Giant Robot Store and GR2 News

  It’s hard to write about 3.11 from this side of the planet. I watched the horrors on television, Ustream, and Twitter just an hour or so after attending an after event for an exhibition by James Jean, where I stood when I heard about the quake and tsunami. Like 9.11, you’ll remember what you were doing and who was around when you heard, and like with most, I experienced the devastation virtually. Living just a few blocks away, I’ve known filmmaker Shunji Iwai for a bit over a year as he was working on projects outside of Japan. He often discussed his life in America that didn’t include a need to work in Japan any time soon. Over many meals, he talked about the quake and had powerful views of how dangerous the radiation was for Tokyoites and of course the surrounding areas of Fukushima. Depressed, he was positive that if he was in Tokyo, he’d have moved far away as should everyone else. He knew the media was lying. He newly established an office, staff, had a completed film “Vampire,” and before I knew it he left America nearly overnight for Osaka. I’ve often wondered how my neighbor was doing. Just the other day I ran into him on Facebook. He messaged me that he’d send me his film about 3.11. I only loosely heard of his project and expected something that would be cinematic – in his way. It’s not. At least that’s what I thought at first. By the end, it is. It’s more of what can be thought of as a text book on film that’s heavy with interviews. As you’d expect there will be scenes of wreckage, but what Iwai captures is also his own experience that he shares with his new friends including a young girl activist. He too is experiencing the scenes, explanation and people as you are when you watch it. It’s not cinematic in a sense that he’s not trying to sway your emotions with pretty shots, but you are pushed deeply into understanding what 3.11 means from angles of indie media, nuclear plants, locals, professors, involved actors, and more. I was most touched by a professor in Kyoto who’s remarks about the children affected by the radiation was especially touching and only then does his film crescendo into something that I could see crafted by Iwai’s hands. It’s all in the last last few minutes that you realize his artistic vision for this film.  
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This isn’t a Top Ten list like “Best Concert, Best Movie, or Best Toy”. It’s a list that’s as important and there are highlights in them all, but by no means is it a Top Ten of anything. They’re just important as everything else – family, friends, and so on. Maybe I’ll try and turn out a list that’s more like that…


 We painted the mural on the wall. That alone was an 11 hour project. 


Zen Garage – The year started off great with the Zen Garage art opening just a few days before the new year. Yet, the actual New Year’s Day kicked off with the Oshogatsu program at JANM. It was motor vehicles including the Giant Robot Scion Car I designed but also custom motorcycles and the now vintage David Choe Scion. Thanks to Len Higa and Shinya Kimura for jumping on board. The year began with a GR show in a museum – it’s a great start with you get to do a project with friends, new friends, and a place like JANM. Collaboration can be more fun than doing something alone.


 It’s great when artists install their own work. 


James Jean Art Show – Aside from it being one of the greater or even greatest art shows of the year, it also indelibly marked the night that the earthquake struck Japan. I recall, it was at the after party, the twitter messages were beginning. An 8.9 quake? The thought of a giant quake was one thing, yes there would be lives lost and yes a lot of damage, but less than an hour later, the Tsunami hit the shores and that’s when the things got real, it became internet news for days straight.

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 Aya Takada during one of her kids programs

It was just a couple of years ago that filmmaker Shunji Iwai brought his niece, Aya Takada to GR2. When the giant Earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, she was the only person I knew from the Sendai area. When I asked Shunji Iwai about Aya, he said straight faced, “I thought they all died.” Yet days later, he found out they were all fine except the gallery flooded. Then in some time, a Facebook status update said something like, “cleaning up the gallery”. Since then, Birdo Flugas which is located on the first floor of her family’s home is cleaned up and Aya is working hard on her space, projects and public programs. The photos tell the story as well as those are at the bottom of the page.


GR: You run a gallery in Sendai of all places. Can you tell me about your neighborhood? Did it change after 311?

AT: My gallery is located in a small city called Shiogama, near Sendai (about 30 minutes away). Shiogama is a port town. After 3.11, many shops and houses were torn down. Less buildings are around birdo space now. There’s more vacant lots. Compared with the other affected areas, Shiogama was less damaged because the Urato islands were protected the city.

GR: Your gallery was flooded in the tsunami of 311. Can you tell me about that time? Where were you? What you were thinking about? How bad your gallery was affected? (at left is the family home and the gallery at the bottom)

AT: I was working at my gallery “birdo space” at 2:46pm on 3/11, as usual. The quake was crazily big. The gallery shook badly. The racks and shelves fell down one after another, I thought the building itself would collapse at a stretch.

My gallery is located near the Shiogama Port, like about 150m from the port. I heard the tsunami alert soon, saying “3m Tsunami is coming..etc” urging to head for higher ground. I didn’t think it would happen, but then the alert was saying “6m tsunami is coming…” and then “10m tsunami is coming…” Then finally I felt something weird and dangerous. I went to see my family (near the gallery). We decided to run to my brother’s apartment (12th floor). There was about 40-50mins until the tsunami actually arrived in Shiogama. When I arrived my brother’s apartment, I opened the window right away. The tsunami arrived. The road and streets we just passed were flooded.

I was shaking while looking at what was going on, in front of me.

I went to see the gallery next day, the building itself was fine, but the fallen artworks, products, racks and shelves, books, office data, my bike, and cars were all soaked with sludge.



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Here’s a little more about the google street views of post Earthquake Japan. 44,000 square miles were reshot just to have a record of what happened. Here’s our link to the story along with the viewer. The NPR story actually has before and after views which are sobering and somber. If you don’t know how to use it, just drag the man icon in the left corner to the blue line in the road (zoom in first), then you get Street View and from there just navigate. We randomly picked a spot, and it looked like the photo below. (google – Miraikioku)  
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Will it ever be clean? Also once it’s clean, what will go here? Apartments? In 100 years or even 200 years, many will forget, many will say the area is totally clean and yes lofty ocean front apartments will get made just as they do on top of toxic landfills. 40 years sounds like a good timetable but why make something when it takes decades to remove it? (CBS – 40 Years)  
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