This documentary from Winnipeg’s Brad Crawford focuses on the Japanese arcade culture and includes brilliantly photographed footage from Japan, Las Vegas and a few other locales.
It’s fun, upbeat and touches on the rise and fall of the arcade experience and how home consoles in North America essentially killed the social experience that arcade gamers grew up with (not unlike downloading music killed the experience of going to a record store).
Opening with an ultra-slick credits sequence and montage, 100 Yen is on par with anything produced anywhere in the world at any level, and the fact that it was mostly photographed by a two-person crew is astonishing.
Peppered with beautiful computer animations, like most docs, the real work went into the post-production, with the Japanese translations alone apparently taking months.
Introducing us to Taito, the company that exploded onto the gaming scene in 1978 with shooter game Space Invaders (which was single-handedly created, scored and programmed by one man, Tomohiro Nishikado), the game revolutionized the experience of playing as we know it today.
It was so popular that whole arcades became dedicated to the Space Invaders console and banks couldn’t print 100 yen coins fast enough to keep up with the demand from gamers.
Space Invaders made way for the fighting games of the 1980s and 1990s, with the popularity then shifting to music/beat related games, such as Dance Dance Revolution.
Through interviews with gamers, programmers and arcade owners, the film quickly runs through 35 years of arcade gaming, with an emphasis on the community aspect of the culture.
While its website states that the film is 75 minutes, it clocks in at a compact 67.
With a non-stop musical score of high-energy beats (hey - it’s like you’re in an arcade!) and editing so quick that the interview subjects’ names remain on-screen after the editor has cut to the next shot, it successfully throws a lot of information at you. That is to say, even if you’re not a gamer, you won’t get lost.
Arguably, the filmmakers could have extended this doc slightly, possibly including footage of the interview subject’s home life to flesh out their stories slightly, though keeping it in the arcades is the smart move.
It felt as though it needed something more, as the scope seemed somewhat small, despite jumping from continent to continent.
The film’s only real downfall is its narration.
The uncredited voice has a sleepy, staggered delivery that lacks confidence and sounds as though it was chopped together from dozens of takes - or read by a young William Shatner.
To go through all the trouble of flying back and forth and then to skimp on the narration (which is mostly well written but at times redundant) seems foolish and takes the film down a few notches professionally.
Published in Volume 67, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 28, 2012)