Chances are, you’ll have seen — or at least heard — bosozoku bikers clatter past you as they wind and whirr their way up and down through the gears, cruising the streets of Tokyo on often illegally customized and modified motorcycles.
Even if you didn’t know much about the ‘speed tribe’ subculture that is bosozoku or the thunderous machines with exhaust mufflers removed that are their rides, they could well have invaded your space. Now, one filmmaker has delved into their world to bring us closer to their story and away from the initial perceptions of what he says is a unique part of Japan, and the result will be shown at three special Tokyo screenings this month.
The basic synopsis of Sayonara Speed Tribes, produced and directed by Jamie Morris, a Californian who spends most of his time in Tokyo, goes like this:
Sayonara Speed Tribes chronicles Hazuki, a legendary but aging gangster who mentors a new generation of outlaw bikers, known in Japan as bosozoku – speed tribes. As police turn up the heat and hunt down outlaw bikers, bosozoku culture fades away, forcing Hazuki to confront his tough guy past and face an uncertain future.
“Bosozoku life is risky as hell,” opens the trailer for the film (see below) before we see a friend of one biker describe his life: “His second house is police station…”
Since the late 1970s, goes promotional material for the film, bosozoku gangs have dressed in kamikaze style uniforms called tokkofuku, embroidered with poetry and crew icons, battled rival crews, evaded police and flouted traffic laws while all the time reveling in the media attention that follows their antics. But now, authorities have found new ways to crack down and new riders have become more obedient to laws in the hope that they can at least keep the game alive, even if it does mean abandoning their outlaw sensibilities.
“I heard them at night in Nagoya,” Morris tells us after we reach him via email. “My curiosity was instantly ignited. But when I saw that they dressed in these kamikaze outfits and took on the police, I was hooked. It was a unique — albeit contentious — part of Japanese culture I had to shed light on.”
Over the course of “several years” Morris met and filmed bikers from all over Japan and had “amazing footage of bikes and young punks in uniforms, but I hadn’t found a story yet.”
But then something happened that would give direction and narrative to the project.
“I met Hazuki, an ex-bosozoku crew leader turned kick boxer (as I found out later also a yakuza gangster). He was obsessed with passing on bosozoku culture to younger generations … He acted like a tough guy but I knew there was more going on there. He was a genuine character.”
Hazuki was a minor celebrity in the underworld and former leader of the infamous Narushino Specter gang. His story brought Morris to Tokyo, taking the film, as he explains, up to a new level: “We had a real journey going on, not just a report, so I focused on his struggles to show a unique side of bosozoku culture itself: letting go.”
“I know the bosozoku are quite annoying for most people, but I hope audiences get past that knee-jerk reaction, and I want them to feel — via Hazuki’s story — that they have been privy to a unique part of Japan they would never have experienced.”
The film, in essence “a journey into the decline of one of Japan’s most colourful and controversial subculures,” blends interviews, manga-style animation and still photography with footage from bike runs.
There will be three special Tokyo screenings of the film this month, each at the Tollywood Theatre (click for map) in Shimokitazawa.
Screening dates: April 12, 13 and 20 from 7pm. (Sayonara Speed Tribes runs for 50 minutes.)
Tickets are ¥1,000
For more information, see: www.figure8productions.com and check out the poster, below.
For reservations for any of the screenings, email: [email protected]