March 2017_ text and videos by Ayaki Aron Hortz
There are few places better than Tokyo to experience what we have come to imagine as the “artificial city.” This is, no doubt, because aspects of Tokyo fit our general idea of artificiality, including a perception of the future as aseptic, linked, if we can define it as such, to a kind of “plastic” feeling. But perhaps our perception is even more acute because of films that have contributed to our collective image of the city of the future? For example, in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the artificial city apparently lives as a distant yet integral part of the more “human” world of its “lower levels”—just like Tokyo, which has developed and exists vertically. (While it is true that in recent decades more and more cities have grown skywards, I do not believe that the inhabitants of any other city have acclimated themselves to living vertically with such ease. It is perhaps no coincidence that the people of Tokyo pay such close attention to the comfort of their lifts.)
This futuristic aspect of the city definitely includes Odaiba, a district built on a series of artificial islands in Tokyo Bay. Originally created for military purposes in the mid-19th century (daiba is Japanese for cannon batteries), in the 1990s the islands were completely transformed into a lively urban district, with new residential neighborhoods, large shopping centers, and entertainment venues. Like every self-respecting “city of the future,” Odaiba is connected by monorail, which you can see in the attached video: a virtual tour of what we could call Neo-Tokyo.
Odaiba is also home to the distinctive Fuji Television building, designed by Kenzo Tange. In fact, already by the end of the 1960s, Kenzo Tange and other architects of the Metabolism group had envisioned numerous projects for Odaiba and Tokyo’s seaward urban development. Traveling around Tokyo looking for the buildings that Metabolism architects dreamt up and developed also means rediscovering such gems as the Nakagin Capsule Tower, which allow us to reflect once again on the idea of the city of the future and artificial spaces.
Tokyo is a city best seen through the lens of its contradictions and contrasts. It is perhaps no coincidence that in his documentary film Tokyo-Ga (shot in 1983), Wim Wenders juxtaposes imagery of the transformation of Tokyo in the 1980s with black and white scenes from the films of Yasujiro Ozu (as part of his tribute to the Japanese filmmaker), which depict everyday life in postwar Tokyo.
Among the symbols that Wenders uses to portray contemporary (1980s) Tokyo are the wax replicas of food that restaurants display at their entrances (today these are mostly made in plastic). Entire meals from the menu are reproduced in workshops in the area around Kappabashi-dori. These impressive fake food displays continue to fascinate tourists, who cannot resist a photo opportunity in front of them. Perhaps this an another example of “feeding” our innate attraction to that which appears artificial.
(first publication in Fruit of the Forest #2 Spring 2012)