There is such a thing as a Japanese dream, and in many ways it’s a lot like the American dream. Japanese hip-hop artist Anarchy’s dream has to do with escape, money and, ultimately, getting to a place where he can perform in a music video with bikini-clad babes.

Anarchy, real name Kenta Kitaoka, just signed with major label Avex and pulled off what’s known in Japanese music circles as a “major debut.” It seems he has made it. Still, there was a time when he was struggling on his way to the Promised Land, and “Danchi no Yume (Dreams of the Projects)” is a documentary about Anarchy in that era.

“Danchi no Yume” was directed by Sam Cole and Jonathan Turner, two documentarians based in New York City who were so taken by Anarchy’s music they flew to Kyoto and followed him around with a camera for over a year, from 2007 to 2008. Two things fascinated Cole and Turner: First, Anarchy himself, and second, Mukaijima Danchi, on the outskirts of Kyoto, where Anarchy grew up.

Danchi No Yume (Dreams of the Projects)
Director Sam Cole and Jonathan Turner
Run Time 77 minutes
Language Japanese
Opens now showing

The danchi (housing projects) are a dirty little secret the Japanese would like to keep to themselves, though recently there’s an architectural movement to restore old danchi and convert them into shared housing spaces or hotels. The majority of Japanese, however, link danchi with low income (if not outright poverty), unemployment, crime (usually involving yakuza) and prostitution (ditto).

Having said that, many Japanese have lived in a danchi at least once in their lives, including myself. My personal feeling about danchi? Pretty cool. Admittedly they have space and security issues. But they also foster ambition and dreams, and trigger the overwhelming desire for escape to a better life. In Anarchy’s case, he used the experience as a launchpad for rebellious self-expression.

Cole and Turner’s gaze on Mukaijima isn’t pitying but mesmerized. This, despite the fact that everyone they interview says what a terrible place it is, and how “there’s nothing here.”

Shot in black and white, Mukaijima is depicted as a terrifying fortress that nevertheless holds a certain allure. This is where Anarchy scribbled poetry on cheap notebooks, met up with friends to make hip-hop and shook his tattooed fists in fury at the fate that brought him here.

Cole and Turner also show Kyoto as we rarely get to see it: a modern-day version of the city seen in”Rashomon.” Evidence of poverty and insulated violence are everywhere, in dramatic contrast to the inner city, where tourists throng high-end cafes and young geisha stroll the streets in million-yen kimono. But the ancient capital city has known its share of dirt-poor misery and endless strife, leading back to the 16th century and circling to the present, remnants of which can be found in places such as Mukaijima.

Here, time has stopped in its tracks, and Anarchy — with his shaved head and classical Japanese features — comes off as a punk monk, peddling songs of despair and unquenchable desire.

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