This week Jason takes a look at Saitama No Rappa, a Japanese take on hip hop culture from director Yû Irie.
Japan has mastered the art of blending genres and musical styles, fusing their own unique creations from this melting pot. These have predominantly been guitar based with the world of hip hop going unnoticed. For director Yu Irie this musical genre seemingly is his passion and focus, with Saitama no Rappa (8000 Miles) proving a popular hit in Japan despite its low budget origins. Although his debut feature, Yu Irie had first started in short films before venturing into the soft-core adult genre; experiences that may Rapper help explain an important subplot within 8000 Miles.
Whereas Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda Linda Linda (2005) dealt with the penultimate days of high school, 8000 Miles embeds itself into the wasteland that follows for those without direction or purpose after leaving the comfort of the education system. Both films are united in their musical passion, despite the polar opposites of their audio vehicles. 8000 Miles is set in the commuter town of Saitama, this is familiar territory whether it’s Staines, Dunfermline or Greenville; many of us live outside a major city. For the residents of Saitama the bright lights of the big city come in the formidable shape of Tokyo. Saitama is a peaceful town from what we are permitted to see, with only intensive agriculture beyond its outer limits.
The youth of Saitama often give into the pull of the big city. They leave their families upon graduation and seek fame and fortune on the streets of Tokyo. Many never return to their former stamping ground, others return as failures while another segment fall through the cracks of society. To use an American term, these ‘slackers’ seem content to live out their daily routine avoiding work and inhabiting their own fantasy world. In 8000 Miles this group is represented by a handful of young men united in their love of rap music.
Forming their own rap group known as Sho-Gung, their youthful energy is focused into surrounding themselves and digesting this most Western of cultures. Whether it’s adopting a gangster appearance, purchasing the latest records or debating East versus West Coast; their own rap world is almost impenetrable. Initially we’re introduced to the main core of the hip hop community in rappers Tom, Mighty and Ikku. With their own den of operations littered with recording equipment, CD’s and newspaper cuttings, this group shuns the world outside. Ikku, the sizeable Notorious B.I.G. of the trio, scans newspapers for inspiration for his lyrics much to the dismay of his co-MC’s who admit they have little understanding of the world outside.
Slowly we’re invited into the boredom of their real world identities. Ikku is the archetypical slacker, content to doss around with no family pressure or role models outside of his rap heroes. Mighty with his Elvis shades and pimp fashion is more fortunate; his family owns a large farming business yet the arrival of a Chinese worker pushes him further away from his limited work ethic. Tom might well be the intelligent one of the trio but endures a part time role in a nightclub and sweeping the streets where the working girls treat him as a lowlife.
The united Sho-Gung dream is to release their music and perform live, enlisting the help of a terminally ill hot-shot producer to propel themselves towards these goals. By chance Sho-Gung makes its live debut in a local council office in 8000 Miles’ most hilarious and uncomfortable scene. These officials want to know more about youth culture and bizarrely Sho-Gung is booked to perform in a meeting room with high ranking civil servants. Let down by fringe members of the troupe, our trio of Ikku, Mighty and Tom press on regardless, putting on an energised and comical performance. This vocal display of foreign culture is well received, with the trio enduring rigorous questioning afterwards. During this interrogation you can feel the vaporisation of their rap bubble. The civil servants pick up on their lyrical messages and question their meaning. For Sho-Gung it’s their first and only performance with real life expectations and pressures winning the ultimate battle.
8000 Miles is a wee gem, clocking in at just 80 minutes it perfectly captures the fading of youth and the realisation of what lies ahead. There are subplots that I haven’t touched upon here with the former schoolgirl turned porn actress (played by former adult actress Mihiro) being of particular relevance. Her own tale is a perfect contrast to our hip-hop trio and she shows great courage in forcing herself back towards Tokyo. Ultimately there is little life or excitement in Saitama but your indiscretions will reach your roots especially with the help of DVD.
Director Yu Irie shows great skill and restraint throughout 8000 Miles walking a fine line between humour and real life issues. This is highlighted by the conclusion that keeps us guessing until the very end and where he refuses to given in the masses. Such is the conclusion that you are left demanding more of this unique environment and its characters, which is a rarity in film nowadays. Propelled and financed by the success of 8000 Miles, Yu Irie returned with a sequel wonderfully titled 8000 Miles 2 Girls Rappers. Whether it can replicate the success and appeal of his debut feature remains to be seen.