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
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.