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|Posted: 2017-02-09, 20:40 Post subject: Documentary film on shakuhachi and skateboarding
|Shakuhachi player and manga artist Katsuya Nonaka has made his first documentary film: "Future Is Primitive", on the twin topics of shakuhachi and skateboarding.
I interviewed Nonaka and wrote this piece in The Wire magazine:
Katsuya Nonaka: Future Is Primitive
“I think this modernisation has to stop, and get back to the old school ways,” says Katsuya Nonaka, speaking of his new shakuhachi-meets-skateboarding documentary film, Future Is Primitive. Nonaka is discussing his title: “The ‘primitive’ thing is like roots, you know? As for shakuhachi, the ‘jinashi’ raw shakuhachi is a really primitive instrument. So I was putting my hope into the title, that hopefully in the future the shakuhachi will go back to its roots.” There might seem to be no meeting point between Japan’s bamboo flute, associated with Zen priests, and youth culture’s skateboarding boom, but Nonaka, a seasoned practitioner of both, has pinpointed problems that they share. As skateboarding evolves from teenage craze into potential Olympic sport, corporations identify sponsoring and controlling opportunities. In the case of shakuhachi, the modern flute is coated inside with lacquer to boost volume and reliability. But a minority of players are rejecting this western-influenced version of their instrument and turning back to the so-called jinashi flute: raw, untreated bamboo as employed by the basket-hatted Komuso monks, who somehow created the solo shakuhachi repertoire in pre-modern Japan.
“Skate people say, ‘Keep it real’ all the time,” continues Nonaka. “Many big companies are coming in, so for example there’s a movement against Nike, the ‘Don’t Do It’ campaign, twisting their slogan ‘Just Do It’. I’m just worrying that skateboarding is going to take the same route as shakuhachi has done for some time. Shakuhachi has two types and jiari [lacquered]is in the majority. So in the future the sport aspect of skateboarding - people call it sportsboarding - is going to be the most popular thing, and that’s all most people will know. Then maybe street skating is going to get banned by the government, and it’s going to be super hard for us to skate in the street. Street skating is our roots, and that has to happen in the street, you know?”
Future Is Primitive is a twist on the title of Powell Peralta’s seminal 1985 skate video, Future Primitive. Nonaka has interviewed big names from the skating and shakuhachi worlds to create a nuanced discussion of how both are evolving. “The skaters in the film are super famous – I was lucky,” says Nonaka, and Japanese skateboarders have been flocking to screenings. In amongst the debate are plenty of shots of cool moves from both musicians and street skaters, in which it’s clear that elegance and timing are crucial to both. In terms of shakuhachi, we hear from jinashi master Atsuya Okuda, who switched from a career as jazz trumpeter to become one of the most respected players of the raw bamboo flute – Nonaka has studied with him for over a decade. Okuda stresses how the shakuhachi was a tool for pursuing enlightenment via playing. “Tradition has its good and bad sides,” says Okuda. “But if the shakuhachi has evolved to become simply an instrument, I think that’s completely wrong.” A younger player, Kohei Matsumoto, talks of the struggle of surviving as a professional in the face of widespread Japanese ignorance of their own musical traditions. He smiles as he recalls being asked to play tunes from Disney’s Frozen, but says he’s okay with that as a route towards eventually hearing the ancient solo repertoire.
The skaters seem unused to talking about what they do – they insist repeatedly that it’s fun – but Nonaka draws them out. “It’s pure freedom, you can just live your life,” says Ryan Schekler. Hisashi Nakamura acknowledges that street skating is a tool to express your personality. They all agree there are problems with skating opening up to an ever-wider public. “There’s nothing I can do if the world doesn’t care,” says one. “All I can do is stay true to my belief” – and suddenly we’re in the world of the samurai.
This is Nonaka’s debut film. He’s also a manga artist and a member of Seppuku Pistols, a punk collective who dress as Edo-period Japanese farmers and cover The Dead Kennedys’s “Too Drunk To Fuck” with furious traditional drumming and amplified shamisen. He feels both of his twin topics are on the brink of crisis: “I was like, oh, I have to do something, otherwise the future is going to be totally different. I’m trying to say, please know about jinashi shakuhachi, then please make your choice. Now people only know jiari [lacquered], so there’s no choice. After skating gets into the Olympics, the majority of people will see skateboarding as a sport, so I’m worried people are going to forget that it was actually in the street. We have to let them know about it, that’s the main point of this film.”
But of course Future Is Primitive is about more than flutes and skates. Towards the close Nonaka shows us the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant, and assorted images of globalisation: Macdonalds, Starbucks and ‘fast fashion’ outlet Uniqlo. He talks about the tree as a metaphor for culture – a tree needs roots – while we see Japan’s tallest tower, Tokyo Skytree. Nonaka: “They’re a sign of the times, showing how everything is going to look the same. I’m questioning modernisation. Somehow they named that tower for a tree, but the roots of that Skytree is a shopping mall.”