A journey through Tokyo's awe-inspiring architecture

MR SMITH GOES TO TOKYO When Tomoko finds some messages for a 'Mr Smith' on a lost mobile phone, she finds herself on an 'Alice in Wonderland' journey through Tokyo's boulevards and back alleys. From the tyranny of symmetry in soaring office blocks - to buildings that look like space-ships, this creative documentary shows us the city's soul.

"As it's your first trip to the capital Mr Smith, let's start with the basics". As office blocks that seem to touch the sky meet our eyes, we see that Mr Smith could be Mr Svensson, Monsieur Simon or anyone who's ever stood in awe of this complex city. This is the world of the salary men, who live, eat and sometimes sleep in these glass towers. Within their reassuringly repetitive form, lies the self-sacrifice required of rice farming in days gone by. "Behind these windows loyal workers are working away", they say, reminding us that individuality, even in buildings, will not be tolerated here.

"Here's 'Tokyo Big sight'", says the guide, as we approach a collection of gigantic geometric shapes balanced impossibly on top of each other. "Look at me!", such buildings shout, "Japan is powerful! And Tokyo's headed for the future!". The more futuristic a building, the further society can get from the drudgery of rice farming. The more rising suns and eggs embedded in its walls, the more the salary men will feel like they're part of something great. "Japan doesn't need to lose its soul to Western civilisation", cries the famous Fuji TV building, a great piece of scaffolding nestling a gigantic orb.

Yet as we go deeper into the city, a sense of whimsy pervades the futuristic style. Architecture makes light of the problem of overcrowding and buildings sprout out of the ground like totem poles, finding space where they can. "We call this building 'The Golden Turd'", explains our guide, as we wonder at the alehouse, famous for its giant golden accessory. A sense of childlike enchantment affords some relief from this heavily structured society and buildings become insects or giant robots, which say "despite your current troubles the future will happen and this is what it looks like".

As night comes Tokyo dissolves into a world of light. Salary men leave their jobs and gaudy digital images of big-busted Manga girls adorn the sombre faces of skyscrapers. "Come and play, make your life more bearable", they say, beckoning you into a club, a 'cosplay' convention or maybe even one of the famous 'sex hotels', where actions are somehow made inconsequential by artificiality. "Some think it's terribly vulgar", our mobile guide informs us. Yet for a salary worker at the bottom of the ladder, perhaps being vulgar is the only way to feel alive. And as Tomoko watches the sun rising over buildings ranging from imperial to space age, from the height of function to the height of whimsy, the spirit of the city, both past, present and future, comes alive. A breathtaking documentary from Bafta-award winning director, Iain Overton.


The Producers

Iain Overton worked as a documentary maker for the BBC until 2005. He has covered conflicts in over 60 countries around the world, including the conflicts in Iraq, Somalia and Kosovo, and has won a Scottish Bafta and Peabody award for his work.

Making The Film

"A year and a half ago I was sent to Japan to do a series of reports for ITN and I just fell in love with Tokyo. I looked at it through the eye of a lens and realised what a remarkable city it was. It had a landscape of the most beautiful buildings I'd ever seen. From that came the idea for my film."

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more info see our Cookies Policy