January 30th, 2009


Creator Loves Tokyo

Today I want to talk -- no, I want to listen to others talk -- about two Western creators who have special links with the Japanese capital: Mike Mills and Cyril Duval.

Mike Mills made a big impact on the Tokyo I experienced in the 1990s. He formed part of an extended family of Californians (Sofia Coppola, Mark Borthwick, Geoff McFetteridge, Susan Ciancolo) who had strong connections with the musicians of the Shibuya-kei scene. This Californian family (who bonded via a shared interest in design, skate boarding, film-making, Grand Royal magazine, Alleged Gallery) featured often in Japanese magazines like Relax, Studio Voice and +81.

I'll interview Mills on Saturday for 032c magazine, and I suppose I want to ask your impressions of Mills and his work. He made Air videos, he made the sleeve for AIr's Moon Safari and Cibo Matto's first album and the Virgin Suicides soundtrack, then later he made the Thumbsucker movie. Yes, that Mike Mills! Has he impacted your life? What kind of things do you think I should ask him about (apart from his art show at Pool Gallery, The Only Way Out Is Through)? If you need to know more, here's a video interview with Mills. And of course we discussed his documentary on depression in Japan -- Does Your Soul Have A Cold? -- last month.

032c will also host a party tonight (I don't know if I can make it) featuring an "altar bar" by Item Idem, aka Cyril Duval, a Frenchman who's made the kind of impact (or perhaps I should say striven to make the kind of impact) on Tokyo this decade that Mike Mills made during the last. Duval -- one of the snappiest dressers I've seen in a long time -- was the editor of the re-launched Tokion magazine, and is therefore part of that intrepid little group of mukokuseki diasporans -- global creative brahmins based in Japan -- responsible for OK Fred magazine, the Tokyo101 Art Fair, JeanSnow.net, Mekas, and so on.

As Item Idem, Duval moves as freely in the art world as in fashion -- but, you know, I'm not writing a press release. I think he makes a serious and good impression in the video above, but he's mostly appeared (obliquely) in Click Opera as "the man who failed to make the relaunched Tokion fly". I don't think it's his fault -- the reason, I think, is one Marxy raised when the magazine relaunched in September 2006: are enough people in Tokyo interested enough in what a small group of expatriate creatives are thinking, saying and doing to sustain a whole magazine about them, in the current climate? The answer seems to have been no.

I'm interested in all sorts of links between Mills and Duval -- the Tokyo connection they both have, the "Creator Loves Tokyo" angle and whether there's, more recently, been a cooling of that love on either side, the way they both began as commercial creatives focused on the quirky upper end of the mass market, but have more recently been re-inventing themselves in the context of the art world. Were art-like things possible in the commercial world in the 90s that are no longer possible now?

I'm interested in the difference between the decades Mills and Duval made their biggest impact in Tokyo, and whether the city is a steeper and more slippery mountain to climb now if you're not Japanese. If 1990s Relax magazine featured Mills frequently, relaunched 2000s Tokion (the Japanese edition, not the American one) was Duval's baby. Those magazines have both now gone, luxury culture teeters on the brink of recession's humdrum abyss, a new sobriety quells the giggles of cliques, and Japan looks outward... less. Mills may have picked a timely way to rebond with Tokyo when he made his documentary about depression, and blamed it on foreigners.