Ja­panese ar­cade film short of high score

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

AS a pure piece of doc­u­men­tary jour­nal­ism, this lo­cally pro­duced film about Ja­panese gam­ing cul­ture is un­even and repet­i­tive and not en­tirely on the level.

One of its key in­ter­view sub­jects, Las Ve­gas ar­cade im­pre­sario Christo­pher La­Porte, is also a cred­ited ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

La­Porte has in­ter­est­ing things to say about the de­cline of the video ar­cade in the United States: “Ar­cades didn’t nec­es­sar­ily die. They just didn’t grow up.”

He is right about that, but given his own par­tic­i­pa­tion in the film, one has the feel­ing this project is, in part, an in­fomer­cial for La­Porte’s ar­cade es­tab­lish­ment In­sert Coin(s).

That aside, di­rec­tor Brad Craw­ford’s film is an eye-opener in its con­sid­er­a­tion of how the ar­cades of Ja­pan are still thriv­ing, while their west­ern coun­ter­parts have largely dis­ap­peared from view from the down­towns and Main Streets of most North Amer­i­can cities, es­pe­cially com­pared to the ar­cade boom of the ’80s.

Cer­tainly, the cul­tures are dif­fer­ent. Craw­ford makes the point that in Ja­pan, liv­ing spa­ces tend to be smaller and the noise of a home con­sole game can be prob­lem­atic.

More im­por­tantly, in Ja­pan, the ar­cade is pri­mar­ily a so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence. Many of Craw­ford’s in­ter­view sub­jects tes­tify that friend­ships (and at least one mar­riage) have been forged among youths en­gaged in vir­tual bat­tle in the noisy, dis­tract­ing en­vi­rons of a clas­sic Ja­panese ar­cade.

Ris­ing from those ranks are su­per­star play­ers such as Daigo Ume­hara (a.k.a. “The Beast”), one of the great­est Street Fighter play­ers in the gam­ing uni­verse. Ume­hara is in­ter­viewed about how he fell into the role, but Craw­ford doesn’t sup­ply any deeper glimpses into the man with re­gards to his per­sonal life (or how, as a kid, he could af­ford to spend hun­dreds of dol­lars a week at ar­cades honing his skills).

At its best, 100 Yen is a suc­cinct and in­ter­est­ing his­tory of the ar­cade video game phe­nom­e­non, start­ing with the in­ven­tion of Space In­vaders. Some of the first ar­cades stocked noth­ing but Space In­vaders, and Ja­pan suf­fered a short­age of 100 yen coins as a re­sult of its pop­u­lar­ity. From there, the film fol­lows game evo­lu­tion from shoot­ing games to fight­ing games ( Street Fighter 2) to mu­sic and rhythm games ( Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion).

Cu­ri­ously, this is the sec­ond se­ri­ous, crowd-sourced doc about gam­ing cul­ture to emerge from Win­nipeg, the first be­ing the ex­cel­lent In­die Game: The Movie, an up close and per­sonal look at the lives of in­de­pen­dent video game de­sign­ers.

100 Yen has its ap­peal, but it’s nowhere near as pro­fes­sional as its pre­de­ces­sor, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the film’s mad­den­ing re­dun­dancy. For ex­am­ple, one in­ter­view sub­ject de­scribes in de­tail the multi-storey de­sign of a clas­sic Ja­panese ar­cade, and later, Craw­ford takes us on a sec­ond tour with noth­ing much to add to the first de­scrip­tion.

Rep­e­ti­tion is a fact of life for ar­cade gamers, in­ured to play­ing the same game over and over again.

Movie au­di­ences... not so much.

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