‘100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience’: A look back and a look forward

The times I was in Japan, I did stop for a limited pachinko parlor experience. I didn’t lose a lot of money. I’m sure there were video game arcades, but I didn’t visit them so “100 Yen: The Arcade Experience” is a visit to a part of Japan I’ve never seen.

Like “Video Games: The Movie,” this documentary was funded through crowdsourcing, but had a more modest goal of $9,000 but ended up raising $14,848 on Indigogo. That was with only 192 sponsors and no real celebrities. When I say celebrities, I mean like someone non-gamers might know such as Wil Wheaton or Zach Braff.

Of course, there are celebrated gamers such as one of the world’s best Street Fighter players, Daigo Umehara and gaming expert Brian Ashcraft who wrote the book “Arcade Mania!”

Director/writer had worked in Japan for three years (2005-2008) and “100 Yen” was his first directorial credit and it is also Bryan Verot’s first writing credit.

Having grown up with the stereotype that Japan and the Japanese are only good at imitation, it was surprising to here the narration of the documentary claiming that Japan is not only a vibrant and exotic country, but also one that from “architecture to cars, Japan has a history of doing things differently.”

In the 1950s, a small import-export company, Taito decided to import pinball games from America and arcade parlors opened, but then Taito thought about making their own games, beginning with Space Invaders.

The documentary follows Umehara to a few competitions and interviews him as well as his opponents yet not his family.

Space Invaders and the 100 Yen games are now retro games. Video games have gone past the shooting games that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but parlors for retro games survive in Japan and one manager estimates that 90 percent of his customers are hardcore. According to this documentary, in Japan, the social aspect of arcades continues and that social aspect is missing in online gaming.

One Asian innovation was the rhythm games which isn’t mentioned in “Video Games: The Movie” and does take away the concern for social isolation and obesity. Dance Dance Revolution was introduced by Konami in Japan in 1998 and then released in North America and Europe in 1999.  Although DDR became available at home, in Japan this didn’t kill the popularity of the arcades because it became a social event (and, something not mentioned in the documentary, Japanese homes tend to be quite small).

According to the documentary, arcades are dying in the U.S. because the business model hasn’t changed. “It hasn’t grown up,” says one commentator. There also a problem of population density and transportation.

The documentary gets its name from the 100 yen coin that was used to buy a session, but also the popularity of the games resulted in a national shortage of the coins.

“100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience” is currently available online VoD on Hulu and other platforms.



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