Tokyo’s art-party scene is alive and well and sometimes converges in Shibuya. One focal point is Uplink Factory, and one of the more interesting banners under which it rallies is an event known as “Ubique.” Uplink Factory is an offshoot of Uplink Co., which, since 1987, has produced and distributed the works of indie filmmakers. It has also published a number of Japanese books on pop culture and art, most notably Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial photos.
|DJ Kensei spins an eclectic mix.|
Uplink president and Factory owner Takashi Asai is a huge hulk of a man whom I have yet to see smile. He cut his teeth in alternative cinema by distributing “The Angelic Conversation,” one of Derek Jarman’s early films. The bookshelf in his office is lined with evidence of his company’s activities, from Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus” to Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” as well as new releases it has produced such as “I.K.U.,” a Japanese sci-fi porn feature directed by Shu-Lea Cheang, a segment of which — involving helium-filled inflatable dolls — was on a video loop in the waiting room.
|Artist-in-residence Wolfgang Thaler|
In 1995, Asai opened Uplink Factory as an event space and showcase for contemporary cinema. Between midday and midnight you will find a variety of off-beat art movies and/or performance workshops and events on the roster. At movie time, the room is filled with canvas director’s chairs, all placed neatly in a row and facing a retractable screen. For events, which mostly kick off around midnight, the room is cleared and the bare wooden floor, white walls and black ceiling become apparent.
|Yusaku Takizawa, aka the lurching salaryman|
“I don’t organize the events,” says Asai-san with a shrug. “I leave that to my staff.” So it’s up to young erstwhile producers like Ryoma Nara to handle the late shift at Uplink. “Ubique,” which is subtitled “Creators’ Meeting,” is Nara’s baby. Come midnight every other Wednesday, an interesting collection of DJs, musicians, artists and performers gather to drink, participate and pontificate at the Factory.
At the core of each gathering is DJ Kensei, a mild-mannered spin-meister who has been plying his trade at alternative DJ bars in Tokyo for the past decade. Kensei knows no boundaries with genre, being equally happy to play reggae as he is ambient or experimental tracks. At some gatherings the room is so full of electronic equipment that guests must dodge it to find a space to squat. But at the most recent meeting the room was kept sparse to make space for a special “Performers Meet Kensei” edition.
When I arrived around midnight, DJ Taro Bando was spinning an inspired electronica-meets-drum ‘n’ bass set to a small cluster of people. One fellow leaned against a wall reading all night. A salaryman, his suit replete with a company pin, sat slouched in a corner. A sheet-covered dummy lay slumped on a wedge of shag-covered sofa, with a piece of string running from its neck to the ceiling. The movie screen was retracted to reveal windows overlooking a misty, rain-swept nightscape.
A blonde head stuck out: It belonged to photographer Wolfgang Thaler, who turned out to be the current Austrian artist-in-residence in Tokyo. “I wouldn’t miss this event for anything,” he confided. We perched on a corner of the sofa and chatted amiably till someone tried to shove the dummy aside to sit. The dummy kicked. “My God, it’s alive!” exclaimed Wolfgang. After jumping up, we gingerly examined it to discover that it was, in fact, breathing.
Around 1 a.m., an influx of young men in caps and young women in sensible shoes piled through the door. As if on cue, the lights went down and the slouching salaryman jumped up. At first he slowly circled the room, periodically lurching toward patrons to inquire in a deep throaty voice, “Do you like adult video?” Eventually he undid the string tied to the ceiling and tugged. The “dummy” thus shed its sheet to reveal another suit-clad fellow, who, still attached to the umbilical, proceeded to circle the room (and climb through the window) and thereby entangle himself and his puppet master in a web of twine.
By the time Kensei hit the decks, the crowd had hit capacity. He spun some old Art of Noise tracks — not very 21st century but somehow appropriate. The next performance was by HEAVY-KO + a — two men making noise while a woman was typing stream-of- consciousness messages onto the movie screen via a laptop computer. And so the evening proceeded until a new day dawned, full of inspiration for the next gathering . . .