For all of its size and complexity, Tokyo has never been well connected to our independent music scene. Sure, there’s the odd emigrant or hyper-obscure punk band, but significantly less than you’d expect from a modern metropolis with the population of New York and London combined. Blame it on language barriers, physical distance, or whatever you will – we’re more likely to hear about an average band from Brooklyn than an amazing one from Tokyo.
Thankfully, director Lewis Rapkin is trying to change that. In his new film, Live From Tokyo, Rapkin has assembled a remarkable collection of interviews, live footage and cityscapes to document the current status of underground music in the world’s biggest metropolitan area.
Live From Tokyo showcases a lot of music – there’s something for everyone in the film. Rather than delve into one particular music scene, the flick covers the gamut of genres. I loved the noise-based multimedia performances by Yudaya Jazz, and was pleasantly surprised by the Uhnellys, a band with a unique jazz/drone/punk/hip-hop sound. On the more traditional side, there are live performances by the Tenniscoats, a poppy-but-slightly-unhinged melodic synth/guitar duo, and multiple prog-tinged instrumental bands.
Interspersed with the live performances are a number of interviews with Tokyo-based musicians (including big names such as Shugo Tokumaru and Muneomi Senju, a former Boredoms drummer), venue owners, and promoters explaining what makes Tokyo’s music unique.
Sometimes these interviews falter somewhat, like when Rapkin’s interviewees discuss the effects of piracy and Youtube on their scene. This was an odd choice, given that these developments are hardly unique to Tokyo. Thankfully, most of the interviews are fascinating and wonderfully informative – who would have thought that most bands in Tokyo have to pay venues–or “live houses”–large sums of money for under-attended shows? Equally interesting is an interview with the possibly-unhinged owner of Muryoku Muzenji, a tiny freeform venue that looks like a hoarder’s dream in Tokyo’s painfully cool Koenji neighbourhood.
Overall, Live From Tokyo is a great primer to a number of vital but relatively unknown music scenes. Even better, you won’t have to buy a one-way ticket to Tokyo after watching it! When the film was recently screened in Vancouver, Steve Tanaka (the mastermind behind the Next Music From Tokyo tours) introduced it and announced that he will be bringing multiple Tokyo artists to Vancouver this fall, including a to-be-announced outfit from the film.