Tokyo Rising is a 5 part web series about Pharrell Williams’ return to Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (referred to as 3/11) What he discovers during his journey is a cultural shift in the aftermath of the disaster led by the creative and youth cultures in the nation’s capital.
This documentary is sponsored by Palladium Boots, a popular urban footwear company. You don’t really see a trace of their product or logo besides the intro to each segment & possibly the shoes Pharell is wearing during his trip.
Part 1: Pharrell’s Return To Tokyo
The documentary starts with Pharrell waxing poetic about his love for Japan. It’s nothing deep or earth shattering & is more short & sweet than anything else.
After a few random shots of Tokyo we see Pharrell meet up with VERBAL (m-flo, Teriyaki Boyz) and his hot wife Yoon. (a designer, what kind is not mentioned) It’s strange to hear VERBAL speak only English. His wife also happens to be fluent in English as well.
They begin to discuss what happened when the earthquake hit Tokyo & how people reacted. Foreigners evacuating, stores running out of food, power outages and a lot of things you would expect to see when tornado’s and hurricanes hit.
There is a brief discussion about Japan’s reliance on nuclear power & despite the fallout from the reactor meltdowns they can’t live without it. As Yoon puts it, wind & water won’t power a neon city.
Other artists such as Yuka Uchida (musician) are interviewed. She describes 3/11 as her generation’s Hiroshima in regards to impact. Kunichi Nomoura (art director / editor for Tripster) describes the experience as something like a Godzilla movie come true.
Masaru Mamiya (DJ / Activist) and Hajime Matsumoto (Founder of Shiroto-no-Ran / Activist) bring up the subject of social networking in natural disaster and how Twitter helped people find shelter and keep in touch with each other.
During the disaster there was an unprecedented spike in Twitter usage as more Japanese used the service over more conventional means of communication.
Through all this the main theme of this documentary is introduced. That is change in Japanese society.
Part 2: Tokyo Under and Above Ground
The second part of this documentary takes Pharrell to an underground aqua duct in the G-Cans Project with Yuka Uchida, a vocalist for Electro Pop group Trippple Nipple. The aqua duct is hidden under a soccer field and it’s quite the feat of architecture.
It’s a 6 km tunnel that covers the Edo River, Nakagawa River, Kuramatsu River and Ootshifurutone river and then out to the pacific ocean. and is the world’s largest underground aqua duct. It took 17 years and 2 billion dollars to construct. A large investment by the government to protect its people.
Even with this massive structure it didn’t protect from the earthquake and the people’s sense of safety was shattered. According to Uchida the people in Japan are not sure about the government or their security and their future because of 3/11.
After the tour of the aqua duct the focus shifts to Masaru Mamiya and Hajime Mastsumoto. They note that since 3/11 people have to been less concerned with materialism. They should be more worried about fulfilling basic needs like where their food and water are coming from. Radiation and how to minimize exposure to it.
They go on to talk about the anti-nuclear power rallies they have organized in various parts of Tokyo. With 15,000 + people showing up to protests in Koenji, shibuya and Shinjuku. They were surprised at the turnout to say the least.
Last to be interviewed is Akashi Oda, Editor-In-Chief of Likten Magazine. He comments about the Japanese people being shy and not making their opinions known. He compares one who is opinionated as a person who is standing stark naked in public. He uses art to make his opinions known and to help affect social change.
He states that those in their 30’s – 60’s are to blame for many problems in Japanese society. They claim to be duped while overlooking their own mistakes and complaining. He used to think of adults of superhuman but realized that they are not that different from young people.
Part 3: Art In Flux
This section focuses on the arts community and how they have been influenced by the events of 3/11. Pharrell goes to 3331, a gallery that brings together contemporary art, fashion, architecture, music and dance.
Within 3331 is a photo wall from the damaged area in Tohoku. The people there took pictures of each other and is documentation by the citizens and not by any artist. Many of the pictures are natural and capture many moments that a photo journalist would not be able to get. The photo wall shows the raw devastation and the individual stories of the people affected by 3/11 that no media outlet could ever show.
The documentary then moves to the red-light district of Kabuki-cho with an a group of six artists called Chim Pom. Their lone female member Ellie is pretty hot. Anyway, they go to a secret bar to discuss how their public works of art connect with society post 3/11.
There is a permanent piece of artwork in Shubuya station called the Myth of Tomorrow by Taro Okamoto that chronicles the nuclear history of Japan. They took an empty space at the corner of the mural and added images of the reactors in Fukushima in Okamoto’s style. Someone uploaded a photo of the addition on Twitter and it caused some thought-provoking conversation among people.
Chim Pom state that when events like 3/11 happen it’s up to artists to create something to leave behind to remind people of what happened.
Part 4: The Remix Culture
Part 4 discusses Japanese identity and how they became more westernized after the last world war ended. There is a lot of borrowing from other cultures and those influences are morphed into something uniquely Japanese.
Harajuku fashion is used as an example of this borrowing. Sebaastian Matsuda (Founder / Art Director of 6% Dokidoki) notes the influences of the Hippie movement in the US. The reason for such colorful clothing is to resist against the drab black & white world. Out of this came young kids in 2000 who created their own brands by silk screening t-shirts with their designs. They became millionaires and billionaires by doing this. The most notable person being Nigo, the founder of A Bathing Ape.
Japanese creativity centered on repackaging foreign ideas and adding a Japanese twist. After 3/11 that type of thinking no longer fits and ideas that have a strictly Japanese identity are probably going to be the norm according to Matsuda. When more of this kind of work reaches the world people are going to start seeing really interesting things from Japan.
Lastly Yoon takes Pharrell to the Kita-Kore Building where many young designers have set up shop to show off their works. Many of the shops are makeshift but have their own unique flair that shows off their wares in an appealing manner.
Part 5: The Trippple Nipple Show
The final installment of this documentary deals with music. Well mostly The Trippple Nipples show that Pharrell attended at the Trump Room in Shibuya. I’ll say that the group definitely has an interesting stage show. It also seems to prove my point that Japanese Electro is probably a little too hipster and obscure for it’s own good outside of the mainstream acts.
Not to say that’s bad, but perhaps an acquired taste for those not accustomed to Japanese culture. Pharrell seemed to dig the show though.
After the short clip of the Trippple Nipples the documentary starts to conclude with the various interviewees describing Tokyo in their own way. All agree that there is a change in the culture after 3/11 and Tokyo will rise up from the ashes of the tsunami and earthquakes.
Chim Pom put it best with a twist on an old Japanese proverb, “The stake that sticks up gets hammered down.”
When you stick up too far, you can’t be hammered down. So you should stick out as far as you can.
I really liked this documentary. I wasn’t sure to expect but it showed the perseverance of the Japanese after 3/11 and what the creative community is doing to bring about change after much of what people thought was shattered by natural disaster.
There may be a lot of material to absorb based on my recaps but it’s really worth watching.