Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Thermae Romae

This is a new anime that I’ve been watching recently, and it’s hilarious. It’s about a guy in ancient Rome called Lucius who is an architect responsible for designing the empire’s public hot spa baths. He gets criticized by the emperor for having ran out of ideas and inspiration for how to develop the bathing culture further and reflects on this during a hot bath when suddenly he’s pulled underwater by a mysterious force. When he resurfaces he finds he has warped to present-day Japan and finds himself either in a Sento (public bath) or an Onsen (natural hot spring) or some other location particular to the Japanese bathing culture, depending on the episode.

During his short time there he picks up ideas and is routinely astounded at the technological advancements he sees. After warping back to Rome he employs the ideas in Roman baths and becomes the toast of the empire. For each episode, rinse and repeat!

NOTE: As of writing this post, you can watch episodes on



Recently I was introduced to this animation which airs on MTV Japan called USAVICH. As soon as I saw it I was addicted and I’m now in the process of watching all the episodes on the MTVJ website before they disappear. The name comes from the Japanese word usagi meaning rabbit (anyone remember Usagi Yojimbo?) plus the Russian family name suffix vich. So basically the story is about two rabbits Putin and Kirenenko who are trapped in a soviet prison in some other twisted parallel reality. Each episode is 10 minutes long and deals with their daily goings-on in their prison cell, and eventually their time on the run after escaping. No more spoilers, get watching.

Usavich is made by the talented Satoshi Tomioka of Kanaban Graphics.


Karigurashi no Arrietty

Karigurashi no Arrietty

There’s a new Studio Ghibli movie coming out and it looks to be loosely based on the classic, British children’s book The Borrowers. This isn’t the first time a Ghibli movie has been based on children’s books written in the UK either; Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a book written by Diana Wynne Jones.

The title of the movie is going to be 借りぐらしのアリエッティ (Karigurashi no Arrietty) which translates as Arrietty the Borrower – the official website is here, for what it’s worth. It will be directed by Hiroaki Yonebayashi, and not by the great Hayao Miyazaki, although Miyazaki will be responsible for writing the script. Apparently, the idea for the movie has been discussed before a long time ago by Miyazaki and his team, but only now is it being put into production. Miyazaki stepping back from the directing duties is interesting, as he has already retired once before and looked to be trying to appoint individuals capable of carrying his legacy forward, most famous of which being his son, Goro Miyazaki who took directorial duties on the movie Gedo Senki – Tales from Earthsea (which was also loosely based on a series of books by American author, Ursula K. Le Guin). As he relinquishes control on Karigurashi no Arietty it will be interesting to see if he will be able to keep his hands off the drawings and animation all the way through production, without seizing control of at least one of these aspects as he has been alledged to have done on past features (where he was supposedly not going to be involved in either).

Finally, the story (in a nutshell) is going to be about a boy living in a house in Koganei, Tokyo (the real-life location of Studio Ghibli) who has a tiny girl called Arrietty living under the floorboards of his house, and presumably she ‘borrows’ stuff.


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?


Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo’s continuing viral campaign perpetrated through lots of great Flash mini-sites never ceases to be awesome. The latest one to launch, called Uniqlo Calendar, features time-lapse photography of various locations in Japan given the tilt-shift photography treatment also known as miniature-faking, where a very shallow depth of field often found in macro photography is simulated thus giving pictures of life-size subject matter the appearance of a tiny model. Flawlessly executed as usual with characteristically quirky and hip background music, I’m left eagerly anticipating the screensaver (the link on the site says ‘coming soon’, unfortunately).

This newest viral joins a raft of others: Uniqlock, Uniqlo Paper, Uniqlo Grid, Uniqlo Mixplay and Uniqlo Try. I may have missed some, there’s that many.


Groovisions do the Tokyo Marathon

Groovisions do the Tokyo Marathon

So, the Tokyo Marathon was yesterday. I cheered the runners as they passed through Ginza, and I also snapped this poster with the camera on my DSi which is instantly identifiable as the work of Groovisions. Now I’m looking at their poster it’s obvious that their style suits this event perfectly. Anyone familiar with their previous work in music videos and their infographics for MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Farming) in Japan, will know their clean isometric vectors and statistical-representation-esque visual style. I like it.

So here’s the video they did for MAFF whist on the subject:


Darling wa Gaikokujin

Darling wa Gaikokujin

Darling wa Gaikokujin (ダーリンは外国人), which roughly translates as My Darling is a Foreigner, is a manga series that deals with the author Saori Oguri’s life as a Japanese woman married to an American man living in Japan. The reason I’m writing about it is that I’ve been watching an animated version on the JR line trains just recently, and the animation style is really nice. The animation has been on the trains since last year. In the most recent installment the couple have a baby. Watch out for it if you’re on the Yamanote line in Tokyo anytime soon.


And Now For Something Completely Different…


There’s a new creative agency in the UK called Displayground, an exceptionally talented group of designers, producers and creatives. I produced the Flash component of their new site, which involved incorporating some of the company’s ambitious ideas. You’ve got a mix of traditional stop-time animation, clay models, motion graphics, and vector shapes coming together to create a really original site. Design and photography credits go to the boys in the studio under creative director Mat Glover. The free-roaming orbs took a while to program and no mistake.


Wylde File x Beck – Gameboy Homeboy

Beck “Gameboy Homeboy” from wyldfile on Vimeo.

Wylde File have created an absolutely insane, bad acid trip promo video for the 8-bit inspired remixes from Beck’s recent(ish) album Guero. This is intense!


Shinbashi and Kikkoman

Two weird videos from YouTube, possibly by the same animator, not sure. My friend Maya told me that the Shinbashi clip features sound from a Ramens sketch (The Ramens are a surreal Japanese comedy troupe). Takadanobaba!


Tenspace by Wow

My friend Trent McBride sent me a link to this new animation by Japanese Motion Graphics Company, Wow. It’s an exploration of typography and the Japanese art of Ikebana, or flower arranging. For me, it’s a load of really nice zenned-out visual effects set to a soothing backing track. I’m a sucker for such things, and definitely a new fan of Wow.


The Praying Machine

The Praying Machine

There’s been some new output from Tokyo Plastic recently, in the form of two short animations. I wasn’t keen on The Electric Koi, but there was something satisfyingly 90’s about their other offering The Praying Machine. It’s a piece of animation set to decidedly Photek-inspired music. There isn’t much meat to the plot, but it’s good visual nourishment in the Tokyo Plastic style rendered in a mix of cell-shaded 3D and illustrations. Have a look.