A music video can make or break a record. They can make an average track memorable, and a good track a masterpiece. Since the start of music television we’ve seen artists constantly take the possibilities of the medium to new heights, like Björk’s cyborg love fantasy All Is Full Of Love and MUSE’s sci-fi western epic Knights Of Cydonia. But it’s not just the West producing these iconic videos. For decades directors and musicians across Asia have proven time and time again they have the vision to take on the international market, and Japan holds some of the most innovative and unforgettable videos out there. Here’s our list, in no particular order, of just 8 of the best Japanese music videos that we think you need to see.
sakanaction – It’s Because of Listening to Bach Melodies at Night (2011)
Who says puppets are creepy? Well, we do, but that didn’t deter art rock stars sakanaction from making them the centre piece for their 2011 video for Bach no Senritsu o Yoru ni Kiita Sei Desu (It’s Because of Listening to Bach Melodies at Night). Written by frontman Yamaguchi after the events of the Great East Japan earthquake in 2011 where he used the music of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach to help him sleep, the video is surreal in every sense of the word, somewhat comedic, and outright eerie at times. We were brought in by the catchy melody, but we stuck around for the climax of this 1920s-esque fever dream. The video won Best Video of the Year at the Space Shower Music Video Awards in 2012, and was also nominated for Best Rock Video at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards Japan, so at least we’re not alone on this one.
10-FEET – STONE COLD BREAK (2007)
One take music videos have always been impressive, in fact some of the best music videos of all time have been one takes, like Radiohead’s Suprise Me and pretty much all of OK Go’s videography circa 2005. In 2007 Kyoto born punk outfit 10-FEET stepped the concept up a notch with the video for their 9th single STONE COLD BREAK, combining an over the top one take shot with a high-speed camera, capturing mere seconds of action and making the madness into an entire 3 minute video. We think it’s up there as one of the best videos ever, and apparently so do the guys behind French singer siska’s 2015 video for Unconditional Rebel which looks curiously similar.
amazarashi – Ending theme (2016)
It’s one thing to be the first to use a new piece of technology to help tell a story in a music video, but when you combine that tech with one of the most standout artists of the decade, you don’t just get a music video, you get a truly outstanding short film. Revolving round the concept of a life less lived and how the drive for life grows stronger when faced with death, using real time face mapping amazarashi frontman Hiromu Akita plays a version of himself 100 years from now in 2116, laying in a hospital bed reading messages left by people who are no longer with us. It’s dark, it’s dismal, it’s thought provoking, and profoundly beautiful.
THE MAD CAPSULE MARKETS – Pulse (1999)
The 90s were coming to an end, trippy CGI cartoons plagued TV networks, and the PlayStation was king. So when THE MAD CAPSULE MARKETS broke onto our screens with Pulse, our fragile minds were blown away. Fast paced crude CGI, a slick colour palette, machine gun toting stormtroopers (actually called “White Crushers” but I didn’t have the internet back then to fact check that), mixed with MAD CAP’s high-octane digital hardcore sound all made this a truly iconic video of the late 90s and early 2000s. The track would later be cemented into our minds with the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 in 2001. Thanks Tony.
ALBUM: Osc-Dis (1999)
androp – Bright Siren (2011)
androp have released some pretty far out videos since their formation back in 2008, which made this a tough choice, but when it came down to it, it had to be Bright Siren from their first LP relight. Alright, maybe we have a thing for tech, but you can’t tell us 250 Canon EOS 60Ds all synced to fire strobes in different patterns to create an animation out of light isn’t cool. They even made an interactive version which allows you to pause the video and see each and every frame taken during the recording which you can check out on their official website.
BRAHMAN – THE VOID (2004)
Punk power house BRAHMAN have managed to stay at the forefront of Japan’s rock scene for nearly two decades, forming back in 1995 and dropping their first album A MAN OF THE WORLD in 1998. Taken off their third album THE MIDDLE WAY, the video for THE VOID, directed by artist Noriyuki Tanaka, gives us slow-motion footage of instruments falling from the sky, crashing onto the stage and exploding into sparks and shrapnel as frames of the band flash onto screen. Nothing more, nothing less. The concept is simple enough, but when it’s matched with the aggression in lead TOSHI-LOW’s vocals, an erratic beat, and abrupt riffs, it’s pure carnage. Though if you can’t deal with seeing perfectly good musical equipment go to waste, you should probably give this one a miss.
POLYSICS – I My Me Mine (2005)
The kings of Japan’s new wave scene were at one time the biggest Japanese music export in the UK, and in their heyday pulled out some truly memorable videos. From autonomous robots in Domo Arigato Mr Roboto to creepy talking food in Black Out Fall Out, all their videos helped sink the POLYSICS name and their sound into our brains, but there’s one that stands out from the rest. The mesmerising dance moves, ridiculous yet subtle use of CGI, and the iconic rectangular shades made I My Me Mine the definitive POLYSICS video, and our port of call for people looking for a “nutty Japanese music video”.
CHAGE and ASKA – On Your Mark (1995)
How could a video directed by Japan’s most highly acclaimed animation team not make this list? Written and directed by none other than the co-founder of Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki while having writer’s block when coming up with Princess Mononoke, one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time, On Your Mark by folk rock duo CHAGE and ASKA crams shed-loads of personality, character, and charm into it’s seven minute runtime. Purposely misinterpreting the lyrics to create his own vision, the video’s nonlinear narrative, spotless action packed animation of a future where humans are forced underground after a nuclear disaster is not just a must watch for fans of his films, but for music goers and animation enthusiasts everywhere.
Obviously there are far too many videos to talk about in just one post, so tell us what your favourite music videos are over on the Electric Bloom Webzine Facebook page.