(Tonight, as the sun sets, you can see the young and waxing moon low by the horizon to the west, with Mars slightly to the north and Venus high in the sky, near Aldebaran. All the crabapple and cherry trees in New York are starting to blossom.)
Dancers at Akasaka Space Capsule Disco
For a long time I planned to write a book about the people who danced at a particular disco in Akasaka, Tokyo – the Space Capsule Disco – in August in 1969. A future formed there, if only for a few nights; we can see it today the way we see the light from a long-dead star that once illuminated a different planet.
The disco was built in stainless steel, gleaming and mirror-finished, with chandeliers made of television tubes, each one turned to a different channel – and music, arrays of lights, reflections on reflections. Supersaturation of signals, the overload: Kurokawa, the architect, called it “a capsule for those who want to release what is pent up inside them.” Kurokawa was obsessed with capsules as an architectural form appropriate to networked life, environments as engineered as the Apollo module for travel into different kinds of experience. Home capsules were places for shelter from information as from solar winds and cosmic rays: pared down, gently empty, a triage environment for damaged subjectivity. Kurokawa made capsules that felt like the conning tower of a submarine; he made a capsule that meticulously recreated a Kobori Enshu tea room inside a factory-assembled frame; he made a capsule lined with fur like Barbarella’s spaceship. He was there, dancing in his own club, this high-pressure chamber for media overload.
(I suspect the best sense we can have now of how it felt then is the opening five or six minutes of Film for the Damaged Right Eye – which still feels intensely new to me, this 1968 movie by Toshio Matsumoto, another dancer at the Space Capsule Disco.)
(On the side, Kurokawa ran a company with some friends – Film Art, est. 1968 – which existed solely to import Godard movies into Japan. He wanted all his buildings to have dynamite pre-installed, wired to a clock with 30 years to go: everything is going to change, even the buildings are temporary.)
So many people were in that club, that August, that year. One of them was Yukio Mishima, a friend of Kurokawa’s. Mishima, of the ice-cold, limpid prose and bloody, melodramatic temper. He could only seem to live at the highest possible tension: a nationalist conservative, celebrating the ultra-right values of bushido, while dancing in psychedelic clubs, cruising the drag bars of Shinjuku, writing anatomies of alienation and morbid eroticism. “Beauty,” he wrote, “is something that burns the hand when you touch it.” Sending out party invitations on Tiffany stationery and modeling (flowers, bondage, swords) for Eikoh Hosoe while assembling a private army to stage a coup d’état. Within a year of dancing in the Space Capsule Disco, he will be decapitated in ritual suicide in the commandant’s office of the Japan Self-Defense Forces after trying to launch a military revolt.
He wrote something in one of his early novels – Thirst for Love, 1950 – that is, as was his way, at once true to life and almost unbearably cruel. It goes like this: “When a captive lion steps out of his cage, he comes into a wider world than the lion who has known only the wilds. While he was in captivity, there were only two worlds for him – the world of the cage, and the world outside the cage. Now he is free. He roars. He attacks people. He eats them. Yet he is not satisfied, for there is no third world that is neither the world of the cage nor the world outside the cage.”