On a late summer, Wednesday night at Hiro in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood crowds of young twenty-somethings (and thirty-somethings) and certain purveyors of cool gathered to watch a screening of Tokyo Rising: a short documentary film hosted by producer and recording artist Pharrell Williams (who’s also known simply by his first name.
In the film Pharrell reconnects with old friends and meets new acquaintances in the underground art culture that permeates Tokyo, Japan. Many of the streets artists, musicians, and fashionista’s tell Pharrell that a lot of their art is a reaction to what’s happening in their country. As Japan continues to struggle in its recovery from the earthquake/tsunami and the subsequent lying by the government of radiation levels at nearby nuclear plants, folks have taken to the streets to protest in various forms.
Some have used the old-fashioned bullhorn to march the streets with a desire to end Japan’s dependency on nuclear energy (the same nuclear energy that gave them their position in the global economy). Some have used painting and street art in public places to voice their displeasure and other have turned to music.
Much of the art displayed in ‘Rising’ shares one thing in common: a unique sense of Japanese style. One artist told Pharrell that up until a certain point earlier this century, much of Japan’s culture consisted of repackaging things from other countries and giving it a Japanese twist. Now, it’s a vibrant culture that relies on itself to prosper. Abandoned schools turned into art spaces, underground clubs and bars that hold shows by genre-bending, game-changing artists, finding the world of fashion on their doorstep because of designs. All of this has happened to Japan in 10 years, but the earthquake, the tsunami might have accelerated the political bent.
What one can take from the film is a sense of appreciation of Japanese and the sense that the Japanese are proud to finally have something to call their own. Much of ‘Rising’ also deals with young people pointing their collective finger at the older generation for messing up the country and they’re now demanding answers or asking them to move to the side. Pharrell observes it all through an American lens, but a lens that has a genuine love for Japanese culture.
“Some of the best art is when people are oppressed,” Pharrell said during a question and answer session with the audience after the screening. “Japan is so resilient.”