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Live from Tokyo


Rod Lott August 26th, 2011

As soaked in neon as the city it captures, the documentary “Live from Tokyo” delves into its underground music scene — specifically, how living in such a crowded megaopolis, where citizens are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information and stimuli, affects what musicians make. Spoiler alert: Clutter yields creative intensity.


The live scene is healthy, although with so many bands, there aren’t enough rewards to go ’round. As with here, the Internet has taken a huge bite out of CDs, but low album sales doesn't mean a lot of people aren't listening. They are. And thanks to the Internet, followings can be built overseas without those people having to wait for pricey import discs.

So what does Japanese music sound like? Like the Western world’s, because they heavily rely on reworking outside influences (read: American) to make their own. Zoobombs may be the one band you’re likely to know already, but the doc exposes you to many new favorites. They include Shintaro Miyazaki and his cut-and-paste beats; Sexy Synthesizer, an act that busts out video game-inspired electrojams; d.v.d., whose live notes affect a live “Pong” game going on behind them on a huge screen; Optrum, playing with fluorescent light tubes; Makoto Oshiro, who makes his own instruments through abnormal means. Some groups may irritate you ... just like they do here.

Director Lewis Rapkin lets most of the bands profiled do the talking via their stage performances, but in between, he pulls off some cool scenes of Tokyo’s city life, with the camera taking on an interesting POV, as on the front of an elevated train. These sequences are like a “Koyaanisqatsi” for the Internet generation!

There are no extras on the DVD, yet there are two extras with the DVD. Allow me to explain: One is a code awarding you a free download of a compilation of artists from the film. The other is that 10 percent of sales are being donated to the Red Cross for earthquake relief. Win-win! —Rod Lott

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