Friday, July 06, 2012

"Ginza, Train Scenes, Trip Back to 1990, Art Exhibitions, Etc."

As the title says - although the two main things in this batch are art exhibition views and views of 1990 Tokyo.  Revisiting 1990 has been interesting for me for a number of reasons, from comparing it to the present, to re-experiencing the atmosphere of the time.  As there is a lot to say about the individual clips from 1990, I'll make comments after each one (see below).

Ginza Chuo-Dori Stroll in the Rain (120703)

Higashi-Murayama Station - Seibu Line Train Arriving - (120703)

March 1990 - Shibuya Ice Cream

When I walk into the shop and have the camera rolling, the employees laugh and smile for the camera.  If you tried something like this now, there's a good chance someone would get angry and tell you to erase the clip.  And this wasn't an isolated response.  Typically I'd be taking a video of something outside and people would detour so as to walk in front of the camera and be recorded smiling and waving to the camera.

I turn the camera towards a couple of customers in the shop, who also smile for the camera.  The one woman's hairstyle is of the era as well - long, straight, black (so many people dye their hair now that truly black hair is actually somewhat of a rarity in 2012!), with short front bangs.  Actually, I'm not sure how to properly explain that hairstyle, but I remember it and that it was popular at the time.

And then I turn the camera towards another pair of customers - who ignore it.  Again, this would be very uncool behavior in 2012, but in camera-happy 1990 (when photographs and video were mainly considered purely fun and not something to fear), this was - admittedly - rather bold behavior on my part, but just considered quirky at the time and not something bad.  If it had generated bad reactions at the time, I wouldn't have done it.

Looking back towards the young man behind the counter, he tries speaking with me in English, and I respond in English (although I could have responded in Japanese).  Japan had just entered the era of strong yen - after a long period of it being weak, which basically meant that most people never traveled overseas due to the cost.  And Japan was just beginning to be culturally popular (it had always been interesting, but not in a mainstream way), so there weren't very many foreigners who came here to live.  Basically, at the time, if you saw a foreigner, they were likely to be a tourist, which may be what I was taken for on this occasion.

Looking down the counter as other customers order ice cream.  The young women and their long, straight, black hair.  Looking at the videos I took in 1990-92, that hairstyle almost defines the era for me - it really stands out and quickly identifies an image as being from that time.

When I step out in front of the camera a couple of times, that large bag on my right shoulder is what I carried the (rather large) video camera in.  The first of four analog 8mm (Hi8) cameras I used, it didn't stand up to heavy use very well and needed repairs fairly early on.  Once I bought the next model, I relegated this one to back-up use.

March 1990 - Neon Clarion Sign in Shibuya

Just a (rather complicated) neon sign, but I often worked in Shibuya at the time, and on the way home, I would look up at that sign while waiting for the walk light to change.  It was interesting enough for me that I never got tired of watching it (and so I'm glad I recorded the full cycle of its changes in this clip).  The same sign was there for a fairly long time, but was changed to a regular plain sign a few(?) years ago.

Speaking of large billboard advertisements.  They are increasingly left blank for want of advertisers in 2012.  How much of that is due to the bad economy and how much is due to Internet advertising (and people walking around looking at their cell phones all the time and hardly ever looking up), I'm not sure.

March 1990 - Late Night Shibuya

The visual element of this one should be seen as a backdrop to the audio track.  We've all gotten so used to hearing *something* with even very old footage that was originally taken soundlessly - with fake sound tacked on decades later due to modern people seemingly being unable to bear seeing moving pictures without sound - and then that sound is taken for granted, but it shouldn't be.  Oftentimes the element that has most radically changed with something like this is the sound.  We should *know* this, but after decades of seeing old pictures with fake sounds, our collective mental audio track processing ability has been very heavily damaged - to the point where we hear generic garbage sounds tacked onto old footage and unthinkingly accept that those fake generic sounds are actually connected with the scene we're watching (even though they're completely bogus).

Okay... [taking a deep breath]... I'm doing too much preamble, but if you *really* listen to *real* archival sounds, there is much to learn about the ambiance of the time a sound recording was made.  Getting to specifics, let's listen to some of the elements of this soundtrack from the streets of March 1990 Shibuya.

The first thing that stands out to me when listening to this (and remembering), are the low-fidelity small-speaker generated recordings being played back to passerby to entice them into one shop or another.  The typical technology used at the time was cassette tape, which was capable of reproducing great sound if you were using the most expensive equipment available, recording on high-quality tapes, and then playing the tapes back on well-maintained (degaussed, cleaned, etc.) equipment through good speakers via quality amplification, etc.

Naturally, typical small shops didn't have that sort of budget (or time) to work with and figured that - just for voice - any old recorder would do.  (Actually - some places probably did go to the trouble to make good quality recordings, but playback is another issue.)  For playback, they'd use the cheapest type of tapes (intended for voice only) and then play them back endlessly in cheap tape player/recorders.  So you had bad/low fidelity/quality recordings playing off of low-quality tape through cheap over-used equipment.  The result was so clearly a recording, that you would never confuse a recording with a real person speaking.  It was nice in a way - because when recorded voices are very obviously recorded voices, you can immediately assign them to that role as you pass through the sound waves, and then when a real person speaks, they automatically get higher priority as a fellow right-now living person.  Also, the low-fidelity recordings add their own ambiance to the scene.

In the first 35 seconds or so of this clip, there is first an echoey fairly high-pitched recording and then another recording's sound waves drift into the scene - sounding closer to a real person's voice, but with a muffled sound (likely due to a quality recording being played back on a poorly maintained tape player and/or via a tape that's been played and replayed too many times, which damages the high frequency sounds most off all, so you get increasingly muffled-sounding playback).

Past the old-recording sound waves on the narrow street, the voices of all the people become the predominant sound, and - while I'm still trying to pinpoint what it is that is different about the way the same scene would sound today, I suspect it has something to do with the almost complete lack of cell phones in 1990 (only businesses and rich people had them).  Aside from the element of a single voice talking through a machine to an unseen/unheard person in some other place, even when people are sending text messages, the fact that there's this unceasing connection with far-off people changes everything.  Knowing that you can (and often do) connect with a large number of people, wherever they may be, reduces the importance of being with whoever you are with, not to mention lost attention that would have been focused on your immediate surroundings.

This may be the element of the past I most miss - that when you went somewhere, you were really there.  There was an automatic look-out for public telephones, for when you needed to reach someone regarding something, but even when you used them, the moment you hung up, there was no way someone could reach you.  (Pagers and cell phones existed, but weren't in general use yet.  Pagers became popular not long after this, but in 1990 - most people relied on public telephones if they needed to contact a distant person while outside.)

At about one minute into the tape, three young women laugh and do a quick pose for the camera.  That was quite common at the time - I think the idea of being recorded in motion and with sound was still novel enough that it was just fun - for its own sake.

After 10:00 p.m. - then, as now, a time when a lot of people begin to head for the nearest train station (Shibuya in this case) to begin their (typically) multi-train journey home.

Around four minutes into the tape, I walk past a row of public telephones and there is someone in nearly every last one of them.  Where public telephones still exist today (an increasingly rare item), they usually sit there unused.

Other than that, there are various detail changes (comparing 1990 to 2012), but nothing too radically different.  The camera wasn't held very steadily and I apologize for that - I had just recently begun recording video and wasn't used to taking moving pictures.

1990年「ビヤステーション恵比寿」の古い電車ビアレストラン (900319)

First I should explain the title.  It's "Beer Station Ebisu" [plus details] and shows the old train cars (not far from Ebisu Station) that they were using as a pub at the time (seen from a passing Yamanote Line train).  I went there once and thought it was a great idea.  Unfortunately, when they built Ebisu Garden Place (which didn't exist when I took this), those cool train cars disappeared.  I think the train was initially moved to another location, but apparently that didn't work out, because it vanished not long after that.

1990 Yamanote Line Window View (900319)

Looking out a left-side window of a Yamanote Line train as it runs from Shibuya to Ebisu and then Meguro.  In marked contrast to today, the area between the Yamanote Line and the Toyoko Line is mainly just empty space.  As the train stops at and continues past Ebisu Station, note that there is no Ebisu Garden Place.  Construction for that began not long after this was taken.

1990 Tokyo Morning Trains (900322)

This begins with walking down a flight of stairs in the morning to a crowded railway station platform and shows a few morning trains coming and going.  There's some manual assist from platform people to help people get into very full trains, and lots of standing around waiting for trains to arrive.  I wanted to post this to show a wider spectrum of what it was like riding the crush-rush trains then, since too much attention has ended up focusing on the pack-'em-in aspect of train loading, which was just a momentary part of the commute.

To fully understand the whole picture, there should be pictures of the inside as well, but at that high of a people density and with the fragile and large machine that a video camera was at the time, not to mention that it would have been rude to record people in that unpleasant situation, all the footage of this clip is just from the platform.  (I have taken some interior views before, but only at times like a packed Ginza Line train full of happy people going to a festival, etc.)  The strange thing about it being really intensely crowded, is that when you're packed in with people so tightly that you can't move, the body seems to automatically sense that becoming agitated is counterproductive and it's actually *less* irritating than when the density is less and you find yourself irritatedly wondering "Does that guy really need to have his elbow there?  Can't he move a little bit away from me?!?" etc.

Takaosanguchi to Takao - Empty Train Views Etc (120702)

Off-Schedule Outbound Chuo Line - Shinjuku (120703)

Nighttime Kokubunji Station 120703

Arriving at Takadanobaba Station - Transfer to Tozai Line (120703)

Y's Arts-508 - Plastic Jewelry Exhibition 120702-08

Masaki Takayama 高山正樹 Exhibition at Gallery Kobo 巷房 120625-0707

Amore Ginza Gallery アモーレ銀座ギャラリー Group Exhibition 120702-08 (A) - 120703

Amore Ginza Gallery アモーレ銀座ギャラリー Group Exhibition 120702-08 (B) - 120703

Endo Kazuho 遠藤和帆展 Exhibition at GGICM 120628-0703

Hayashi Kenzo 林建造 New Book (A) 120703

Hayashi Kenzo 林建造 New Book (B) 120703

Hayashi Kenzo 林建造 New Book (C) 120703

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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