Tokyo Drifter

Experts in Japanese cinema will immediately recognize that Tokyo Drifter is the title of a classic Japanese yakuza movie directed by Seijun Suziki in 1966. But 'drifting' is in Tokyo also a permanent state of mind for the jet-lagged visitor. After having been to Tokyo in 1998 it was the exhibition OpenNature at NTTICC which brought me back to this great city again, and I enjoyed every minute.

Suzuki's movie joins together a Zen sensibility of pure-mindedness and the neon-jazz urban landscape of Tokyo. At the beginning of the movie the main character has lost his sense of purpose and just drifts from one extremely stylish yet alienating scenario to the next, awaiting his own execution. It wasn't that dramatic in my case, admittedly, but I enjoyed the drift.

Slipping through the gates into Shinjuku station past hundreds of thousands of people running in all directions, taking the JR line, emerging at Roppongi Crossing and being swiftly elevated up to the 54th floor of the newly built Roppongi Hill complex, I meditated over the 360° view of Tokyo on a cloudy day.

After a calm half-an-hour on the viewing platform I entered the Mori Art Museum, the indulgence of a property billionaire who had set himself a monument in glass and steel, crowned by this magnificent private museum of contemporary art. Two exhibitions were on show, one of them about the 'Elegance of Asian Silence', the other one a fairly unremarkable mix of international contemporary art.

Down again in the superfast elevator which makes no sound at all, and to Shibuya by bus. Saying hello to landmark dog Hachiko and passing by huge video screens into the narrow concrete labyrinth of Shibuya's streets where you can find everything, from an 8-storey Manga shop to small record shops offering the latest and trendiest in Hip Hop, R&B and what-have-you. Met an artist of a hair-stylist who corrected the mess of a Turkish haircut I had got in Hackney only a week before and made me feel like a person again, between oriental scents and mellow Brazilian music.

Another inescapable cultural reference regarding Tokyo is of course Chris Marker's Sans Soleil. It strikes me as exceptional how this film essay produced more than 20 years ago has ingrained itself into my brain and is still exerting an influence on my perception of the city. The things Marker talked about are still there - the immensity of an urban landscape dominated by signs, signs which I as a Westerner can not read; the calmness of people squeezed into the metro who still manage to read a book or seem to be asleep. What are the dreams they are dreaming with eyes wide shut, Marker asked?

What else can you do in Tokyo but wandering and wondering? Of course eat, eat, eat and eat again, plus a little bit of Sake or one of the exquisite Japanese beers such as Kirin or Asahi. Once you are done with that you can go for a night-stroll to discover one of the many small bars which just seem to know no closing hour. And all the time, even though some people are drunk and many are enjoying themselves there is fortunately none of the sense of violence and aggression around that characterizes London's night-life.

As a participant of the exhibition, symposium and workshop OpenNature at NTTICC I feel not really entitled to writing a review but I can say that I felt this was the right choice of topic at the right time, introducing a new theme into Japanese discourse about media art and bringing together a new generation of artists at the ICC, an institution with grand scope and legacy which hopefully will be allowed to continue. Thanks so much to the curator, Yukiko Shikata, for having us all there.

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