Director Lewis Rapkin’s documentary Live from Tokyo explores the nearly endless variety and incredible intensity of that city’s independent underground music scene. As demonstrated by the film’s kinetic interstitial segments showing neon-lit skyscrapers, rushing traffic scenes, anime graphics and quick-cut editing, Tokyo is a crowded, fast-paced, futuristic city that inundates its population with an overwhelming and incessant stream of cultural and media stimuli, and that over-stimulation obviously spills over into the way that its musicians create.
Several musicians, journalists, promoters, label owners and venue owners, and other members of Tokyo’s music scene point to the internet’s ability to connect people in remote places as one of the major influences on the explosion of musical creativity in recent years. The Japanese consumption of American culture is another big influence (“They are media junkies,” says one interviewee of the average Japanese citizens).
As in other parts of the world, downloading mp3s has contributed to a decline in album sales, but it also means that more and more people have easier, quicker access to a greater variety of music without needing to search for and wait for expensive, imported discs. Add to that the fact Japan has always been both technologically innovative and adept at incorporating elements of many different cultures into its own, and the artistic diversity in Tokyo makes perfect sense.
Live music shows are thriving in Tokyo According to Rapkin’s subjects, there are literally thousands of bands playing on any given night in Tokyo. This is somewhat surprising, given the still-prevalent practice of Noruma—which means that bands essentially “pay to play” at the live houses—and it is just one of the fascinating facets of this film. Most interesting, though, are the artists themselves. The bands profiled are presented largely through their live performances.
The candy-colored pop of Tokyo Pinsalocks leads naturally into the Japanese punk rock of DMBQ. The eclectic influences that inspire the Zoobombs is followed shortly by a segment on the hand-made electronic instruments of Makoto Oshiro. Combining music and video is, of course, also very prevalent in the Tokyo scene. Collaborative projects between musicians and visual artists have lead to groups such as Sexy Synthesizer, with its video game-style electronic music; D.v.D., whose compositions translate on the screen behind the stage into something that looks like a live game of Pong; Optrum, which plays psychedelic sounds on fluorescent light tubes. A segment on the live performance of Yudaya Jazz + Plugdead reveals a live, improvisational collaboration.
There are no bonus features on Live from Tokyo, but there is a code included in the DVD, with which you can download a compilation featuring artists from the film. Additionally, ten percent of the profits from DVD sales will be donated to the Red Cross for earthquake relief.