Japanese Culture and Western Artists: When two worlds collide

Schermata 2014-10-27 alle 21.51.50The interaction between Western artists and Japanese culture and the way the first try to showcase the culture of the latter has been lately kinda superficial and sometimes even misleading, bringing to different critiques over the time. The most recent case is the infamous Avril Lavigne music video/song Hello Kitty, that literally unleashed a storm made of critiques and accusations towards the american singer where words like “racism” and “disrespect” came out. Going a little back in time we could also cite Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls thing, but it’d be useless as the problem is totally the same: The superficiality and ignorance some western acts treat the theme of the Japanese modern culture.

What makes me and probably many fans of the Japanese Music Industry go insane (in a negative way) is the fact that artists with such a huge fame could seriously expose Japan’s culture and music in a proper and successful way and bring it to the global audience, something that would translate in more people getting interested in this huge music industry at the whole advantage of the artist itself that would gain more credibility. But still, some of them rely on the “WTF Japan” and “Oh look, that’s bizarre!” factors, purely born from their reluctance of properly understanding a completely different culture and society from theirs and using the most eye-catching factors of it as a toy to hide their irreparable lack of creativity and personality, which enriches the general and wrong opinion merely labeling Japan as “The Country of Manga and Anime”, something that makes all the Japan lovers go nuts as they all know that this country is way, way more than that.

Still, despite some of these artists being really famous, we’re luckily talking about isolated cases: Indeed, we can say that there have been many other acts that exposed the culture of the Land of Rising Sun in a proper and absolutely beautiful way.

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The first example that comes to my mind is Daft Punk’s masterpiece Discovery, an album featuring a concept created by the French duo along with legendary anime and manga creator Leiji Matsumoto, with a wonderful visual/audio experience as result that goes by the name of Interstella 5555, an amazing combination of top-notch electronic music and stunning animations. We could also cite Persefone, a Progressive Death Metal band that with their concept album Shin Ken narrated many aspects of the Japanese mythology and Shinto traditions with both aggressive and calm tracks featuring traditional Japanese instruments, with a stunning result full of pathos. Different but not less incisive events have been Lady Gaga’s choice of inviting globally successful artists like BABYMETAL and Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku to open her concerts in the United States, or Slipknot calling well known J-rock bands MAXIMUM THE HORMONE and MAN WITH A MISSION to join the lineup of their Knotfest 2014 event.

So while it may be fair to get really mad in front of certain situations and behaviors from some globally famous artists, we should not forget that many others are exposing the Japanese culture with love and creating excellent works influenced by this beautiful culture. Luckily, today another artist can be added to this list, and that’s the American alternative rock band OK Go.

The four guys from Los Angeles just released a new Music Video for the song I won’t let you Down in order to promote their fourth studio album Hungry Ghosts just released a couple of weeks ago. OK Go are a well known band for their innovative and creative Music Videos, and this time they went all the way to Japan to collaborate with some of the best names in the field, including Creative Director Harano Morihiro and Video Director Kazuaki Seki, that teamed up with the band’s singer Damian Kulash Jr.  (historical co-director of all the band’s MVs) to create something really unique, and the result is plain stunning.

This video has been recorded with a drone, and it’s a one-shot video: This means that there are no cuts, the whole thing has been recorded in just one continuous session. You can only imagine the absurd amount of work and organization behind all of this, and the concept reminds one of Kazuaki Seki’s works for J-rock/Electronic band Sakanaction, where the amazing MV for Aruku Around was a one-shot video as well: It’s the same technique and genial concept, just brought to a way higher level.

Fun fact: The three girls at the beginning of the video are the members of the popular Japanese Techno-pop unit Perfume, whose creative director is once again Kazuaki Seki.

Just look at all that beauty. Japan is everywhere in this video, and seeing a Western band embracing its culture and fusing it with their own music and concept is a joy for the eyes and gives hope for a future where Japanese and Western artists will work even more together, to the point where both will be globally recognized at the same level. We will then forget about all of those “artists” that abused of Japanese culture to try to look cool, and unavoidably failed.

– Alex

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