When I find people expressing themselves through the subcultures they are obsessed with, I am drawn to them.
Jesse Lizotte discovers a local Rockabilly dance group called 'The Strangers' who meet in Tokyo's local parks. Lizotte discusses the obsession and preservation of Japanese Rockabilly almost 70 years after it's initial popularisation.
How did you come across ‘The Strangers’? Were there any rival dance groups nearby?
Jesse Lizotte: I was walking through Yoyogi park on a Sunday with a tall can of beer. No rivalries but I did see other outfits congregating in the same square.
Did you get the chance to interact with any of the members?
Jesse Lizotte: We got drunk in the park throughout the day while I snapped away. I went back the following week and gave the guys a bunch of 4×6 photos I had printed at a one hour photo. They are used to being photographed by tourists but some had never had their portrait taken which was cool.
How often do they meet”?
Jesse Lizotte: Every Sunday.
Looking at your recent photographic series ‘ Born Too Late’, what has inspired you to document the minorities inhabiting Japan’s cities?
Jesse Lizotte: Because the idea of conformity is so entrenched in Japanese culture and society, when I find people expressing themselves through their lifestyle and the subcultures they are obsessed with, I am drawn to them.
“I think a deep feeling of nostalgia is a universal thing – that’s why so many people are attracted to artefacts from the past."
Do you think that the Rockabilly style is a revolt from a modernising Japan and the ways in which it’s society is evolving? Or rather, to exist as a Harajuku fashion style in it’s own right?
Jesse Lizotte: I guess you could call it the antithesis of a modernising Japan. I think a deep feeling of nostalgia is a universal thing – that’s why so many people are attracted to artefacts from the past, from a time when things weren’t so complicated.
Wim Wenders’ made a documentary called ‘Tokyo-Ga’ in 1985, which featured a small scene of people dressed in 50’s attire dancing in the parks to Rockabilly music. Why do you think that today’s youth in Japan continue to inherit this obsession with, what some would call an outdated, Western subculture nearly 30 years later.
Jesse Lizotte: I love that scene! Those kids are so cool. I feel like some of the cats I met in the park could have been in that film when they were young. Unfortunately from my experience at least, the subculture seems to be on the decline. The same park from that scene looks nothing like Wim Wender’s version today. The kids have all grown up! I hope that the culture doesn’t die out completely. There was a 9 year old boy I photographed who was absolutely crushing it! Maybe he’s the one to carry the torch.
Directed by Jesse Lizotte
Words by Jodie Hill