Sunday, December 14, 2008

Japanese street performers spotlighted in new documentary "Tchindon"

by Chris MaGee

Chindon-ya, bands of street musicians who combine traditional Japanese songs and instruments with Western marching band music, got their start in the late 19th-century in Osaka. Groups of these musicians dressed in clownish Edo era costumes would play loud and long to help advertise store openings and to help shops increase sales. Although the early years of the 20th-century saw the chindon-ya competing with newspapers, flyers and billboards during the post-WW2 years they're popularity exploded with over 2,500 troupes performing across the country. Unfortunately this boom in chindon-ya didn't last and today there are only several dozen troupes playing in Japan.

French filmmaker Jean Christian Bouvier first encountered chindon-ya while teaching at a university in Fukuoka and he was so taken with their music that he decided to capture it on film. The result is his new documentary "Tchindon" which is currently running at the Espace culturel Bertin Poirée in Paris. "Tchindon" was filmed in and around Fukuoka between February and September of this year and focuses on Adachi Sendensha, a chindon-ya troupe led by Adachi Hideya. In proper chindon-ya fashion the troupe took to the streets of Paris on December 10th to promote the film. “I have no idea what it all means," commented one Parisian, "but it sure is a lot of fun.”

You can learn more about Bouvier's "Tchindon" over at Ampontan and at the film's Japanese language website, and to get a taste of what chindon-ya music sounds like check out the video below courtesy of YouTube of a chindon-ya troupe from Tokyo performing at this year's Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa.

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