Documentary chronicles disappearing world of ‘bosozoku’

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Once a symbol of a burgeoning postwar counterculture, the “bosozoku” are fading. Gone are the days when gangs of bikers would zoom through neighborhoods with daredevil temerity.

According to the latest National Police Agency report, the number of recognized bosozoku members nationwide, which peaked in 1982 at 42,500, has fallen steadily over the last three decades and hit a record low 7,297 last year.

“The bosozoku are history,” Kazuhiro Hazuki, 39, a former leader of Narashino Specter, once a highly influential biker clan based in Chiba Prefecture, says in a documentary that debuted April 12 in Tokyo.

“Sayonara Speed Tribes,” directed by Tokyo-based American producer Jamie Morris, chronicles Hazuki’s life, including his past as a bosozoku leader and involvement in a yakuza syndicate.

The 45-minute film, with English subtitles, will be screened again Saturday at the short-film theater Tollywood in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood.

Both the 38-year-old Morris and Hazuki are convinced this will be the last documentary made about bosozoku, given the phenomenon’s rapid decline.

Hazuki attributes the fall to harsher police methods.

“Police would let you off easy before. No matter how many times you got arrested for reckless driving, they’d never strip you of your driver’s license,” Hazuki said in an interview with The Japan Times last week.

But as the years passed, the police got progressively more strict, ridding the streets of their presence but at the same time leaving the bikers marginalized.

Hazuki acknowledged that the traditional bosozoku culture is now all but gone and decried what he called the recent loss of their integrity.

“When I was in the bosozoku community, we had to abide by a strong rule of discipline and show our absolute deference to our more senior (‘senpai’) bikers,” Hazuki recalled, using the popular term to allude to someone with greater status.

Morris, who runs a production company in Tokyo and also teaches English at a kindergarten, has been engaged in making documentaries about subcultures peculiar to Japan since moving here 10 years ago.

A natural lover of counterculture, the first documentary Morris worked on in the U.S. dealt with rave parties. But he has also delved into other topics. He visited the disaster-ravaged Tohoku region to feature American actor and magician Gaetano Francis Totaro’s efforts to cheer up local schoolchildren with his act, and later contributed videos to him.

Morris said the bosozoku culture “infected” him in a way nothing else had before. He said his initial fascination with the bikers stemmed from the sheer power they exuded in their statement of rebellion against the establishment.

“I was interested in them because they were punks and they were against society,” he said.

Aside from expressing his innate attraction to the distinctive costumes that are part of many Japanese subcultures, Morris also said he tends to gravitate toward the concept of people living two lives.

Bosozoku, he said, on the one hand freely ride roughshod over society’s accepted norms, while on the other they highly respect the inner orderliness and hierarchy in their own tight-knit circle.

“You have this idea that they live outside the normal Japanese life, but at the same time they have their own world . . . and this idea that they respect people above them (in their own world) is really fascinating.”

Though keenly aware of the public aversion to bosozoku, Morris has his own reason to film them.

“I’ve talked to a lot of Japanese people, and they’re really angry with them. But why should we just dismiss them? These are Japanese people that I believe have a voice,” he said. “I believe they shouldn’t be discounted, they should be listened to. . . . They’re expressing the kind of angst, or the kind of power only young people could have.”

Hazuki, now a kick boxer, once worked as a yakuza loan shark. But he eventually decided that deep down he wasn’t cut out for that life of intimidation, violence and crime, and he dissociated himself from the mob four years ago.

As Morris put it: “Hazuki is a pure being. Even though he became a yakuza, he is not a yakuza, he is a bosozoku. . . . Bosozoku does not equal . . . yakuza. While yakuza is a business, bosozoku is a pure expression of young people living in the moment. That’s what I think Hazuki is.”

While no future plan is set, Morris is approaching a Japanese distributor to screen the film nationwide.

For more information, visit www.figure8productions.com

  • brian Parker

    The boso bikers have run of the entire island down here on Okinawa almost every dry night. Don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself.

  • http://twitter.com/clark_jimm J

    They are a nuisance causing nothing but trouble. They contribute nothing to society. Good riddance!

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      Except they are representative of the health of Japan’s economy. Because it has been going down toilet for more than 20 years, with no signs of slowing, these guys don’t have the money to throw around that they once did. It would be interesting to see how they voted over the years to check if they aided in their own destruction.

      I definitely LOL’d at the “harsher police crackdowns” explanation. Now there’s some undeserved credit.

  • Anthony C. Bash

    Though I haven’t seen the documentary, I do have a sense that the bosozoku and other such youthful anti-social groups do have a place in the big picture of society. They wake us up out of our complacency, literally in the middle of the night, and make us wonder what is it in our societies that produces such behaviour. It is important to think about such things and when we do it deeply, we are able to see that these young people are trying to say that they are not happy with how society has become or is becoming. They long for more meaningful and closer bonding than what modern society offers, they desire more freedom to determine their own way in life, not only the very limited paths that are set out for them by narrow-minded parents, teachers, or other authority figures, and they want to experience more in life than controlled education, controlled work, and controlled family life provides them.
    I don’t think everything they do is excusable, but I do imagine that there will always be such rebellious groups as long as society continues to ignore the real needs of the youthful soul yearning for freedom and thirsting for life.

  • Mark Makino

    Nice to see Jamie Morris in action again.

  • Andrew Livingston

    What, do they have a bosozoku registry or something? Come on…