MVD Visual // 2011 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // September 17th, 2011
A documentary about underground music.
As cultural melting pots go, you would be hard pressed to find a more diverse hodgepodge of style and substance than in Tokyo, one of the great metropolises of the world. From the back streets of Shinjuku to the intersections of Shibuya and the alleyways in Koenji, Tokyo is a musical blender, appropriating world music into a wholly unique pastiche unique to Japan. Assembled from live footage, stop-motion animation and interviews, Live From Tokyo takes viewers behind-the-scenes into nightclubs and studios, talking to the artists that are pushing the genre boundaries with their sonic bombasts.
For fans of underground music, Live From Tokyo is a treat. Sure, the underground ain't what it used to be, what with the Internet and all, but this film features some great performances from bands that even Pitchfork hasn't heard of: Nisennenmondai, Tenniscoats, DMBQ, PARA (Boredoms Members), Shugo Tokumaru, Sexy-Synthesizer, Don Matsuo, Uhnellys, Sajjanu, KIRIHITO, d.v.d, Optrum, Samm Bennett, W. David Marx, Tokyo Pinsalocks and more. If you're not in tune with the Tokyo sound, it is a multi-faceted mash-up of every single musical genre imaginable, often with unpredictable results. The Japanese consume every genre of music imaginable, throw bits and pieces into a blender, and come up with musical fusions and combinations of incompatible styles so outlandish that they boggle the mind.
More than a mere showcase of musical talent, Live From Tokyo is also a meditative reflection on Japanese culture itself. Theirs is a society that ingests foreign media with a ravenous appetite that borders on the voyeuristic, but lack the historical, linguistic and cultural context that accompany it. Japanese teenagers, for example, might think combining Bob Dylan with speed metal is a Good Idea, whereas Americans would instinctively reject the idea outright. In Japan, such a band could become fantastically popular in their native country, but such music rarely leaves the confines of the island. If you try and smuggle a CD out, a gigantic inflatable balloon will chase you down and strangulate you. Little Japanese music manages to make any traction on an international scene. The total absence of cultural associations has given birth to a musical scene totally without boundaries or borders; wild creative alchemy that exists nowhere else in the world, because everyone else knows better. Nobody told the Japanese that you can't mix country music and industrial techno, or Miles Davis and punk rock. They just think Western music is cool, so combining multiple kinds of styles into a single band will be even cooler.
Assembled from grainy digital footage of bands in sweaty nightclubs, mashed up with interviews and peculiar stop-motion time-lapse animation of the hustle and bustle of modern living in Tokyo, Live From Tokyo has a dreamlike, eccentric vibe. The end result is an engaging multimedia presentation that enraptures all the senses. Alas, the technical presentation is weak. The anamorphic transfer is subject to tremendous digital distortion, edge enhancement, jagged edges and compression artifacts. Black levels are washed out, and colors are muted. The straightforward 2.0 stereo presentation gets the job done, but the live recordings of the bands leaves much to be desired. The presentation lacks fidelity, finesse and bass. Japanese dialog is hard subtitled onto the presentation, but a dedicated subtitle track would have been preferable.
If you don't know your Zoobombs from your Kuruucrew, then this DVD is for you. Newcomers to the wonderfully eccentric world of Tokyo music will find Live From Tokyo to be an enlightening exploration into a strange and wonderful sonic world.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site