Those who have been following Japanese indie-cinema will surely have encountered Daisuke Miyazaki’s work, i.e. the hip-hop coming of age narrative Yamato (California) (2016), Tourism (2018), and his extraordinary Videophobia (2019). This time around, he delivers an experimental hip-hop short focused on North Shinjuku.
2055, North Shinjuku has become an insulated community with its own rules and politics. For outsiders, this area within Shinjuku remains a mystery, but engenders a lot of fantasies. A journalist (Tatsuya Nagayama), hoping to finally shed a light on this mysterious neighbourhood, is much to his surprise invited to interview a local big-shot.
North Shinjuku 2055 is a rather strange sci-fi narrative. It does not tell a conventional story but explores, via the narrative device of the interview, the dynamics of a local neighbourhood. This neighbourhood, North Shinjuku, is marked by a strong community bond. All residents have a deep love for the neighbourhood and interact with each other with mutual respect. It is, furthermore, a cultural melting pot, a place where all who share the same cultural mindset is allowed to inscribe oneself into this close-knit societal fabric.
Why does this area have such a strong community? In short, due to a history of discrimination. Not only does North Shinjuku lack a train station but it is also the only in the Tokyo metropolitan area that is not transformed due to urban development. North Shinjuku is either a place where the future is not allowed to blossom or where the future is refused, an area that is either forced to live in the past or is driven by desire to remain in the past.
North Shinjuku 2055, in fact, elegantly explores how an imaginary fear of the Other fuelled by preconceptions and the unsavoury attempts of dealing with this ‘rotten’ place born from this fear do not only impact the materiality of the area in profound ways but also influences the formation of subjects that live within this area as well as the social bonds that structure its community. The local culture is, in other words, determined by the continued social discrimination of the area and the violent attempts to eradicate its materiality.
The interview with K (Kan a.k.a. GAMI) slowly reveals that what the Other thinks about this isolated community is, in essence, an imagery paranoid fantasy that, via the exploitation of real visual elements (e.g. old buildings, tattooed men, … etc.), avoids acknowledging the traumatic truth of the community. Can we not say that the interviewer, time and time again, tries to persuade K to satisfy his and the Other’s paranoid fantasy about this quite insulated neighbourhood (e.g. his attempt to question the integrity of the town committee)? Yet, who speaks the truth? Does the truth not lie in the middle?
Miyazaki delivers an experimental composition with North Shinjuku 2055. The concatenation of snapshots to support the flow of the interview is not only important in establishing the visual context of this strange sci-fi narrative – i.e. the way the district is defined by hip-hop and street culture, but also delivers some genuine pleasing visual moments with well-composed photographs.
This visual experimenting, of course, impacts the feel of the film. Miyazaki’s reliance on photographs and interview-style of narrating the narrative gives this sci-fi narrative a documentary-like feel. The urban sounds that decorate the visual flow further strengthens this feel.
North Shinjuku 2055 is a pleasant experimental short. Miyazaki does not only deliver a visual pleasant composition, but he also offers an elegant exploration of the impact of prejudicial fantasies, the power of confirmation-bias, and how local culture is shaped by historical events.