Japan The Beats: Deep Throat X
"For Tokyo's Deep Throat X, pornography isn't just a source of kitschy images and goofy samples - it's a philosophy of revolution."

Thanks to a mix of language barriers and cultural stereotypes, most ‘heads think Japanese hip-hop is derivative, silly, or downright racist. But the emerging Japanese underground is pumping out excellent, innovative tracks that deserve to be heard around the world. Japan The Beats highlights the best of these releases and tells the stories behind them.

For Tokyo’s Deep Throat X, pornography isn’t just a source of kitschy images and goofy samples — it’s a philosophy of revolution. The group, made up of sampler jocks Tera-D and Middle Finger, get their name from the meeting of porn and politics — the pseudonym taken from the then-current film starring Linda Lovelace and given to Watergate informant Mark Felt. Released in July, their first album, XXX, samples both that film and a documentary chronicling the police battle against it. They’re not too shy to admit that porn is about fucking — or, more precisely, beating off — but for them, it’s also about the right to do what you like, even if you’re a total lout. The album’s sound is as dirty as its themes, full of fat, distorted basslines, Miami Vice synths, and machine-gun breaks, all overlain with hyperactive vocal samples chopped and shattered in the pair’s MPCs. Everything comes together to create one big, sleazy, electrified world.

Which also pretty well describes Tokyo. I caught up with DTX in Koenji, whose mix of dead-enders and artists makes it like a pre-trendy Brooklyn. We planned to hit one of Japan’s notorious pachinko parlors, a place where grown men waste their lives and livelihoods guiding little balls into slots. Like a surprising number of things in Japan, pachinko exists in a poorly-defined legal grey area — while gambling (aside from the lottery) is technically illegal, pachinko parlors use a painfully transparent ruse to skirt the rules. Rather than playing for money, successful pachinko players collect the steel balls that the game is played with, and then can go to a technically ‘separate’ business that buys them for cash. It’s a part of Japanese society that doesn’t quite fit into Western stereotypes — a deep-seated ambivalence about the rule of law extends from bicycle parking enforcement (pffft) to the rampant sex industry to the strange legality of organized crime.

Porn laws are just as two-faced. It’s illegal to distribute images of genitalia or penetration, so the porn sold in Tokyo’s countless old-Times-Square-style video stores is full of pixelated cocks and pussies. But this conservative law has to be at least partly credited with the infamously creative perversion of Japanese product. Tera-D recently got back from some time in Russia and was sure to sample the porn there. “Japanese porn is better. The [censorship] makes it more erotic.” He’s a connoisseur, quickly naming his favorite director — Kanpanii Matsuo, famous for his hamedori style — that is, first-person fuck movies (add it to your dictionaries!).

Like porn itself, DTX exist at the bottom of the barrel. Although Middle Finger admits to holding down a decent job at an unnamed company, Tera-D has been scraping by on unemployment since blowing off for three months in Russia and lives in a Kichijoji flat with no bath for 27,000 yen (about $320) a month. He says he showers at a manga-kissaten, a kind of 24-hour entertainment center that charges by the hour for use of its comic book library, video games, and homey comforts. A manga kissa is like real-estate porn — even in a city on full-time nomad status, they’re where you can get a temporary taste of what it might be like to live decent.

At the pachinko parlor, it quickly became clear I wasn’t cut out for life as Japanese scum. You see the full-time addicts — some of them so-called pachi-pros — perched in the front windows of these places in semi-permanent states of glazed indifference. I had figured, then, that pachinko must be the long con, offering occasional small wins to keep you glued to the seat. But DTX and I walked in and, even on the cheap machines at the back, we plowed through about $35 in 15 minutes without winning a cent. Maybe the noise threw off our concentration — the clack of spinning wheels, the clatter of metal balls against pegs and into plastic trays, and the occasional explosive congratulatory recordings add up to a completely mind-altering racket. Add the flashing lights and anime-derived videos playing on the machine’s built-in monitors, and it’s like being inside the brain of a hypoglycemic epileptic. Maybe once your senses are totally beaten into submission, you can begin the long task of learning how to bounce a metal ball through a thousand pegs to hit one spot.

DTX’s music is equally manic — as inspired by the Bomb Squad as any good pair of producers, they layer on the musical/vocal/noise samples with abandon. As we piled out of the pachinko parlor and set about the work of drinking in a park (Japan is like the Amsterdam of booze), they told me about the inspiration for the particularly manic track “Okazuki X,” which is kind of like an even more unrelenting Major Lazer track. The Okazuki of the title is Kenzou Okazuki, who for DTX represents a kind of holy trinity of revolution, perversion, and marginality.

As they explained to me, Okazuki served with the Emperor’s 36th Engineer Corps during the Great East-Asian War (a.k.a. World War II) and was stationed in New Guinea, where conditions and English assaults combined to kill thousands upon thousands of his fellow soldiers. Okuzaki (like all Japanese enlisted men) was abused by his superior officers, who beat him and stole his rations. He decided not to expose these abuses for risk of embarrassing superiors — back then he was still, to some degree, a ‘good’ Japanese soldier, used to the abusive structure of the Imperial Army. He did eventually surrender to the Australians — and by war’s end, something had changed in Okuzaki. In 1946, the captain of the ship that was returning Okuzaki and other prisoners of war to defeated Japan decided (as did many in similar positions) to steal the rations intended for the returning soldiers and sell them on the black market. Okuzaki took it upon himself to stab the man in the stomach with a pair of scissors.

The end of the war didn’t mean peace for Okuzaki. In 1956, with the company he founded in financial straits, he killed his landlord and was sent to prison for 10 years. Then in 1969, during a general public viewing, he used a rubber-powered gun to fire four small, steel pachinko balls at Emperor Showa — the same man who had overseen the war, as well as the death and suffering of Okuzaki and his fellow soldiers. Although he didn’t succeed in hurting or even hitting the Emperor, he was again imprisoned, this time for a year and a half. In 1974, Okuzaki wrote a book, partially titled Alien Bible. Okuzaki’s book accused Emperor Hirohito of being responsible for Japan’s past aggression, something American occupiers had found it convenient to cover up by painting Hirohito as a peace-loving pawn of the military. As a promotional stunt, Okuzaki collaged the head of the Showa Emperor onto pornographic pictures, then threw thousands of copies of the image from the rooftops of department stores throughout Tokyo. It was, not surprisingly, a ticket back to jail.

People like Okuzaki — flies in Japan’s ointment — have been pushed aside by Western understandings of the country as harmonious and unified, just as the grimier side of Japanese life has been so effectively covered over by the shiny delusions of Otaku culture. As we moved on to a cheap-as-dirt Chinese restaurant whose harried waitresses were clearly pretty marginal themselves, Tera-D launched into a screed against products like Pokemon, One Piece, Bleach, and Hello Kitty that have become Japan’s international calling card. “It’s like we’re a nation of children. There are way more important things to spend your time thinking about.” (I didn’t have the cheek to ask if pornography was one of those things, and he did admit to faking enthusiasm for Anime to hit on Russian otaku chicks). The Japanese government actively subsidizes this stuff as part of its (horribly misnamed) “Cool Japan” initiative, an attempt to cultivate international soft power — so yes, your niece really is being brainwashed by Naruto.

DTX would pick a much different batch of ambassadors for Japan — people like Kouji Wakamatsu, who is now a renowned director, most recently of last year’s anti-fascist Caterpillar. He also directed United Red Army, a brutal chronicle of Japan’s most notorious left-wing terrorist group, the Rengo Sekigun. That film was at least as much a condemnation of the group’s crazed fanaticism as Caterpillar is of the fascism they opposed. Wakamatsu clearly thought that revolution had to know how to dance — his early career was made in softcore pinku eiga, and Middle Finger emphatically named Wakamatsu his favorite porn director.

DTX proudly proclaim themselves saiyoku — left-wing anti-nationalists. In today’s Japan, it may be the most marginal part of their makeup, as the xenophobic and nationalistic right continues to ramp up the violence of their activism by tiny but intimidating steps (as The New York Times reported, they’ve recently taken to harassing Zainichi Korean schoolkids). But their playful attitude is hardly incompatible with their politics (or with the mock-seriousness of their Zapatista-inspired masks). The two love clubs, and while their fondness for pornography should tell you something about how they do with real-life women (“If we knew how to hit on girls, we wouldn’t be making music”), they’re as concerned with the politics of mm-mm feeling good as they are with posing a symbolic challenge to Japan’s crusty political establishment.

You can buy XXX online from Tokyo’s best radical bookshop, Irregular Rhythm Asylum. You can also get Filastine’s Extra Dirty Bomb, featuring remixes by DTX, at the iTunes store. For more on Kenzou Okuzaki, seek out the documentary Kamisama No Uiyatsu [God’s Loving Servant], available from Japanese Amazon.

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