Strange Boutique (September 2013)

The September edition of my column was delayed by a week because of an avalanche of articles at the Japan Times eating up all the space that week, so it came out the first week of October instead.

Since the announcement that the 2020 Olympics would take place in Tokyo, there’s been lots of speculation among Japan culture-watchers about what the opening ceremony might be. Not because of any particular interest in Olympic opening ceremonies in and of themselves so much as what it will say about how Japan wants other countries to perceive it culturally.

I think it’s an interesting line they have to walk between being honest about what Japanese culture is and providing something that people overseas will be able to enjoy. Beijing was criticised for airbrushing out troublesome elements in favour of the precisely drilled mass celebration of China’s awesomeness and power, while London took flak from some for being too in-jokey and insular, although given the size of the audience they had to reach, it seems pretty clear that Zhang Yimou and Danny Boyle’s ceremonies were pretty well received in both concept and execution.

So those two extremes provide contrasting examples of approaches that Tokyo could take, but at the same time, it needs to be able to say that its ceremony was theirs alone as well. Part of the problem with pop music is that Japan just doesn’t really have any that means much outside its own shores, and the stuff that’s really popular at home right now is either going to come across as pretty pedestrian and imitative of Western “originals” (often mistakenly on the part of overseas listeners not trained to listen for the same things Japanese audiences hear) or make them look like a nation of paedophiles (seriously, idol stuff really ain’t going to look good).

Traditional music is safer, so festival and taiko music could do the job, but I do think Tokyo is going to want to emphasise its modernity. They might go the arty route and get someone like Cornelius, who I raved about in last month’s column, or Yasutaka Nakata to do the sound design — just imagine how good a composer an older, more mature Nakata could have become by the time he’s forty years old…Ryuichi Sakamoto: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

As I mentioned in the article, Ryuichi Sakamoto is a compromise that the establishment might be able to accept but who’s talented and familiar enough with technology that his work wouldn’t just be a museum piece. I wonder whether, given that possibly his two most famous works both as an actor and film composer were films that dealt with Japan’s let’s just say “controversial” wartime past (much as I love Wings of Honneamise, I fear it may be overlooked in his canon), there might be some wankers, either in Japan or in China or somewhere else, who try to turn his involvement into a lightning rod for political rage. Also, his position regarding the nuclear situation at Fukushima might have rendered him unacceptable to some of the fossils who run the government. He seems like a solid choice to me, but I’m never surprised by the lengths to which some people will go to get offended by something.

Personally, it’s the more fanciful suggestions that amuse me most, and you can be sure that there are people at places like Sony already working on developing some batshit insane new audiovisual technology for it.

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