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When Japanese Manga, Hip Hop, Fashion, Lifestyle and Musicals Collide

I went to watch a movie called Tokyo Tribe. For those of you who didn’t grow up in Asia or have never absorbed any nerdy Asian culture, Tokyo Tribe is a Japanese comic series, also known as a manga. It was written and illustrated by Santa Inoue, a 46-year-old Japanese artist born in Paris. The movie was a film-adaptation of the comic.

Before getting into the film, let’s talk about the elements that set Tokyo Tribe apart from the hundreds of Japanese manga out during the late 90s to mid 2000s. Unlike the typical illustration of Japanese cartoons, the characters here are either bald, sporting an afro, or have braided hair. They are also dressed in casual street wear. More specifically, the characters look like what people would label “hip-hoppers”. The storyline is about gang wars in Tokyo. The series concentrated a lot on Japan’s perspective of what a “hip-hopper” is. It has scenes where the characters clean their unlaced Adidas Superstars, smoke weed, chill with the homies and party with ratchets. I don’t know all the names of the characters but there was one that looks 80% like Raekwon and another that resembled Snoop Dogg if Snoop Dogg was 2 dimensional. Tokyo Tribe was an Asian hipster’s wet dream back in the mid 2000s. Imagine comics, fashion, lifestyle and street culture all rolled into one. Santo Inoue’s fashionable illustrations expanded into an actual clothing line called Santastic! Entertainment.

Let’s get back to the movie. When I was walking into the theater, I was sort of expecting the film to be similar to the 1979 American cult classic “The Warriors” in terms of the visuals and how the characters would be styled. It wasn’t. The director, Sion Sono, who I admire a lot after watching his previous work such as Love Exposure and Suicide Club, took the “hip-hop” element to the next level. He directed the film as a musical. A rap musical. When R Kelly made “Trapped in the Closet”, it was separated in bits and he was singing so at least if we didn’t happen to pay attention to what he was saying, it would at least sound good. But this was a full-on feature film that was a rap musical. I don’t understand Japanese so it was extra difficult to catch up. For 90 minutes, three quarters of the dialogue and monologues were rapped. A long time ago, I read about how Sticky Fingaz from Onyx wanted to do a rap musical film, but I don’t know if he pulled it off. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Tokyo Tribe might just be the first ever rap musical to hit the theaters.

It was a great idea but so wrong in many ways. First of all, not all the actors are rappers in real life so it sounded very forced meaning the delivery was just not there. Secondly, I’m not Japanese so I had to read the English subtitles which didn’t rhyme. Thirdly, a movie with G-Funk and Trap beats going back and forth non-stop is very distracting. Nonetheless, the film was entertaining even if it was for the wrong reasons. For those who are interested in Japanese culture, their obsession with fashion, porn, and a very Asian perspective of hip-hop, you should still check out the Tokyo Tribe comics and the movie and let me know what I missed.

Peep the trailer for Tokyo Tribe below.

[youtube width=”720″ height=”405″ video_id=”zYy7__R3sQ8″]



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