Monday, December 16, 2013

World Order - "Last Dance"

The work of electronica dance group World Order is intensely political. The group's very name is a blackly ironic take on George H. W. Bush's New World Order, as was made crystal clear in their June video, "Imperialism."

"Imperialism" is an outlier in terms of its sledgehammer message. Much of the time the group is infuriatingly and charmingly oblique in its judgments, inscrutable as their blank facial expressions.

World Order's latest video "Last Dance" is clearly a commentary on where the country is under the Abe Administration and more broadly in the aftermath of the triple disaster of 3/11 -- but seems unfinished, probably intentionally so. The Ministry of Finance, METI, the anti-nuclear protestors outside METI, the Supreme Court all make cameo appearances. Mt. Fuji is one prominent backdrop, playing on the mountain's UNESCO World Heritage Site listing this year. Sequences shot in front of nuclear power plants and the archival footage of one of the Fukushima Daiichi plant buildings exploding are juxtaposed with footage shot in front of a hydroelectric dam, a solar farm and a wind farm fronting an oil tank farm. The group is saying something about Japan's energy policy but what, exactly? Are the members offering an idealized anti-high velocity, anti-mass production Arcadian vision a la Godfrey Reggio -- which may be the only place one can end up when one starts using cameras and slow motion to reveal the pace and patterns of contemporary human life?

The inclusion of seasonal references -- the famous drive of gingko trees in Jingu in their full golden exuberance, the susuki in the Mt. Fuji sequence -- seem to hammer two messages. First, that this is a Japanese video for designed for Japanese to interpret (which begs the question what the heck I think I am doing here). Second, that even though the video of this performance has been archived in the vast global library of the Internet, it remains no more than a bit of emphemera, with a hard chronological locus ("This is the autumn of 2013 - and no other time"). The nature scenes also offer a sharp alternative to the unnatural but not unpleasantly angular and clean human-crafted environments of Shiodome and Shinjuku Station.

And oh yes, the suits. They are not, as the Huffington Post has it, "classy." They are off-the-rack from low-cost mass formal wear retailer Yofuku no Aoyama (more irony here) which features the group in its ads. This is sarariman uncool and conformist ideology, stretched to the point where they become their opposites.

There is a sincere, unquiet core to the work...but with all the style and ambiguity, the conclusion is left up to viewer to draw. For whom is this a "Last Dance" -- the country, the iron triangle of Big Business-Bureacracy-Politicians, humanity? The identification of a last dance dovetails with the rhetoric of those portraying Abenomics being a "last chance" for economic and socio-political revival (just search "Japan" "last" "chance" to see what I mean).
As with World Order's last work -- the Olympics-inspired paen to the TMD "Welcome to Tokyo" -- the above video is best viewed in Full Screen mode.
Later - From the standpoint of a business model, World Order is in a class by itself. Not only only does the group produce highly political work -- it gets corporations to pay for it. Aoyama has funded their work; so has Sumitomo Corporation. Asiana Airlines probably asked for a gawky and sweet "All of Asia is One" message in the video it bankrolled. What Asiana Airlines got was "Permanent Revolution" -- with its extraordinary postscript questioning the role of the United States in East Asian affairs (with the secret message written in English).


Anonymous said...

In terms of sound, attire and attitude (ah, those blank expressions!), they seem a Japanese version of the good ol' Pet Shop Boys.

Izakaya Politics said...

Great analysis of World Order. Did you see their recent video they did with Sumitomo Shouji?

It seems like there is quite a bit of social commentary about working in Japan in this video too..

Anonymous said...

Huffington Post calling the suits "classy" says more about American culture than it does about the people in the video. Namely it speaks to extent to which slobbish dress has become the norm in America, and any thing slightly formal immediately stands out as unbelievably high class.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for your interesting posts on Japanese culture. I have seen some spots about World Order on the tv but you have given me a much deeper appreciation of what they (might be) are doing. Well done.