“Well, now, don’t you tell me to smile. You stick around I’ll make it worth your while,” they scream confidently into the fish-eye cam as they prance around the streets of Tokyo. Perhaps they are referencing the dire lack of facial expression in public spaces in Japan. Or maybe they are making a mockery of Japanese uniformity, literally, dressed in what awfully resembles Japanese construction worker uniforms. There are a lot of things about Japanese culture that could be criticized and ridiculed — social harmony comes with a price –but just like this 90’s American hip-hop-punk-rock band claims their music to be, it’s definitely from another dimension. japan cams
To me, the 1998 hit single from the Beastie Boys, Intergalactic, is one of the fondest remnants of the 90’s. I admit that I get excited every time it plays on one of those tucked-away alternative radio stations that graciously refuse to repeat songs until they start bleeding out of your ears. Seriously, I used to like Daft Punk. But I digress. Intergalactic is a song praising the Beastie Boys’ own out-of-this-world rapping skills, and the way they go about demonstrating how “wild” their style is and how their rhymes will “cast you off into exile” is by employing a very hyperbolized yet accurate image of Japanese culture and society.
For starters, the trio lands in Japan in a giant robot from outer space, as the peaceful citizens of what appears to be Tokyo drop their jaws in shock, pointing to the sky. But why should the Japanese be even remotely surprised by the sudden appearance of the Beastie Bot or its rapping inhabitants? It’s merely a flashy, hi-tech version of Godzilla. The rapping and dancing visitors even come equipped with “intergalactic” suits that highly resemble typical Japanese blue-collar attire. The Beastie Boys in this music video are not extraterrestrial beings who pay an unexpected visit to another dimension. Rather, they are the embodiment of the Japanese zeitgeist at the height of its global technological and financial dominance, as seen through the eyes of millions of Sony television set owners, addicted Nintendo Mario gamers, avid Pokemon collectors, and sushi lovers (hipsters and non-hipsters alike): “Like numbers beyond what you can dial. Maybe it’s because we’re so versatile.”
The question is, with an economy that has been stagnant for over a decade and surpassed by China, does Japan still have what it takes to hold its place in the global cultural industry? Well, the Chinese may have Foxconn that has brought you the phones, tablets, and personal computers that you now share together with everyone else on this planet, but Japan is the only place in the world where it wouldn’t be unheard of to witness a monster-size space robot bust out moves in a densely populated city and courageously engage an equally sized squid of doom in close combat. Or, for that matter, to have a redhead gaijin in a hot dog suit to be nonchalantly strolling the streets on a hot summer day.