Once a symbol of a burgeoning postwar counterculture, the bōsōzoku 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 bōsōzoku 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 bōsōzoku 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 bōsōzoku 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 bōsōzoku, 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 bōsōzoku culture is now all but gone and decried what he called the recent loss of their integrity.
“When I was in the bōsōzoku 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 bōsōzoku 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.
Bōsōzoku, 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 bōsōzoku, 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 bōsōzoku. . . . Bōsōzoku does not equal . . . yakuza. While yakuza is a business, bōsōzoku 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
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