Jacob Hodgkinson

This short film explores one of the lesser-known subcultures thriving in Tokyo and Osaka.

This article originally appeared in Spanish on our sister site, CityLab Latino.

The imagery looks plucked directly from East L.A. in 1995: lowriders cruising slowly down narrow streets or parked in long lines on the side of the road, flanked by tattooed men in white shirts and caps emblazoned with the insignia of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But this isn’t Los Angeles, and the men aren’t speaking either English or Spanish: they’re speaking Japanese.

These men and the devoted subculture they’ve created in parts of Tokyo and Osaka are the subject of a new documentary, Chicano, directed by the British filmmakers Louis Ellison and Jacob Hodgkinson. The film highlights a group of Japanese people’s intense obsession with the Chicano culture of East Los Angeles, particularly those elements of it associated with cholo/a (or gang) style. The Japanese devotees have all the aesthetic trappings: low shorts, high socks, tons of gear repping L.A., and tattoos covering their torsos.  

“What was most interesting and exciting to me was the attention to detail,” says Ellison, one of the directors. “Like any subculture in Japan, they’ve dedicated themselves completely and they spend a lot of time and a lot of money to make sure they’ve got everything exactly right.”

This is even more impressive when you consider the social cost of tattoos in Japan, says Ellison. People he filmed told him they are assumed to be criminals because of their aesthetic choices, and it limits the places they feel comfortable going. “It’s a real commitment for them to do this,” Ellison says.

(Jacob Hodgkinson)

Cholo/Chicano culture began making its way into Japan in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, mainly via media like Lowrider Magazine, according to Shin Miyata, one of the film’s subjects and the owner of Chicano/Japanese record label Barrio Gold. Miyata himself traveled to L.A. in the ‘80s and became fascinated with lowrider culture and the Chicanos who were a part of it. When he came back, he explains in the film, he tried to replicate what he’d seen and teach other people, too.

That replication appears to be based mainly in aesthetics and some cultural practices like making lowriders. But several of the men in the film also speak about feeling a deeper connection across cultures, rooting their Chicano cultural practices in things they feel exist in Japan, too.

“In Japan, people have strong family values and have a strong social identity. They keep where they are from or where they grew up deeply in their minds. In this same way, [some] Chicanos come from Mexico to Los Angeles as immigrants without working documents,” says an unnamed man near the end of the film. “We feel sympathy toward them and connect in the way they express their opinions, love their crews, family, and work hard on the things that they love. In my opinion this is what brings the Chicano and Japanese cultures together.”

You can stream the film and see all of Hodgkinson’s photos on Dazed.

La Puerta is a Chicano clothing and memorabilia store in Osaka. (Jacob Hodgkinson)
(Jacob Hodgkinson)
(Jacob Hodgkinson)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Environment

    A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day

    This year-long journey across the U.S. keeps you at consistent high temperatures.

  2. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  3. A woman stands in front of a house.
    Life

    How Housing Wealth Transferred From Families to Corporations

    The Great Housing Reset has led to growing numbers of single-family homes shifting from owner-occupied housing to investment vehicles for large corporations.

  4. a photo of bikes on a bridge in Amsterdam
    Transportation

    Street by Street, Amsterdam Is Cutting Cars Out of the Picture

    Armed with a street-design tool called the knip, the Dutch capital is slashing car access in the city center, and expanding public transit hours.

  5. a photo of a NYC bus
    Transportation

    Why the Bus Got So Bad, and How to Save It

    TransitCenter’s Steven Higashide has created a how-to guide to help city leaders and public transportation advocates save struggling bus systems.

×