Writing about “Your Name’s” success in Japan for The Atlantic
Long time since I’ve written for The Atlantic, but I returned late last week with an article about the success of “Your Name” in Japan.
A fact that will come up in nearly every review of the film Your Name as it opens in theaters across North America this weekend is how it was the highest-grossing film in Japan last year. Makoto Shinkai’s animated feature about two body-swapping teenagers has thus far pulled in over 24 billion yen (around $214 million), becoming the second highest-grossing movie in the country ever, trailing only the revered director Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 Spirited Away. It’s shattered records for Japanese films across Asia, and is now the most profitable picture from the country in China. Before even arriving stateside, it has nabbed the title of the top-grossing anime movie of all time, while also enjoying critical raves. (The Atlantic’s David Sims praised it as one of the best teen movies in years.)
Yet these numbers fail to capture just how big a pop-cultural force Your Name (Kimi no Na wa in Japanese) has become in its home country. Since arriving in movie theaters late last August, it has spawned limited-run cafes, dating events, and merchandise ranging from sake to a home planetarium. The film centers on a pair of adolescents, one living in Tokyo and the other in a town in the countryside of Gifu Prefecture. And so travel companies have organized walking tours of Your Name’s metropolitan locations, while a bus tour out to the rural areas that inspired Makoto proved popular (Gifu as a whole has seen a big economic boost in the film’s wake). Turn on the TV and many shows reference the film, while the songs from Your Name have become staples at karaoke and junior high schools across the archipelago. Traditional Japanese kumihimo (or threads) have become a trendy accessory on Instagram after playing a central role in the story.
Talking to Phew for Bandcamp Daily
For Bandcamp Daily, I talked with experimental legend Phew about her new alubm.
The last two years have been rewarding for fans of Japanese experimental artist Phew. She’s released a pair of full-lengths—2015’s A New World and the off-kilter Light Sleep, released this past March via New York label Mesh-Key. This is an especially welcome development, considering her last record before that was released in 1995.
It’s not that Phew—real name Hiromi Moritani—vanished, necessarily. Over the past 20 years, she’s collaborated with various musicians, fronted the punk-rock band Most, and played shows all across Japan. In recent years, local music media have begun affording Phew the critical respect she deserves; albums she created over the last 40 years have gone from record store rarities to being included on “best of” lists. She landed at number 35 on Japanese magazine Snoozer’s “150 Greatest Albums of Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and two of her albums were named Music Magazine’s best Japanese albums of the ‘90s list last year.
Yet despite the growing acclaim, Phew didn’t release any solo material until she started recording songs for Light Sleep in 2014.“I recorded at home casually,” she tells me. “My thoughts and feelings at the moment I made that music were reflected directly in the songs.”
Talking to Looprider for April’s issue of Metropolis
For this month’s issue of Metropolis, I talked to the band Looprider, and looked at how the geography of Tokyo’s rock landscape is changing.
The musical geography of Tokyo has long been divided up by neighborhoods. You go to Koenji if you are looking for artists on the punk or experimental side. Shimokitazawa houses rock bands often flirting with the mainstream. Akihabara—idols. It may sound like overgeneralizing, but oftentimes it feels accurate.
Yet in 2017, those neat boundaries between styles seem to have dissolved. Ryotaro Aoki, vocalist and guitarist for the band Looprider, points to Koenji as an example. “Maybe 10, 20 years ago I would have said the ‘Koenji sound’ was punk or hardcore,” he says, following band practice in the very neighborhood we are discussing. “But after [live venue] 20000V burned down, I think it lost a center. Now Koenji is all over the place.” He and bandmate Sean McGee point to venues leaning towards shoegaze, visual-kei and even idol music as examples of this shift. Looking at the live house offerings of other districts, a similar trend emerges.
Talking to Dominique Ansel for Metropolis
I talked to chef Dominique Ansel for Metropolis, as his new shop in Ginza opens this week.
Usually, Dominique Ansel gives the staff working at his bakery based in Tokyo’s Omotesando neighborhood a warning before dropping in. In late 2016, the French-born chef and restaurant operator tells Metropolis that he paid a surprise visit to the staff at his nearly two-year-old shop.
“They were very surprised,” Ansel says. “We wanted to see how they were doing day to day. They were doing very well. Very organized, all the food was right on, no big surprises,” adding a laugh after that last review.
Talked to Radwimps for The Japan Times
For this week’s Japan Times’ cover story, I talked to the band Radwimps, who wrote the soundtrack to the movie “Your Name” which has been a massive hit in the last year (to say the least):
Yokohama Arena feels special on this chilly Tuesday night in early March. It’s here that Radwimps — a rock outfit from Kanagawa Prefecture whose members could bike to this very venue when they were teens — are playing the first of two sold-out shows.
The group — featuring vocalist-guitarist Yojiro Noda, guitarist Akira Kuwahara, bassist Yusuke Takeda and drummer Satoshi Yamaguchi (though he has been on hiatus since 2015 due to a neurological disorder) — reminisces frequently during the show on their youth and watching gigs at this venue in the early 2000s. They play songs from across their career, touching on everything from pop-punk to experiments in electronica.
Yet the arena responds loudest to songs from “Your Name.,” the animated film about body-swapping teenagers for which Radwimps provided the soundtrack. When it comes time for “Zenzenzense,” the track most associated with the anime, excitement boils over.
Sounding off about JASRAC in the Japan Times
The Japan Times runs an occasional opinion column called “Sound Off,” and I stepped on the soapbox this month to talk about copyright:
At the start of 2017, it was hard to imagine a way that the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) could garner more hate from social media users than its already received. The music copyright management organization has long been one of the most loathed institutions on sites such as Twitter and 2channel. People focus on its militant approaches to YouTube uploads or collecting fees from independent hair salons playing background music.
It only took one month, however, for JASRAC to find a new way to anger the online masses.
On Feb. 2, JASRAC announced its intention to collect fees from music school performances, defined vaguely enough to make a classroom setting fair game. The proposal, which would go into effect in 2018, would impact hundreds of music education institutes and, most likely, result in higher fees for students.
Writing about “kawaii” for Red Bull Music Academy
Accompanying a new video series, I wrote an intro article about “kawaii” for Red Bull Music Academy:
The word “kawaii” gets thrown around a lot in Japan. Spend a day in Tokyo and you might hear the word, generally translated to English as “cute,” used to describe clothing displays, pancakes topped with fresh fruit or kittens on display in pet store windows, as well as dozens of other things. It’s the defining characteristic – not to mention economic anchor – of the capital’s Harajuku neighborhood, home to the Kawaii Monster Cafe. It’s also so prevalent in Japan that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s wife, Akie, pointed to kawaii as a big reason women in the country are held back.
Reviewing Ian Martin’s “Quit Your Band” for Time Out Tokyo
Over at Time Out Tokyo, I was asked to review fellow music writer Ian Martin’s book “Quit Your Band.” It’s good! Read the review here.
Writing about Showa Kayo Night and Quarta330 in The Japan Times
Busy month, but almost forgot to mention two recent articles in The Japan Times. First off, I caught up with the folks behind Showa Kayo Night for their recent Ooomori Edition:
Justin Miller isn’t a stranger to Japanese TV. He has been a guest on various morning shows to promote Showa Kayo Night, a party he co-founded in 2011. But the reaction he got after appearing on TV Tokyo’s evening program “You wa Nani Shi ni Nippon E?” (“Why Did You Come To Japan?”) really surprised him.
“It aired in May and I saw the impact at the next event,” he says from a fittingly retro bowling alley cafe in Tokyo’s Sasazuka neighborhood, near his day job. “I was coming from my school’s sports day, after running around in the sun all day. It was the first time I was late to it. I walked in, and everybody just started clapping.”
Also caught up with producer Quarta330 ahead of his new EP:
Unlike a lot of kids growing up in the 1990s, Toru Koda didn’t have much hands-on experience with video games.
“My big brother always hogged the system,” the 32-year-old, who records electronic music as Quarta330, says with a chuckle at a cafe in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. “But I really liked watching games more. Even now, when I drink, I’ll watch video game speed runs on YouTube.”