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Japanese arcade film short of high score

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As a pure piece of documentary journalism, this locally produced film about Japanese gaming culture is uneven and repetitive and not entirely on the level.

One of its key interview subjects, Las Vegas arcade impresario Christopher LaPorte, is also a credited executive producer.

LaPorte has interesting things to say about the decline of the video arcade in the United States: "Arcades didn't necessarily die. They just didn't grow up."

He is right about that, but given his own participation in the film, one has the feeling this project is, in part, an infomercial for LaPorte's arcade establishment Insert Coin(s).

That aside, director Brad Crawford's film is an eye-opener in its consideration of how the arcades of Japan are still thriving, while their western counterparts have largely disappeared from view from the downtowns and Main Streets of most North American cities, especially compared to the arcade boom of the '80s.

Certainly, the cultures are different. Crawford makes the point that in Japan, living spaces tend to be smaller and the noise of a home console game can be problematic.

More importantly, in Japan, the arcade is primarily a social experience. Many of Crawford's interview subjects testify that friendships (and at least one marriage) have been forged among youths engaged in virtual battle in the noisy, distracting environs of a classic Japanese arcade.

Rising from those ranks are superstar players such as Daigo Umehara (a.k.a. "The Beast"), one of the greatest Street Fighter players in the gaming universe. Umehara is interviewed about how he fell into the role, but Crawford doesn't supply any deeper glimpses into the man with regards to his personal life (or how, as a kid, he could afford to spend hundreds of dollars a week at arcades honing his skills).

At its best, 100 Yen is a succinct and interesting history of the arcade video game phenomenon, starting with the invention of Space Invaders. Some of the first arcades stocked nothing but Space Invaders, and Japan suffered a shortage of 100 yen coins as a result of its popularity. From there, the film follows game evolution from shooting games to fighting games (Street Fighter 2) to music and rhythm games (Dance Dance Revolution).

Curiously, this is the second serious, crowd-sourced doc about gaming culture to emerge from Winnipeg, the first being the excellent Indie Game: The Movie, an up close and personal look at the lives of independent video game designers.

100 Yen has its appeal, but it's nowhere near as professional as its predecessor, particularly when it comes to the film's maddening redundancy. For example, one interview subject describes in detail the multi-storey design of a classic Japanese arcade, and later, Crawford takes us on a second tour with nothing much to add to the first description.

Repetition is a fact of life for arcade gamers, inured to playing the same game over and over again.

Movie audiences... not so much.

100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience

Directed by Brad Crawford



68 minutes

2 1/2 stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2012 G3

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