In their film ‘In Japan’, Vincent Urban, Alex Tank, and Alex Schiller show us why we should immediately book that one-way ticket to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Their audiovisual diary details three weeks of railway travel through Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Kyoto.
It’s a fast-paced narrative of things – like convenience stores, ancient temples, and sumo wrestling – that make this country so otherworldly.
We talked to Vincent Urban and to learn more about their memorable trip.
Tell us more about your trip. Which place was your favourite? What did you like most about Japan?
“Our trip itinerary wasn’t too special – we got ourselves a Japan rail pass and visited the central big cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, with a few smaller stops on the way.
“The only thing we probably made different than other tourists was getting up at 4am almost every day so we could shoot on some locations before everyone else arrives.
“Tokyo surely is my favourite place to hang out and spend time, as it’s just throwing so many impressions at you at once you can’t stop being excited. But in terms of a really unexpected and nice tourist experience, I would suggest Koyasan to everyone, especially Westerners. It’s a huge and really authentic old temple area that I found a lot nicer than most of the well-known and heavily visited sights in Kyoto.
“Another really memorable experience was visiting the Hiroshima memorial site at 5am in the morning – it was really quiet, the sun was just coming up and we saw the first commuters coming up and praying there; a very intense moment.
“In general, I really like the uniqueness of the Japanese culture. Probably because it’s an island, there are so many distinct cultural characteristics that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world.”
What was your first impression upon arriving? Did it give you culture shock?
“To be honest, all three of us have visited Japan before, some already many times, mostly for snowboarding. So the culture shock moment wasn’t as impactful anymore. But for newcomers, I’m pretty sure it’s still can be quite shocking – but mostly positive if you have an open mind.
“Only stuff like finding the right subway entrance on Shibuya station can be a bit of an annoyance for someone who isn’t used to living in huge cities. People are so friendly in Japan, even when you get lost or confused in the beginning, you’re sure to get some help and adjust quickly.”
As a filmmaker, how did you strike a balance between old and new, traditional and futuristic?
“I don’t know. We were just filming everything we found interesting without really thinking about the balance.”
Did you come up with the film’s fast-paced concept beforehand or did you make it up along the way?
“That concept came up within the first couple of days, not really before we got there. But then we were always trying to get some dynamic into whatever we filmed.”
Editing all these clips must have been grueling, with you having so much content to work with. How was it?
“It took a very long time and I was always working on it off and on between actual work jobs. It’s just like a huge puzzle where you need to try to fit many different pieces together before you finally get one good transition. But I like that kind of work – it’s a very pleasing feeling when you get something working together nicely.”
Lastly, what’s your best advice to travelers who want to get better at documenting their adventures?
“Be short, kill your darlings (in terms of shot selection) and try to capture a location or a moment with as few shots as possible. As most of those films don’t have narration, be sure your edit has some kind of rhythm and pacing differences to make it more interesting.
“And most importantly: film people! There are so many films out there without human interaction and this is what experiencing different cultures is all about.”