It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact genre of theater I witnessed at Shibuya crossing last Saturday, Oct. 26, but it’s probably best described as comedy-meets-monotonous-action-thriller … dramatized in the form of a musical.
Despite the creative choreography, the director appears to have run short on inspiration, repeating the same act over and over in a never-before-seen attempt to lose the audience.
This particular number was that of 100-plus police officers protecting Shibuya crossing from another bout of Halloween chaos. Police plinths on top of cars manned the perimeter, mimicking the formation of a panopticon prison. Sirens flashed, instructions revolved on neon signs and police grew hoarse issuing order after order into megaphones. Anything they missed was filled in by the automated speaker system that kindly asked people in both English and Japanese to “not drink alcohol or smoke on the street,” to “not lean on buildings,” to not engage in groping or violence and, most importantly, to continue moving when crossing the street.
Ultimately, it was the traffic light men who got the final say, deciding who could move and when. The changing of the red and green guard was marked by a salute of ad-hoc police whistles followed by a mad shuffle to migrate pedestrians back to the sidewalk. Around 9 p.m., in tune with the swelling crowds, thick yellow tape was introduced allowing the police to forge human chains. Clinging to the marked zebra crossings, police strung themselves along the edges of the designated walkways, creating corridors within which — and only which — pedestrians could walk. When the hourglass ran out, the whistles again took center stage — this time with significantly more ferocity — and courtesy of the yellow tape, human traffic was squeezed back to the sidewalk.
While the reported ¥100 million surveillance system seemingly paid off for the collective, I witnessed one Japanese reveler walk casually past an entire line of police with a glass bottle of alcohol in hand. It appeared the officers’ commitment to the red and green men was inhibiting their capacity to enforce basic law and order.
It may seem undue to focus entirely on the police when historically Halloween has revolved around costumes and celebration, but the ward’s security outfit was the standout performance. There were some serious costume contenders, but an overwhelming number of attendants were neither in dress nor participating in the night. They were there to observe the reputation that Shibuya Halloween has garnered over the years. The police would therefore be horrified to learn that their well-rehearsed routine designed to curb disorder actually did the ward’s reputation a service, carrying on Shibuya’s Halloween tradition of a spectacle.
It was almost fitting then that a small group of Hong Kong protesters were in attendance. Engaged in the spirit of things, they were dressed as A. A Milne’s honey-loving bear, but bore Xi Jinping’s head and operated under the banner of #StandWithThePooh. It is worth noting that the satirical resemblance between the Chinese leader and the aforementioned Winnie the Pooh has led to its ban in China. While the political message of the protesters was clear, the decision to attach this to Halloween may be less so. But given the reported high levels of political disengagement in Japan, attempts to mobilize the Japanese population through their own popular culture is not so obtuse.
While Shibuya Halloween 2019 has been all about keeping proceedings well within the box, perhaps the value of creativity is being undermined.