The festival was the brainchild of a man who goes by MARS, the CEO of the Tokyo-based animation studio and creative ad agency Hot Zipang. MARS realized that Americans, happy to eat frankensushi in the ’80s, have since become more attuned to Japanese culture, to the degree that umami is now a part of their vocabulary. He decided this was a good time to showcase the country’s offerings.
The headliner of this inaugural edition was “samurai guitarist” Miyavi, whose rendition of the Mission Impossible theme is now permanently etched into my mind. Anamanaguchi transported everyone into the sort of chip-tune frenzy one experiences when fighting megabosses in old videogames. And Shibuya 69 led everyone in elaborate para-para dance routines to Eurobeat music. Even artist Fantasista Utamaro, one of the exhibitors, joined in.
At the exhibitor booths, you could try on a robust selection of lolita (think Victorian-inspired frocks and parasols) and punk clothing offered by LES boutique Tokyo Rebel.
Bushwick-based Stella Rose Saint Clair showcased her pompoms and other Sailor Moon-appropriate hair accessories. “Discovering Harajuku fashion as a teen taught me that daily dressing should be fun and imaginative,” she told us. “This world could really stand to be a lot cuter and more fun.”
Fashion designer Jeanette Converse, clad in a pink-and-rainbow minidress with matching fishnets, said her bestseller was a millennial-pink leather jacket embellished with a bunny painted on the back and fluffy applications on the shoulders. It looked like something that would inspire Alessandro Michele of Gucci.
Art-wise, Tara McPherson, whose work is influenced by Japanese culture, showed prints, and Dmitri Djurchin brought his many-eyed, multi-colored creatures.
Gabrielle Vitollo’s influences include early Renaissance paintings, ukiyo-e, and etchings. She has a particular fondness for the post-apocalyptic anime Akira. “It took me until after I graduated from art school to give myself permission to make techno-futurist and sci-fi paintings inspired by my interest in anime,” she told us in an email before the festival.
MARS is planning to make Tokyo x Brooklyn a three-year event. “I lived in Brooklyn for a long time,” he told us when asked why he chose this borough and not a Manhattan location. “I didn’t realize I loved Brooklyn so much until I left.” He owned a café in Williamsburg from 2001 to 2013, and left because he felt the neighborhood lost its flavor. He sees some common elements between Tokyo and Brooklyn. “Brooklyn used to be the neighborhood for artists, warehouses, and many Japanese artists live around Brooklyn.” In Tokyo itself, there are “many Brooklyns all over.”
Guitarist Miyavi, whose stage name indicates something “elegant, yet strong,” also sees commonalities between Tokyo and Brooklyn, or, more broadly, New York City. After relocating to Los Angeles with his family three years ago, he needed some time to adjust to California. “I am used to the faster tempo, like what people have in New York, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo; New York and Tokyo have similar vibes,” he told us. It’s his second time in Brooklyn, and he loves it. “There is a cool, creative vibe on the street. I always choose places, to live or to have my office at, that people are proud of being there,” he elaborated. “I feel like, when I see people people on a street in Brooklyn, they love this area, they love the community.”