women – Naoko, who suffers from depression and Midori who is lively and outgoing. I read the book shortly after I came to Japan and I remember one of the cover notes read something like:

“Such is the exquisite, gossamer construction of Murakami‚Äôs writing that everything he chooses to describe trembles with symbolic possibility.”

The book was brilliant, but I haven’t seen the movie yet. What reviews I have heard seem to rave about it, so those in Japan should make every effort to catch it before it closes. Those outside Japan, watch out for it when it comes to DVD this year.


Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship Yamato

If you hurry to the cinema in Tokyo now, you can still catch the live action version of the original animation series Space Battleship Yamato. It was released in cinemas around December 1st but will continue throughout January. I’d actually meant to post something about it before Christmas, but forgot, what with the mayhem of celebrations. Not that it’s a big deal though, as I’ve heard negative reviews and, looking at the trailer, it seems like it’s going to be one hell of a cheesy movie! On the other hand though, the design of the Yamato stays roughly the same, adhering the uniquely Japanese tendency in sci-fi to give existing or traditional technology futuristic capabilities. On the bridge of the Yamato is the captain compete with naval uniform and hat, after all, the Yamato was based on the real World War II battleship of the same name. And if you take a look at Galaxy Express 999, you can see an intergalactic steam train. You can also see blimps and propeller planes from a parallel universe in some of the works of Studio Ghibli. This is something I really like about Japanese anime and sci-fi, although I probably won’t be going to see this live action version of Space Battleship Yamato. Steven Tyler has done the soundtrack and it’s full of cheesy rock ballads, which is an immediate fail. Here’s the trailer:


Enter The Void – Opening Credits

Although the actual film itself is horribly acted, farcical and depicts Tokyo in such a way as to miss the point entirely, the opening credits of Gaspar Noe’s new movie Enter The Void are worth the price of entry by themselves.


Chinza Dopeness – Mogu Mogu

Tokyo rapper Chinza Dopeness’ unique style is new to my ears, but I’m going to get the album as a result of listening to this. Via Shane Lester’s Vimeo.


The Google Story

It’s pretty amazing what Google has done in a relatively short time, and Nick Scott Studio’s animated story of the companies rise to ubiquity is a great way to visualise it for yourself. What next indeed?


Azukiiro No Kaori

Musical Interlude. I couldn’t find any videos worthy of showcasing the fine electronic music produced by Susumu Yokota, so I made my own. The track is Azukiiro No Kaori by Susumu Yokota from his Sakura album. All of the footage was shot Autumn/Winter 2008 and Autumn 2009.


More Trains Through Tokyo

Romance Car VSE 50000 to Hakone from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

But, this time, I’m riding the weird Romance Car from Shinjuku to Hakone. In this train, passengers see through the front window and not the driver. Actually, he’s in a cockpit on the roof, not dissimilar to the shape of that on a fighter jet. If you go onto my vimeo now, there’s a bunch of other videos taken from the train. More views of the outlying areas of Tokyo and beyond.


Tron Legacy

Tron Legacy

There’s a new Tron movie coming out from Disney Pictures and I can’t wait to see it. It’s going to be released at ‘selected cinemas’ – which probably means iMax. Whatever, I want to see it, not least because Jeff Bridges is back, but also because the bikes are back. Check out this teaser scene. My only gripe so far is that the bikes don’t turn at right angles any more and the filmmakers missed out on a golden opportunity to bring together modern special effects and a retro aesthetic. Instead, it’s all smooth and shiny and reflective with no repeated geometric patterns to mention. Via Motionographer