Tokyo through the eyes of Shibuya shantytown residents (short film)

What would Japan look like through the eyes of a drifter camped in a shantytown near one of Tokyo's trendiest zones?

Today on Boing Boing tv, we debut Dowa Mondai: Assimilation Issues, an experimental short film by Bob Jaroc which attempts to provide an answer. The director explains:

In the run up to the launch of the 2006 av album Greedy Baby, Plaid (Ed Handley) and myself were on tour in Japan. On a day off in Tokyo I visited a small shantytown in Shibuya I had seen from a train the day before, tucked away in a kids playground. My translator Nick Stone and myself introduced ourselves to a friendly group of people and negotiated permission to pry into their lives and film, in exchange for some food/ cigarettes and wine.

My intentions for the piece were to stay clear of making a patronizing "cry/be angry for the homeless people" thing or a romanticized view of that life. I wanted to distill the experiences of the people who took the time to talk to me and question myself why I ended up going there in search of something to film.

This was filmed on Kodak vision2 200 super 8 stock with a Beaulieu 6008pro. The neg was cut into 1000 strips and was given away with the 1st 1000 copies of Greedy Baby. Dowa Mondai: Assimilation Issues was made from those rushes/recordings.

The short was shot, directed, and edited by Bob Jaroc, with music from Ed Handley (Plaid). Jaroc's past work includes work with other recording artists such as The Go Team and Leila. He has collaborated with artists Chris Dorley Brown, Blast Theory and Zoë Walker and Neil Bromwich. Jaroc has appeared at the Queen Elizabeth hall, the Los Angeles Natural History Musem and the London IMAX, and he is currently working with the dance company Random Dance on a piece that will be headline the main stage at the UK festival The Big Chill.

More selected shorts by Jaroc here.

Plaid, whose music you hear in the piece, recently remixed a song by Bats for Lashes featured previously on Boing Boing; the 12" of that remix will be out soon.

(special thanks to David Pescovitz)

About Xeni Jardin

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email:
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20 Responses to Tokyo through the eyes of Shibuya shantytown residents (short film)

  1. Yamara says:

    Hey, Xeni, did you run into the Nerima Daikon Brothers while you were there?

  2. Xeni Jardin says:

    Hi Yamara! I did not make this short film, and was not there. That’d be a question for Bob… we’ll ask him to weigh in!

  3. UltraBob says:

    I don’t think the description fits the piece very well. You see very little about what Japan looks like through the eyes of anyone, and the “drifter” has apparently been there for 8 years.

    It seems that they did have a chance to produce something that would provide some insight into life through the eyes of a shantytown resident, but instead they chose to repeat I ended up here, people always end up here, with other disjointed images and (I guess) snippets of interviews. It was tiresome.

  4. djordan says:

    I saw “drifters” and I thought it was going to be about kids sliding their cars sideways through the streets.
    Oh well…

  5. Xeni Jardin says:


    I don’t think the description fits the piece very well.

    Ah, hmmm — that was my clumsy attempt at summarizing the piece, that was not the actual title of Mr. Jaroc’s work. I’ve updated the post title so that it might better reflect the content of the piece.

    As for the second half of your comment, I disagree strongly with all of that. We here at BBtv felt it was a strong piece, a beautiful, impressionistic piece, and that Jaroc treated the subjects and the subject matter at hand with respect and creative depth. This was more of an ambient work, and not a traditional documentary piece — I think you just have to let it be what it is, and appreciate it for what it is. I loved it, so did my colleagues here, and that’s why we were honored to present it through BBtv.

    It was tiresome.

    The space bar is your friend, grasshopper. All of us on this end felt otherwise, and arguing over such matters is the folly of internet sillyheads, so let us not do so here.

    • Antinous says:

      I’d be really interested to know if these were Japanese nationals or members of marginalized groups like South Korean or Chinese guest workers.

      Also – experimental film is…experimental. I lived with an experimental Japanese filmmaker, so it seems quite normal, and evocative, to me.

  6. mesrop says:

    Ths s th stff tht dtst n BBtv. Ths rts “th wrld dsn’t ndrstnd m s wll xprss my thghts thrgh flm” stff. Ths s xctly wht “stff” s. Tw mnts f mldc msc wth sm fltr f rnnng frms th gy fnd n ftr ffcts cls p shts f rndm bjcts nd n rl nfrmtn n ny frm. Ths my frnds s wht w cll Vctrn Clttr. Wht ppl dd whn thy hd n tlnt bt wntd t d smthng wth nw tchnlgy t ws cmrs thn nd ts vd cmrs nw. Y wnt t xprss yr nnr thghts thn wrt smthng. Y wnt t shw yr vsl prspctv thn tk pctrs. Ths ws cmplt wst f my tm. Ths ws lmst s bd s th n f Xn stndng n n lvtr lstnng t msc nd hvng t ttld “ntrvw wth Grg Lcs” r smthng lng ths lns.
    Ths my frnds s th rsn tht blgs nd blggrs hv n crdblty n th rl wrld. BngBng s clbrtn nd hv lvd vry prt f t xcpt BBtv. ts lk 15 yr lds hghjckng th V rm t schl. Y gys hv ll ths rdrs nd r tkng dvntg by pstng smthng tht s cmpltly msldng. Lk t th mllns f hts ths vd f m pckng my ns s gng t gt. Hnstly WTF.
    bt Xn thght t ws fnny nd xctng tht w st thrgh wtchng hr lstn t msc n n lvtr n hr Pd wth msldng ttl r tht th cptn f ths prtclr vd clp hd mr nfrmtn thn th 2 mnts f my lf cmpltly wstd lstnng t th chms n ths clp. r th Hk sbttls.
    Y MY FRNDS R N BTTR THN KDS PLYNG PRNKS. Ys ths scnd mstk (Th frst bng Xn’s clp) shws tht Blggrs shld nt b gvn prss psss r lt bhnd th scns f nythng bcs y r n bttr thn th cmmn prsn wth cllphn.

    Shrt flm… Ths lft m wntng t stb ncrn n th hrt nd ct ff ts hrn. Y wnt t “xprss” yr vd tlnts, pst ths n YTb nt BBtv… Hnstly wh lt ths fly thrg, Xn?

    Tky thrgh th ys f Shby shntytwn rsdnts ??? nthr sw th shntytwn Tky r th th rsdnts.

    lvd th Syd Md nd Ht8 ntrvws, thy wr nfrmtv, n dpth nd ntrstng, thy lft m wntng t knw mr nd hvng lrnd smthng n th prcss.

    Ths clp n th thr hnd mks m wnt t tll th “rtst” nd s tht wrd vry vry vry lghtly t gt jb t Strbcks lk ll th rst f th strvng rtst. Myb f y wr T-shrt wth wtty ngh phrs ppl wll lk y…. hnstly cnt stp wntng t mk my ys bld ftr wtchng ths.

    Thnks lt BB, y gys gv m rlty chck n thnkng tht myb th ntrnt hd mr nfrmtn t ffr thn FX Nws.

  7. mesrop says:

    ddn’t vn wnt t rd th thr psts bfr pstng mn bt sng #4 nw nd Xn dfndng th psd, t mks m fl lt bttr tht ‘m nt th nly nrml prsn.

    mprssnstc, thts wht th gy tht md “Tw Grls n Cp” prbbly sd. Ths psd cmpltly dvls th qlty f th prr psts, xcpt th n f Xn lstnng t msc. thr pst stff lk ths r pst stff lk th Syd Md/Ht8 psds. S w cn thr gnr BBtv r wtch t.

    hnstly wnt t s hw Xn dfnds th pst f hr lstnng t msc.

  8. mesrop says:

    Tlk bt cnsrshp n pst #6… wtng fr t t ht #7 snc t pprs tht ny ngtv thghts n hw thngs t BngBng r bng rn dsn’t strk vryn g n th rght drctn!

  9. Dana Devonshire says:


    Just so we’re clear, the “Interview with George Lucas” piece was posted as an April Fool’s joke. Sorry you didn’t get it. Please, please don’t take yourself so seriously.

    Dana Devonshire
    Series Producer, Boing Boing tv

  10. David Pescovitz says:

    Wow. I found this piece to be absolutely mesmerizing. My only complaint is that it’s not playing on a massive screen at the local megaplex.

    • Antinous says:

      I was thinking the same thing. It would be great to see it on a larger screen. Is it going to hit the film festival circuit?

  11. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Pesco, So glad you dug it!! I wanted to see it in super-mega-ultra hidef, too. Bob and Plaid did amazing work, I love the sense of space and presence this evokes. It reminded me of dreamy half-memories of places I’ve passed through… just a really sweet short.

    @Antinous, that’s a really interesting question and I hope the filmmaker has a chance to pop in and reply sometime. I’d like to know, too.

    @Dana — wait WHAT? Nobody told me that! I thought the guy singing Numa Numa on those headphones was George Lucas. That’s what you told me when the elevator started moving. I took you so seriously.

  12. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Antinous, yet another awesome question… paging Bob Jaroc! 🙂

  13. Anonymous says:

    What is the name of the Plaid track used in the video? Can’t seem to find the details anywhere 🙂


  14. loci says:

    It was nice but it felt like a teaser for something bigger.
    I wanted more.

  15. Boba Fett Diop says:

    I have mixed feelings about this film. I found it to be strongly impressionistic, and moving a sort of immediate and emotional way. However, the repeated phrase “I ended up here,” while very powerful, still seems to evade answering the question “well, how exactly does one end up there?”

    I would highly recommend A Man With No Talents, by Oyama Shiro. In it he describes his own experiences as a day laborer in Tokyo, living in rooming houses, dormitories, and shanty towns like the one in Shibuya. It’s a very personal story that at the same time provides quite a detailed discussion of the place of casual laborers and the homeless in Japanese society.

  16. silly bobs says:

    @Antinous- the people i met were all Japanese nationals, nearly all had traveled from smaller coastal villages to get better paid work. That’s the reason the film starts the way it does, from the water to the city. Im shite at getting my stuff to film festivals (i spend alot of time on tour) but as the people have been moved on and the park cleaned up i kinda think i should get my act together this time.

    @Anonymous- the track by ed was composed for the film, so i guess its called the same as the film.

    @Boba Fett Diop- im glad you had any feelings at all. In the original cut the entire second half was just recordings of the people speaking with dipped music, but to me it just wasn’t evoking the place to me. In the time i had (i was limited to 2 carts of film) i thought i was not giving their stories the respect they deserved so opted to take a more abstract approach. The repeated phrase “I ended up here,” applied to me as well as the people who lived there, so to me it became a key phrase to the piece. In 3 minutes it would be wack to try to make a documentary about that place, but in 3 minutes i hope i touched on what that place felt like.

    thanks for the heads up on the book, just ordered it.

  17. Takuan says:

    I liked it. I suppose it helps with context to already know something about the fate of the superfluous in Japanese society. Ever seen “Tokyo Godfathers”?

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