Dazed Digital

Tokyo / 日本語

Spine TV's Tokyo City Series

January 4, 2012

Leo Leigh and Leo Marks head to Japan to create an insightful subculture video series that digs beneath the surface

  • Text by Terence Teh

Spine TV have always been at the forefront of exploring the most interesting subcultures across the globe and their Tokyo City Series is no different. With a diverse and unique viewpoint on the cultural underbelly and niche reporting, Spine TV's Leo Leigh and Leo Marks produced and directed mini-series on Tokyo ranges from the iconic (with mini-docs on DJ Muro and Neighborhood's Shinsuke Takizawa) through to films on Tokyo's homeless and the Dancehall Queen Japan competition.

Check out the full series of Tokyo films here.

Satellite Voices: Can you tell us how you approached the stories and series?
Leo Leigh: The idea of going to Tokyo has always interested me and Leo Marks, and we've been talking about going there for years. We had already made a series in New York and Berlin and so the idea of going to Tokyo seemed like a good idea. Zaid, who we worked with on this series, had been there a few times and had some good connections.

Everything was researched and thought of prior our trip. A film like "Tadzio" was always going to be straight forward and would consist of an interview and performance, so you know what you're going to get. This can be said also of "DJ Muro" and "The Neighborhood" film.

Films like "Homeless in Tokyo" will always be unpredictable because you're dealing with a more complex subject matter and it's about peoples lives, hardships and problems and isn't art or music based. Shooting all the films in one trip we'd done before with Berlin and New York, and on those two occasions a lot of it wasn't planned at all and we met people as we went. Whereas this trip was all planned out and scheduled.

Leo Marks: This City Series involved the most pre-produced of the three (Berlin, New York, Tokyo), on the previous shoots we just turned up to the city with the kit and a few contacts from previous social visits, but no set idea on how any films we would make or who we were going to film with. This time we had Zaid working on the project and he was contacting people way in advance, it was a much bigger production all round, we were there for nearly three weeks where as before we never really spent more than one or two weeks filming, so it was we were pretty immersed in the city towards the end of the shoot.

SV: Can you tell us about Spine TV’s relationship with Japanese culture?
Leo Marks: Spine TV and UDOX have always had a relationship with Japanese culture, from the days of Spine Magazine with Zaid and Russell would visit there frequently and we have always been culturally linked with crews in Tokyo and Japan.

SV: What still surprises you about Tokyo culture?
Leo Leigh: When we were shooting the "Dancehall Queen" film it occurred to me how much the Japanese embrace other cultures but completely make it their own. Where ever you go in Tokyo there are American pop culture references, references of all kinds. I guess their obsession and appreciation for other cultures is what I found surprising.

Leo Marks: I don't think it surprised me, but it impressed me how seriously food, and eating out is taken in Tokyo, the standard is very high and it's a serious business! Also spending Christmas and New Years Eve there was interesting, very different to here, Christmas is treated kind of like Valentines Day and New Years is more like Christmas, we visited a temple, it was a really good insight into the culture.

SV: The series also seems to explore misconceptions about Tokyo, would you agree?
Leo Leigh: I would say this only about the "Homeless in Tokyo" film.

Leo Marks: Most people don't seem to associate Tokyo with homelessness, so in that sense hopefully the film challenges that misconception.

SV: What’s the most satisfying goal of creating these films?
Leo Leigh: It's great to complete a series that has a look and a feel to it and gives the viewer a slice of culture and shows them something as bizarre as the Dancehall culture that most people don't know exists.

Leo Marks: Making a set of films that covers a wide range of subjects and that in turn sits in with a wider set of series about other cities has been interesting. Also during the process we have met so many different people, and other films have been pursued based on characters from these series, so in that sense it's been rewarding also.

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