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Tokyo Blues: Jazz and Blues in Japan

By Murray Bourne, 28 Apr 2006

I enjoyed the short film "Tokyo Blues", about the popularity of jazz music in Japan.

The film was made by my friend Craig McTurk. Craig lived in Japan while making the movie in the late 1990s.

The movie traces the development of jazz through its introduction from the US in the 1920s (when Tokyo and Shanghai were entertainment capitals of the East) to its prohibition in the War years. With the influx of Americans into Japan in the 1950s came a resurgence of interest in jazz.

Peppered throughout are interviews with prominent jazz musicians in Japan, both resident Americans and Japanese.

One of the interviewees wonders why jazz is so popular, since Japan is a country oriented around group consensus and where individual thoughts and freedoms are discouraged. An essential element of jazz is its freedom to innovate and to improvise and there appears to be a contradiction.

I also wondered about the popularity of jazz when I lived in Japan, especially as there is little love lost between (many) Japanese and African-Americans.

My favourite moments in the movie were:

  • The impressive 8 year-old harmonica player - that kid just oozed the blues - a real prodigy
  • The shakuhachi-playing world music jazz fusion performer - I love that stuff

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