Akihabara Geeks is a short but studious peek into the Tokyo neighborhood nicknamed "Electric Town." Produced for Japan's leading network, NHK, it follows several individuals on one day in 2002 as they pursue their personal obsessions.
Akihabara is a section of Tokyo that was developed after WWII, and its focus has always been on electronic items, including parts for people building their own devices. Over the years, it has become a haven for various "geeks" and "fanatics." The film doesn't make it entirely clear what the difference between the two is. My take on it was that the geeks tend to build stuff and the fanatics merely collect, but it may also have to do with levels of compulsion. One subject objected to being called a fanatic. He much preferred to be a geek.
A normal day in Akihabara begins with the stores opening, goes through the normal business day, and closes on the social interaction of its regular denizens, be it an in-person meeting or an online hook-up. There are five particular members of this subculture that we follow:
* Motohara, a young man who collects products and images of cute anime girls
* Shimayama, the owner of an electronic parts store that his family has run in Akihabara for over 50 years
* Katsumi, an "overclocker," which is a name referring to guys who build their own computers to try to create the fastest processor they can; Katsumi holds the world record for a machine that can calculate pi in the shortest amount of time
* Miss Ichika, a law student who earns a living as a waitress in a maid café, a specialized restaurant where the servers dress in maid-themed costumes
* Dragon Knight 07, an independent video game designer whose title Cicada Season is one of the most popular interactive online role-playing games in Akihabara.
These five spend their entire day in Electric Town, but their paths never really cross. Outside of Shimayama and Miss Ichika, whose jobs have a social element to them, most of them are fairly solitary creatures. If they talk to anyone, it's guys who share the same interest as they do. One of the biggest surprises in the movie is discovering that Katsumi is married, as there seems to be little that can distract him from his machines. Most of the subjects have gravitated to their hobbies to fill some kind of hole in their lives. The saddest is Motohara, who admits to being embarrassed by his endless need for more cute cartoon girls. When he's asked if he's ever had a girlfriend, he gets frustrated and demands the line of questioning change. On the other side is Dragon Knight, whose father banned video games from their house; now he employs his dad as a researcher to help him get certain elements of his increasingly popular title correct.
Amidst all of this, directors Satoshi Kobayashi and Kohei Nagashima also weave in the history of Akihabara and its future. There is some interest in developing the neighborhood to make it even more of a central hub for cutting-edge technology and make it more inviting to the outside world. It's an idea that creates some misgivings for people who already populate Electric Town. Outsiders are naturally going to scare them
Once again, the documentary genre proves the perfect vehicle for lifting the curtain on specialized segments of society that wouldn't be accessible to the rest of us otherwise. The nice thing about Akihabara Geeks is that it maintains its objectivity, providing a deeper insight by not casting judgment. The film merely presents the subjects as they are. At 43 minutes, it seems like maybe the directors could have gone even deeper, but that just may be a byproduct of enjoying what is here enough to keep watching had they done more. As it is, Akihabara Geeks left me satisfied, even if it did make me more curious.
Shown in 1.85:1, the anamorphic widescreen transfer of Akihabara Geeks, which was shot on video for television, is flawless.
There is one English audio track presented in Dolby Digital. The narration is in English, and the main participants of the program are dubbed over in English, as well. Some stray audio is translated through subtitles, and a lot of the culture-specific jargon is translated onscreen, as well.
Trailers for a handful of other Anime Works DVDs.
Recommended. For anyone interested in people with unique obsessions or the way subcultures function, Akihabara Geeks is an informative look at a particular segment of Japanese society. Its focus group may have hobbies and compulsions that seem strange to us, but the producers present them just as they are, allowing the participants to state their case without interference. Akihabara Geeks should pique your curiosity, leaving you interested in finding out more.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.