Tokyo Stories review – artistic immersion into the city’s creative life

The Exhibition on Screen documentary series delves into the boundless energy of the Japanese megalopolis

Having achieved impressive box office results with its Vermeer film, the Exhibition on Screen strand makes bit of a detour from its comfort zone with its latest film: an overview of artistic takes on Japan’s megalopolis and capital city, ranging from Edo-era paintings to street performance events. Having established itself by largely focusing on the golden eras of art history, dominated by the big names of the Renaissance and the late 19th century, here the net is spread to include contemporary artists who will be (mostly) not especially familiar to non-devotees. And while the conduit for the film is the Tokyo: Art & Photography exhibition staged by Oxford’s Ashmolean museum in 2021, this is far from a standard gallery tour: the approach is near-total immersion in Tokyo itself, along with a series of interviews with a string of practitioners including “girly photographer” Mika Ninagawa, veteran pop-era painter Keiichi Tanaami, and representatives of a wacky collective called Chim-Pom.

The results are as handsome as ever, with the film dominated by spectacular photography of Tokyo’s urban landscape in all its glory. For rather obvious reasons, not much of the city survives from before the second world war, but there are traces of ancient Japan to be seen, and accounts – through 17th-century depictions of the marshy, sparsely populated locale – of the embryonic Edo before it became the fortress of the Tokugawa shogunate. These days we are of course much more familiar with the Blade Runner-esque city of glowing neon and retrofitted chaos, but Tokyo as shown here seems to have moved on again, with plenty of pristine new-builds and fancy monuments.

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