I’d decided to leave Japan after 10 weeks of research with what felt like no results. I was more confused than when I arrived.
Paul Weller was playing Tokyo so I treated myself with a gig before leaving. I’d arrived late hoping to buy a cheap ticket off a tout but there were no touts about just an orderly queue of people.
Growing up the UK my life had been a series of Jam, Style Council and Weller gigs. They were always as riotous as the audience was. I always felt a part of such crowds. It was interesting to see how Mr. Weller was going fit in here. The packed house was seated and silent as they waited for him.
As I blinked I missed his arrival. Suddenly there he was on stage. The full house remains well ordered and offered a controlled hand clap. No cheers not even a murmur from the audience. The atmosphere felt like a school concert with an amateur rock band on stage. Weller looked bemused but did his best and continued.
I was at the back of the Circle. And like my attempts over these last 10 weeks I felt desperately outside what was happening around me. I felt the same frustration in the concert hall that I felt at not getting inside Japan. I instruct my Japanese friend to follow me in an effort to get closer to the stage and thunder out of the Circle and down some stairs to the main hall. My friend is warning me that we do not have the right tickets, “fuck them”. I am angry at my failed attempts at getting inside Japan and want to at least enjoy this gig before I leave. It stirs great memories of growing up with Weller gigs as a kid.
I storm the main hall doors expecting a polite young Japanese ticket collector to stop me. Two ticket men demand tickets I thunder past them and run down the aisle followed by my friend, pushing more ticket collectors out of my way. I end up 6 feet from Weller at the front. Close up I wanted to feel the gig and enjoy it more. But close up I could sense Weller’s bemusement more than I could from back. Weller was doing his best to enjoy himself. Blasting through the set. The crowd would sway to the songs and clap between them. There was an eerie silence amongst the crowd that Weller found embarrassing. He would amuse himself by making jokes, knowing no-one was really understanding him.
“Just keep clapping a little longer while I change my guitar…”
Clap clap clap
Weller was struggling through his set like I had struggled through my research-time in Japan. No matter how hard he tried he never got closer to his audience they always kept themselves at arms length. Swaying through songs and clapping between them. I could really identify with him. This Weller concert was a monument to my time in Japan.
To amuse himself he would make more jokes with the audience who he didn’t understand and who didn’t understand him.
“It’s a great pleasure to play back in this hall in Nakano. I played here 26 years ago when I started out with the jam and …” he smiles knowing he is talking to himself. “It was a fucking nightmare then and it is now” he hammers into another song laughing to himself.
This concert was more personal than most and it felt like an epitaph to my time Japan. A grateful goodbye to 10 long weeks of alienation, confusion and disappointment. Weller kept looking round to his young band members and breaking into fits of laughter. I kept thinking ‘oh why does Japan make itself so alien’.
I remember an english teacher telling me when I first arrived. ‘The problem with the Japanese he said is that they always live up to their worst stereotypes.’
Weller returns to the stage for the encore. A Jam number, ‘Town Called Malice’… he cannot get the first line out for laughing; it’s a private joke with other band members who are also laughing. As he sings the first line the joke becomes clear to me but is missed on the thousands in the audience…
‘you better stop dreaming of the quite life because it’s the one you’ll never know…’
Weller can hardly sing for laughing now.
I leave remembering the good old days of growing-up with Weller gigs in the UK. I struggle to find what Japan means to me. 10 weeks in Japan had sort of destroyed my soul. I thought fuck Japan I will never come back I simply cannot relate to this place.
6 Weeks Later
I’m back in UK recovered and behaving as if Id never been to Japan. I am thinking of making a film in Africa then the phone goes, it’s the BBC they love the last idea I sent about Japan and would love me to make it. Furthermore they are offering the best part of 200k to do so. The Japanese network NHK will match that with a further 100k.
I’ve been raising money to make this film for the best part of 3 years … the money allows me to make a film the way I want with the luxury of a year in which to make it. This was always my dream.
The problem is now my dream has become my nightmare.