Akihabara: Playground and Home to Geeks

1 Oct

By James Shaw and Ed Sum

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J: The documentary Akihabara Geeks follow the lives of a few of the inhabitants of Akihabara or as it’s been nicknamed “Electric Town.”

And as I like to call the inhabitants “damn lucky,” oh what I would not do to live there, where many geeks congregate. It would be like a large convention every day. The documentary is not hard-hitting by any means. In fact it could almost act as a holiday advertisement for Akihabara. We get to know some of the occupants and they seem to be like anyone else with their own dreams and their own little quirks, except for one resident who is painted as downright odd.

E: When it comes to 20-year-old Ikki Motohara, he looks like your average geek with long hair and glasses. But when he is questioned if he has a girlfriend, he becomes quite irritated and motions to the interviewer and the film crew to get going. Since this documentary was being filmed and edited in a sequential time-line, I figured that he would not talk about his past childhood until he felt comfortable with the team. But somehow, I could not quite figure how Christianity would drive him to have an obsession with the cute anime-drawn characters. He says something about how the first picture he saw of this sub-genre gave him this feeling of completion, but I get the feeling there is more that is not being said.

Since I have experience in how a good documentary should be constructed, I’d say his segment is the weakest of them all out of the five people profiled. I understood more from the other characters–especially those from the profiles of the computer overclocker Katsumi Ohashi, computer game creator Dragon Knight 07, electronic parts dealer Kouichi Shimayama, and waitress (from a Maid cafe) Miss Ichika. Each of them had a decent explanation of why they are part of the sub-culture that has formed in this district. I understood them.

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J: Motohara was part of a Christian monastery from an early age but he was ejected at the age of 17. Apart from the viewer learning he had a dim view of the world, no real explanation is given nor do the filmmakers ask. Viewers are left to make up their own conclusions and sometimes that is a bad thing.

With Miss Ichika her natural shyness is evident and she found it hard to make friends until she started working at a maid cafe where she felt she finally belonged. In North American culture it’s hard for a man to find himself a relationship than vice versa. With Ichika she had no one in her life to speak of and I had to wonder if the men around her were shy too because she is an attractive woman.

But my favourite people in the documentary are Dragon Knight 07 and Kouichi Shimaya. Dragon Knight followed his dream and after his computer game Cicada Season became the success it did after release in 2002, he played it smart by involving his family in the production of any of his future games. And that only works when family members are reliable and do not act as extra baggage. Shimayama is a dedicated man and runs a stall in under the elevated railways known as the Radio Center. The small business was established by his father in 1950. Kouchi reluctantly took over the stall when his father passed away. I have a lot of respect for such a man. He has become well-known in his community and he is vital to what makes Akihabara unique.

E: But as for what’s going to change in this district, apparently a new building (Akihabara Dai Building) has been erected since I was last there. It looks just like every other modern age building: silver, metallic and sleek. It has no character. The documentary, however, mentioned that it might get painted up with various cartoon characters. I doubt that will help with the more rustic flavour old Akihabara has. I rather enjoyed exploring the strip. I came out with a few goodies of my own to take home to Canada, namely some really hard to find Five Star Stories material.

If I was to call myself an otaku, it would only be because I love giant robots, and Five Star features some exceptionally designed masterpieces from Mamoru Nagano.

J: Unlike Motohara, I am an otaku for the mechs (Gundam 008th MS Squadron), the comedies (Ranma ½), and the well written dramatic storylines (Gunbuster). But as Ed kept repeating throughout the documentary “I’ve been there.” My simple reply was “I hate you.”

One day I will get my chance or the Two Hungry Blokes/Otaku no Culture duo will have a joint trip to Akihabara. And then we’ll be reporting on popular culture and the food that one can buy in that district. And even though they are a district in Tokyo, residents call it a town. It probably was at one time but it gives you an idea on the mentality of the residents of Akihabara. And who could blame them, after all Akihabara does make Tokyo one of the most traveled destinations in the world.

3½ out of 5

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