When I got to work on Monday morning almost all of my subscriptions featured something on the 9/11 anniversary. While each of the stories had their own significance, the ones that spoke of how the event affected the role of the arts thereafter resonated with me the most. While at first the primary rationale for most of the art produced after 9/11 was primarily a reactionary one and in a sense a way of coping with the extremity of the event, we have seen over the years how the arts have also become a way of building resilience and hope for better times.
This tone was also evident in the recently produced short promotional documentary Tokyo Rising, produced by the footwear company Palladium Boots. The film chronicles the creative forces in Japan at work in the aftermath of the earthquakes that hit the northern region of the country earlier this year. Focused on several groups of people in Tokyo, Tokyo Rising paints a picture of the state of country’s capital through the eyes of the creative pioneers at work in the metropolis today.
Presented in five short parts, the film runs for about thirty minutes and is available to watch for free on the Palladium Boots website. It is hosted by Grammy Award-winning music personality and producer Pharrell Williams. Throughout the five parts, Pharrell takes us through Tokyo and introduces us to a few of his fellow Japanese creatives, giving them the opportunity to speak freely about their experience of the earthquakes and how they responded to the event in their particular form of media. He travels through Tokyo, guided by his friends to seedlings of culture scattered about the urban landscape.
The film does not focus so much on the aftermath of the earthquakes and instead focuses on the emerging culture that resulted from the events. More so, it is a commentary on how the nature of contemporary Japanese culture is changing and how the current generation of creatives is responding to questions about cultural identity, social change, and the responsibility to cultivate a spirit of unity in the face of devastation.
Interestingly enough however, the film is essentially sponsored content, put out as a marketing tool by Palladium Boots. Although the commercial undertone is certainly evident and highlighted by the rather blatant Palladium insignia watermarked on the video, it promotes the type of marketing that not just effectively communicates the brand’s beliefs but also incites an emotional response from the viewer.
I was personally interested in the story of 3331 Arts Chiyoda because the repurposed school building in which it is located was the site of an Art Fair called 101Tokyo, which I had interned for in my senior year of college. Exhibitions and spaces that open dialogue and provide a wide angle on issues and are crucial to understanding the reality of this event.
My only qualm with the documentary is that it provides a perhaps narrow view of post-earthquake contemporary arts and design in Japan, as it focuses only on Tokyo, which sustained far less damage than other areas hit by the earthquakes. It would have been interesting to see the role of art and culture in areas outside of the urbanized centers. While Tokyo certainly possesses its own unique brand of Japanese culture it is not necessarily representative of the rest of the country, particularly the areas directly affected by the quakes.
There are indeed multiple layers to this film visually and thematically. It is a well made piece of storytelling, and was I think a smart move for Palladium Boots on the business end of things. It also encourages viewers to investigate the role of contemporary art and culture in urban Japan in light of the recent earthquakes. It is a unique portrait of a city that is pushing the boundaries of art and design as catalysts for social change and as evidence of resilience in the face of devastation.
Here’s a trailer for Tokyo Rising.