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Pachinko! (Bring the Noise).
October 21, 2007 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Tokyo-Ga: this excerpt from a Wim Wenders film offers an interesting little glimpse into the world of pachinko, a gambling obsession for so many in Japan. But while most are gazing hypnotically into the noisy little machines in order to win prizes or money, others are circuit bending them to make them even noisier.

Here's the circuit bending pachinko guy's YouTube Channel: "I am Japanese circuit bender."
posted by flapjax at midnite (31 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool!
posted by The Wig at 6:28 PM on October 21, 2007


Wenders must liken pachinko, he has another movie where the protagonists runs through a busy pachinko parlor (if that is the right way to put it).
posted by edgeways at 6:59 PM on October 21, 2007


Wenders must like pachinko...

Well, they are visually (and aurally) interesting places, after all. You could see where a director would be drawn to them. And yes, they're usually referred to as pachinko "parlors".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:15 PM on October 21, 2007


Tokyo-Ga is a pretty darn great movie. I especially like the sequence where Wenders, shooting from the window of a moving train into a dark night, captures the movements of another train travelling on a parallel track. The interview with Werner Herzog on top of the Tokyo Tower is classic.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2007


If you like Tokyo-Ga, you'll probably enjoy Chris Marker's Sunless, which the Wenders film quotes in several places.
posted by Wolof at 8:01 PM on October 21, 2007


Cool post, and nicely tagged, thanks.
posted by acro at 8:25 PM on October 21, 2007


Cool post, flapjax at midnite.

Pachinko, though, has got to be one of the saddest things about Japan. What a waste. And the parlors are a blight on the landscape (with the high-tension power lines, concrete rivers, abandoned cars, abandoned buildings, etc. etc.).
posted by snwod at 8:41 PM on October 21, 2007


This will Wenders.
posted by Poolio at 8:44 PM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


I keep hoping that one of these benders will create something with more musicality with these retired machines...something along the lines of the Maywa Denki (明和電気...) group.

Alas, it just seems to be more of the horror that is pachinko to my non pachi-pro ears.

oh, and Poolio, I smiled.
posted by squasha at 9:25 PM on October 21, 2007


...something along the lines of the Maywa Denki (明和電気...) group.

Those unfamiliar with squasha's reference, see here. I agree: the machines are physical objects with some good potential for Maywa Denki-esque electro-mechanical manipulation. But the circuit-benders, of course, are interested in the electronics, the circuitry, and the resultant electronic sounds, not so much the mechanical aspect.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:20 PM on October 21, 2007


My older brother had, for some reason, a Pachinko machine in his room when we were growing up. We were by no uncertain terms not a worldly family, and I'm not sure how he knew about them or what his attraction to them was.

I remember being about 6 or 7 and going to a local store that sold the beautiful things. He received it for what was probably his 12th birthday, and this must've been around 1983, when all I cared about was GI Joe and ET and couldn't understand why he wanted this noisy (but nonetheless interesting and fun) machine. I was instantly hooked. Unfortunately for me, he was a bit of a bully - I use "bit" lightly - and I could only play it for short durations under weird and unnecessary restrictions. He'd let me have a few rounds with it, but only if I understood that in trade I wasn't allowed to do such things as pet our cat for the remainder of the evening. Or I'd have to bring him his dinner in his room (later a stunt he repeated with our early BBS access), or engage with him in hours long sessions of Axis & Allies, a game that most 7 year olds aren't exactly masters of.

He was a sadistic bastard, come to think of it, and our relationship is strained to this day. It didn't start with Pachinko, but Pachinko played a big role in it all. The next time we have one of our half-decade reunions, I think I'll ask him what beacame of that neat, clanky beast of a Pachinko machine.
posted by item at 11:13 PM on October 21, 2007


The idea of promoting pachinko, which is notoriously the domain of the mafia, is a mark of someone who doesn't see anything but the surface of Japan. Tatemae, not the honne.

This reminds me of Martin Fackler's NY Times article on crime in Japan and how women would wear a costume of a vending machine to escape the notice of assailants. That anyone could take this seriously outside of Japan is crazy to me- David Marx rips it apart as it should be at Neojaponisme.
posted by gen at 11:27 PM on October 21, 2007


Wim Wenders never cease?
posted by Poolio at 11:59 PM on October 21, 2007


Poolio - オヤジギャグ。。。
posted by gen at 12:16 AM on October 22, 2007


Uh, gen, who exactly is "promoting" pachinko, if I may ask? Wim Wenders, by presenting it? The tourists with their home video? The Japanese guy circuit bending it? Or me, for posting it here?

Anyway, if it's this FPP you're referring to, please forgive me, for you are obviously someone who truly understands the soul of this inscrutable land, while I am but an ignorant outsider, hopelessly blinded by it's "outward appearance" and too dull and insensitive to grasp the true essence of the land and its peoples. Ten thousand apologies. I'd offer to commit seppuku, but my blade is, sadly, as dull as my feeble understanding of the elusive essence of this noble land.

Apologies aside, are you suggesting that folks not look at and/or comment upon aspects of Japanese society that are yakuza (mafia) related? That have some association with the unseemly or the criminal? Should we only make posts about flower arranging or the tea ceremony, perhaps?

Like it or not, pachinko is an enormous feature of contemporary Japanese society. I find your objection to looking at it or discussing it to be, well, quite mystifying.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:22 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I second re: the Herzog interview. For two thinkers/directors commonly grouped together under the German New Cinema movement, that interview sure lays plain their differences.
posted by hank_14 at 1:25 AM on October 22, 2007


gen: People will believe any crazy old shit about Japan, the crazier it is the more they'll want it to be true. A quick search through old fpps should be enough to show that.
posted by nightchrome at 1:25 AM on October 22, 2007


About 8 or 9 years back, I spent a couple of nights in Japan with my Korean boss. I was there to do a visa run, he was there for three things, in descending order of priority: pachinko, booze, and sushi.

I'd never been to a pachinko place, because, oddly enough given the multitude of things Japanese that Korea has hoiked and made its own (while vocally denying that they are in any way Japanese), I've never seen one here in 10 years. He took me along for a couple of rounds of ball-launching before he settled into serious playing and set me free to go wandering in search of my own kind of boozy fun for the rest of the evening. It was... disorienting. But thanks to the significant quantities of Asahi I'd already consumed, the noise and the mirrors and the blindingly bright light all conspired to trip me out, in a pleasurable kind of way.

Not much of a pachinko story, but there you go.

Also, flapjax, don't harsh on gen too much. I like both you guys, and I don't think he was intending to come off as harsh as he did. Hell, even I get annoyed sometimes at the crazy spurious crap that people on the internets link up and lap up about Japan, and I don't know nothin' about the place. And besides, there's tons of non-spurious crazy stuff to enjoy!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:58 AM on October 22, 2007


I hear ya, stav, that is, I've never seen anything here on MeFi from gen that would make me think ill of him, and that's why I'm a bit surprised by the unfounded attack. This is not a point-and-laugh, look-at-those-wacky-Japanese post. Nor did it even hint at any editorializing on my part that Japanese are sleazy or all a bunch of yakuza or anything like that. Now, I've never come off like some sort of expert on Japan, and I'm not, by a long shot, but I have been living here for 12 years straight, so I do know a couple of things, and gen pointing me toward a goddam Wikipedia link on honne and tatemae, fer chrissakes, is really insulting. Also, he's lumping this post in with some jive bullshit article on women dressed as vending machines, essentially implying that this post is the same kind of thing. All totalled, these are cheap shots: undeserved. Just plain wrong. So I don't think I'm being harsh, here. I'm simply defending myself from a spurious attack.

Anyway, perhaps gen will check back in and offer some clarifications, or something along those lines...

Meanwhile, hopefully others might enjoy the post!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:47 AM on October 22, 2007


I remember as a kid absolutely loving pachinko parlors - they were the best parts of my trips to Japan. I'd beg and beg my uncles to take me. On more recent trips my uncles, recalling how much I loved them as a youth, would offer to escort me, but all I could stand was five minutes at a time, with the crush of bodies, ceaseless cacophony, and the unbelieveable, incredible volume of thick, acrid cigarette smoke. Thanks for the post, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.
posted by vito90 at 6:23 AM on October 22, 2007


When I visited Japan one of the many things that surprised me was just how mind-blowingly loud pachinko parlours were. I mean I on one hand can understand it's hundreds of machines filled with billions of ball bearings all crashing into each other with a load of bleeps and bloops on top, but on the other I could never get over the sheer avalanche of sound this projects out into the street, never mind inside.
That, and seeing the queues of addicts outside first thing in the morning.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:33 AM on October 22, 2007


Is there any skill involved in playing pachinko? I played once and it seemed that all you did was pull the plunger and watch the balls bounce around. It got old quick.
Have pinball machines ever caught on in japan, because they seem like a lot more fun to me.
posted by vronsky at 11:06 AM on October 22, 2007


Is there any skill involved in playing pachinko?

I seem to remember hearing that it's possibly to select machines that are more likely to play out (because the pins near the winning slots have been bent out of shape. Apart from that afaik it's just luck.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:04 PM on October 22, 2007


stav: I was there to do a visa run, he was there for three things, in descending order of priority: pachinko, booze, and sushi.

Interesting. But please clue me in:
Are booze and sushi no good in Korea?

I was in Korea only once, for about two weeks, and didn't care much for pachinko or sushi, as I was eager to get my fill of pulgogi.

The beer was indeed terrible. Was it Hite? But I remember lots of sochu, or whatever it's called in Korean.
posted by sour cream at 12:24 PM on October 22, 2007


Please let me clarify- my earlier comment was directed at Wim Wenders and not flapjax at midnite, so I'm sorry to flapjax if that was not clear.

My point is that Wenders merely portrayed the surface of pachinko, not the reality, which is that pachiko is controlled by the mafia and is not what it seems. (In addition, Pachinko isn't popular outside of Japan; One of Wenders' critiques of Japan in Tokyo-Ga is that Japan is losing it's Japanese-ness to Western culture but Pachinko does not represent Western culture.) I was also trying to say that Wenders is the one who is pining for a Japan that doesn't exist (the Japan Wenders saw in Ozu's films had disappeared by the time Wenders filmed Tokyo-ga.)

I referenced Fackler's recent piece in the NYT because Fackler ought to know Japan better in the same way that Wenders ought to know Japan better if he was serious enough to follow Ozu back to Japan and create a piece of art in honor of Ozu. Again, no offense intended at Flapjax so I apologize if it was taken that way.

I certainly think that all aspects of contemporary Japanese culture are up for discussion and that many things that are not discussed in depth ought to be. Whether it is the fact that the Japanese imperial bloodline can be traced to Korea, or discussions of WWII which Japan can't seem to do to anyone's satisfaction outside of Japan (vs. Germany at least), or pachinko which is a many-layered topic that speaks more to the malaise of Japan (esp. 80's Japan which was in the "bubble" when the mafia was never richer.)
posted by gen at 2:25 PM on October 22, 2007


Thanks for the clarificarion, gen.

I don't think Wenders should be held at fault for not going into more depth on the issue of the organized crime behind pachinko, though. As I understand it, that clip is not from a film about pachinko. Rather, the focus on pachinko was a brief aside, part of a film about Ozu. I'll admit I haven't seen the film in its entirity, so I can't speak for other aspects of the film, but anyway, I'd certainly agree that pachinko is a many-layered topic. I just don't happen to think that it was Wenders' responsibility here to explore and present all aspects of it, in the context of this particular film.

As for that imperial bloodline... hoo boy, that's a whole can of worms, eh? I'd love to see a good post on that! (hint, hint...)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:11 PM on October 22, 2007


I remember living in Tokyo until I left to enlist in the USAF in 1982. Dad would frequent the local pachinko parlors and play for hours. He would exchange the boxes of balls for a particular prize in the back. Then he would take this prize to another place to exchange it for money. The prizes seemed to change from time to time. My dad always kept me away from the yakuza that ran the prize/money exchange process. I never liked the pachinko parlors back then because of the high concentration of smokers.
posted by plokent at 12:17 AM on October 23, 2007


Interesting. But please clue me in:
Are booze and sushi no good in Korea?


I'm no beer snob, but yeah, you can still, a decade later, basically only get fizzy lager here, and not good fizzy lager either. Almost every Japanese beer I've ever tried has been miles better. And we were, that weekend at least, all about the beer.

Also, though raw fish is big here, thank goodness, as in many foodstuffs Korean, it's mostly a matter of chopping the fish up haphazardly and throwing it in a pile on a plastic plate, with a side of sweetened chili sauce squeezed from a dirty plastic bottle. Concepts like presentation and delicacy of flavour are starting to percolate into the consciousness of restauranteurs in Korea, but again, 10 years ago, not so much. The full sashimi experience at a good place in Japan (well, OK, that weekend was my only time doing visiting such a restaurant in Japan) is a whole different matter.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:33 AM on October 23, 2007


stav, we gotta get you over to the land of beer and sushi. Cause, of course, the sushi and sashimi are unparalleled, and the beer, while it certainly can't compete in terms of variety and complexity with the various beers of Europe, is really pretty good, and, importantly, goes really well with Japanese food. And hey, you're not that far away. A Tokyo meetup with a wonderchicken guest of honor would be way groovy.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:10 AM on October 23, 2007


Indeed it would, guest-of-honor status or not!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:05 AM on October 23, 2007


Awesome post, flapjax at midnite.
posted by shoepal at 6:50 AM on October 23, 2007


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