This year is a year of celebration for the Japan-based production company, “FAR EAST SKATE NETWORK“. Started by OG Z-Boy, local Nakano legend turned world traveler & documenter Takahiro Morita in 1995, 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of an enterprise whose most renowned output to this day has to be the 2008 “OVERGROUND BROADCASTING”, a ridiculously ambitious project which took Morita 7+ years to complete.
A project for which Morita found the drive to travel across the world in order to document the local skate scenes in the most notorious cities of Europe & the US at that time in skate history, coming up with fresh footage of some of the most iconic skateboarders evolving within their respective landmark environments, all the while also shining some light on the residing underdogs and – last but not least – introducing skateboarding in Japan by the Japanese to a more mainstream range of the western skate culture, which used to be more oblivious to their equally passionate far eastern brothers, and their stylish ondoings.
To a lot of US & european skateboarders, Morita’s magnum opus made for a newly-opened window to look out of, and into a dimension of the skateboarding culture localism might have made easy to overlook before ; soon after the release of “Overground Broadcasting”, a lot more people started to pay attention to the Japanese skate scene, and their own, quirky take on a globalized practice now revealed as even more universal & diverse than what used to be commonly preconceived.
A widening of the western vision which then sparked worldwide interest toward Japanese productions such as the TBPR films “LENZ” (1&2) or “Dialogue Between Insiders” or Katsumi Minami‘s “Night Prowler”, which in turn started to influence a lot of the modern skate filmmakers throughout the world…
The November 2015, #84 issue of TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING JAPAN pays hommage to Morita’s professional skate & videographer career and its impact on the fundamental notions according to which skateboarding is commonly perceived, by granting him a solid interview, as well as the cover photo, and the DVD broadcast of the latest FESN film “LOVE FROM FAR EAST” – a ten-minute retrospective piece on Morita’s skateboarding throughout the years, consisting in a selection of footage from 1989 to 2015.
The video starts with some of the oldest Morita footage there is to date, him skating around town edited to a voiceover interview with him commenting on his original introduction to skateboarding, his first influences, and how he got hooked.
It is interesting to hear about him not having access to many outside references for skateboarding back then, besides one video. This part might remind a lot of pre-internet-nostalgia-prone, older skateboarders of a subject they regularly seem to like to tackle (modern bouts of information overload) ; others will consider how interesting it always is to ponder how the most secluded locations with the most limited access to external information often turns out to breed fresh, organic styles.
The film then moves onto footage of Morita’s first contests as a presentation of his deeper introduction to the skate culture & practice. Clips of him skating skateparks and plazas in the early 1990′s soon follow.
Retrospectively, it is intriguing to witness him already in the process of tackling some moves which actually still make some of the essential foundations of his skateboarding style nowadays – such as a talent for ollies and original, responsive upper body movement.
Besides those, Morita also showcases a precocious taste for modernism, as well as a certain knack for adaptability, seeing as he also demonstrates some of the latest, more popular maneuvers that are now regarded as ‘trademark’ tricks from that era – street grabs and ollie impossibles, then pressure flips off ledges in 1991 / 1992 are also all present and correct, in typical “1281″ fashion.
As the mid-1990′s slowly come into play, more fast street lines ensue.
Morita is then displayed finding his own “charging” style, cruising around cities with speed, attacking benches and window ledges with aggressive grinds (including a wide array of back-truck-tweaking moves, ranging from hurricanes – both ways – to stylish feeble and salad grinds), forming spontaneous kickflips all over the place, getting crazy air time popping off the most intricate objects found within the japanese suburban landscape, and generally roaming around with power and grace.
You can once again sense a possible influence in reaction to the most iconic videos of that time period (Stereo’s “A Visual Sound”, “Eastern Exposure”). Morita’s skating becomes more lines-based and the spots start to look really good !
Sensorily, the film really starts picking up. The editing of the footage gradually becomes quicker and quicker and the music – specifically recorded for the video, see bottom of the article – also turns up in pace, resulting in the trademark FESN trance-inducing & motivating excitement usually conveyed through their pieces.
1995 marks the creation of FESN as a company (which is briefly alluded to) and fresh appearances of the main, classic meet-up spot in Nakano : the Nakano Sun Plaza (also a landmark in music history).
More street skating in various japanese environments then occurs.
The section corresponding to the late 1990′s & early 2000′s then mostly consists in a compilation of footage which was most likely already used in Morita’s early video works for FESN (“Far East Skate Network”, “1996″, “Tozainanboku”…), which most westerners might not have seen anyway due to the VHS tapes for most of them having been out of print for many years, and still being hard to find in the area – despite recent DVD re-releases available from the FESN website.
“LOVE FROM FAR EAST” makes for a unique opportunity to see some of this footage again (in great quality, and with updated editing).
As the timeline progresses into the mid-to-late 2000′s, clips from more accessible & popular Takahiro Morita works, such as “On The Broad” (the Fat Bros skateshop video) or his self-made video parts for the Strush Wheels videos (“Collective Improvisation”, “Cityscape”) make a resurgence.
The 2000′s also marked Morita’s first travels to the United States and western Europe to film for “Overground Broadcasting”, which is also briefly alluded to in the edit. This expansion and globalization of the far eastern movement reflects under the form of a first couple of clips on foreign ground.
Finally, this attraction toward ever-so-outward bounds reaches its paroxysm as the early-to-mid 2010′s footage kicks in, mostly comprising clips filmed in France by Yoan Taillandier (“Soleil Levant”), and in SF by Zach Chamberlin (“Camino a San Francisco“) – often in the context of past Magenta skateboards collaborations which helped Morita get around.
Morita is now fully in touch with fellow skate filmmakers from all over the world ; having shared their respective knowledges in conceptual tactics and artistic technique with one another, the optimal potential for skate expression is reached, both on Morita’s end (who now has his vision understood by his peers, and can freely concentrate on just the act of skating), and the filmers’ end (who have learned from the cultural confrontation with Morita’s exotic, singular approach, and now have a wider array of tools and ideas at their disposal to better materialize their own understanding of skateboarding into more personal works).
In reality, albeit having already been a big part of Morita’s approach for many years already, this renewed, reinforced urgent will to get around the globe & connect with other likeminded individuals in the early 2010′s have to be correlated with the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, which Morita has publicly explained how deeply moved & impacted he had been by their occurrence.
Living his life through the prism of skateboarding, it is understandable how he was then prompted to feel even more emergency to share his love for existence by spreading his personality over & onto new places, take an even deeper bite into his passion and also try to convey a message of peace in the process, which translated into the “SKATERS MUST BE UNITED” movement.
Eventually, the ten-minute-long retrospective montage – now at the peak of its pace – concludes on a more local note again, with Morita cruising around his original, more familiar far eastern environment, footage of which feels nothing short of liberating, and filming & shooting the trick which ended up as the TWSJ #81 cover (aggressive flatground bertleman slide while ducking under a low metal beam).
Voiceovers then make a final comeback : “I am Takahiro Morita. I have been skating for 27 years, and I still do it“.
Video piece aside, the accompanying printed interview in the magazine itself is also really interesting, and just as universally accessible seeing as it comes in both Japanese & English (being presented as a “bilingual interview”), representing Morita’s will to export his vision & message and make a global, unifying statement.
The exchange covers no less than the entirety of Morita’s career both as a skateboarder & filmmaker, questions aspects of his approach throughout time and is full of food for thought, back stories and little gems. We won’t spoil the entirety of the printed message, but here are a few selected bits which should catch your attention, as well as encourage you to try getting a copy of the magazine as soon as possible while you still can !
“yea, LOVE. it’s really LOVE. i used to say UNDERGROUND… you know ?”
“the time when you can just concentrate on skating is really precious. can you imagine ? having century ultra fisheye on both vx1000 & 2000, having 7-8 batteries and also battery for big ass light, put them all in a backpack & put tripod on it… then carry that backpack & film Ricky Oyola pushing full speed to Love Park. it’s hell of a work !”
Thank you / DOUMOARIGATOGOZAIMASU for this piece Morita-san (& also congratulations for scoring Etnies Japan & Bones Bearings as your new sponsors) ; may you drift away onto new adventures soon & keep inspiring new generations of passionate skateboarders on deep levels.
(Cover photo : detail of #84 issue of TWSJ cover shot by Yosuke Maruyama)