The Cult of the Tokyo Arcade
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For those outside of it, Japanese culture can seem impenetrable, like an enclosed terrarium that breeds fascinating, inexplicable visions, ideas, and customs. And within it, one will find an even more insular subculture, one centered around the steadfast phenomenon of Japanese video games.
Subculture can hardly be used to describe the cult of the Japanese arcade, which is the subject of a new documentary called 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience. Producer Brad Crawford burrows deep into downtown Tokyo, where five story buildings filled with arcade cabinets extend their neon signs outward and tower over the narrow streets. "Welcome to Japan," the film’s Indie GoGo campaign explains, "a place where the arcades of the 80s and 90s not only exist but thrive and have evolved into an elaborate, unmatched gaming experience."
The trailer gives a glimpse of sights we may have seen before: a line of Japanese youth, seated stationary before a row of arcade cabinets; a duo moving effortlessly on a neon platform to a manic display of light and sound; a gamer crammed into a booth, eyes fixed on a screen while fingers coordinate joystick movements and button-mashing. Meanwhile a voiceover tells us in Japan, “it’s not fun; it’s our life to be the best.” We were particularly intrigued by the teaser’s peek into the architecture of Japanese arcades: “As you get more involved with games, you’ll find yourself heading higher and higher in the arcade. That’s essentially how the arcades are designed,” another voiceover explains. Looks like this documentary may take us to the top floor.
This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.