TOKYO RYSING //The rebirth of Tokyo through the eyes of Pharrell Williams
The rapper-producer Pharrell Wiliams shows us around Tokyo, as Japan fights back from the earthquake and tsunami with the help of creativity. “Resilient” is the word most often mentioned in Tokyo Rising, short-film directed by Thalia Mavros recounting how Tokyo artists reacted through their art to the 11th of March tragedy.
Anyone who’s familiar with the images of devastation of the earthquake and the tsunami which hit the country will agree in saying that the Japanese people embody perfectly this word, setting an example of calm determination when facing the toughest adversities. In these 30 minutes the rapper-producer shows us around Japan’s capital Tokyo by meeting several protagonists of the fervent art scene sparkled by this will to start over again, including fashion designers, gallery owners, musicians and political activists.
I By visiting with Pharrell the art galleries built where once there was a school, or the fashion groups which have taken the place of slums and bars in the Kabukichō alleys (Asia’s largest red-light district) we discover that there can be positive side effects coming from terrible tragedies. The only necessary ingredients are ideas and talent, overwhelmingly present in the Japanese Coolture of these young creatives. He or she who has the courage to change, get rid of the superfluous and be essential, light and free, wins. All this can be summarized in one word: swift.
The fist person Pharrel meets is Japanese rapper Verbal, and his wife/partner-artist Yoon. Uber-cool and wearing sunglasses like his American counterpart, the member of the Teriyaki Boyz predictably tackles delicate, albeit inevitable, issues such as nuclear power, and admits with disillusioned realism that the “Neon Nation” couldn’t certainly live on just wind and water, therefore making the afore-mentioned source of energy still essential for survival. This point of view is shared by the artists that follow, who anyway maintain that there is urgent need to find alternative solutions.
Pharrell then interviews the musician Yuka Uchida, member of the electro group Trippple Nipple, with who he visits the G-Cans project, a huge underground tunnel running under Tokyo which took over 17 years to build and costing of 2 billion dollars, designed to protect the citizens and prevent inundations caused by monsoons. Needless to say that following 3-11 the feeling of safety has taken a severe blow.
To rebuild this feeling of safety Japan has reacted via a massive culture promotion that has developed by involving all sorts of creative fields such as music, photography, fashion and street art.
Art director Kunichi Namura tells us how this approach had already started after the war, when with the fall of the god-emperor the Japanese decided to become like the westerners, copying and absorbing habits and customs, but due to a strange lost-in-translation process, it all ended up in the uniqueness and diversity of current Japanese culture.
While before the other cultures were appreciated because foreign, hence cooler, nowadays Japanese culture is the Coolture par excellence.
Not as shy as they once were, the Japanese have woken up from a long sleep and are starting to appreciate and see their national culture as something unique.
Think of the Harajuku girls for instance, who originally took inspiration by the Hippie movement of the sixties and now represent with their 100% Japanese fashion the youth resistance who use rainbow colours opposed to the black and mimetic ones of war and terrorism.
Or think of all the fashion designers that made their fortune by translating the essence of Japanese culture into clothing and gadgets, such as 6% dokidoki or the hugely popular A Bathing Ape.
What is striking in the words of all the artists met by Pharrell is the visible confidence in a better future and the acknowledgement that in spite of the many mistakes made by the previous generations and for which now the younger population is paying dearly for, each single idea can make a difference.
All you need is to give the young a chance and allow them to let out their creativity.
Ryuta Ushiro, leader of the guerrilla art group Chim Pom points out that if once the general opinion about culture could be summarized in a “The stake that sticks out gets hammered down” , the approach nowadays is : “When you go too far you can’t be hammered down, so you should stick out as far as you can”.
Art and boundless self-expression are therefore making now, and will carry on making, Japan a nation to admire and, why not, take inspiration from.
So who cares if Tokyo Rising has received some negative remarks for Palladium promoting itself through such a delicate social issue (although in a very subliminal way throughout the film). Fact is that this “Urban Exploration”, defined as the new league of brand advertising, portrays Tokyo in such a positive and inspirational way that personally I’d be tempted to book my flight straight away.
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