A childhood friend photographer and director influenced heavily by skateboarding. After 30 plus years, they revisits the skate bible that inspired them in their younger days.
──TARO HIRANO × TETSU NISHIYAMA (ENGLISH)
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
VHSMAG (V)： How did you two meet? You guys pretty much grew up together, right?
Taro Hirano (H)： Yeah, we used to go to the same private school. We've known each other since elementary school so it goes way back.
V： So that means you've known each other before you started skating?
Tetsu Nishiyama (N)： Yeah, we used to just play together.
H： I used to just hang out at Tetsu's house or play tag at a park (laughs). Go to the arcade and get snacks. We've been playing around before we found skating.
V： Okay, then you two started skating around the same time?
H： Not exactly the same day but pretty close. We started BMX first. I think Tetsu got a... was it Mongoose?
N： Diamondback. I don'r really remember too much about those days.
H： Tetsu got a Diamondback BMX at a shop in Hatagaya called Circus Circus. we were in the 7th grade.
V： You got into BMX and was that how you got into American culture?
N： I think we were into music and movies before that.
H： We used to go to the movies a lot. There were many Hollywood movies with kids in it, like Goonies, Police Academy, Back to the Future... also E.T. So I guess we were aware of American culture when we were in elementary school.
V： Eventually you start skating. The Search for Animal Chin came out in '87 so I assume you started in '86?
N： Probably. The first video I watched was Future Primitive though. Then Animal Chin became our bible. We used to watch videos like NSA's Oceanside contest in between. I used to watch and study all the things in the video, like the clothes and music... everything (laughs).
H： What was the video where Lance Mountain does a handstand into the crowd?
N： That's Future Primitive's Sacto segment.
H： Oh yeah, we used to watch that kind of stuff. Those typical parking lot demo videos (laughs).
V： So you had BMX first and then got into skating.
H： If I remember correctly, I was going through BMX magazine and saw a skateshop ad. There were all these skateboards in it. You know, board graphics in the '80s had a lot of impact. We were in junior high school so we got hooked. Circus Circus had Powell boards and tees. I think that's how we started skating.
N： Yeah, I think that's correct (laughs).
H： BMX has logos but not graphics. So I think we got attracted to Powell's powerful graphics.
V： Where were you skating back then?
H： At first just in front of friends' houses. We didn't even know there was a scene in Tokyo. As I said before we were going to private school so everyone lived in different area. We didn't particularly have a local spot. So I don't think we really mingled with other skaters.
V： So you were just skating together with buddies from school.
H： Yeah, we used to build jump ramps in front of friend's house. I used to go over to Tetsu's place in Shibuya and skate Saigoyama Park, and also go to Shinjuku and hit Jabu-Ike. There were other skaters but didn't really hung out together. So we were just skating around each other's local area at first. We used to hang at Circus Circus too. It was a hobby shop with plastic models and bicycles so it was a place where skaters hung out. It was just us.
V： What was each other's impression as skaters back then?
H： Tetsu was really quick to find things. We used to watch Bones Brigade videos and I was into Lance and Tetsu was into Tommy Guerrero. Guerrero was one of pioneers of street skating so he was very advanced. He had a distinct style too. So Tetsu was quickly drawn to that kind of thing. I was all about Lance, you know, someone with character (laughs). So the way you ride and the style where you do a little ollie here and there... Tetsu was so into that before everyone else.
V： You can tell what kind of person you are by who you were into in the Bones Brigade (laughs).
N： Taro used to have Vision Psycho Stix at first but after that he was riding Lance board for a long time. Like Lance's skating, he practiced standard skating. He values process in everything. He's all about that. I didn't skate like that... I was more rough. You can see the personality in the way you skate (laughs).
H： Lance is still sticking to the basics. He's so stable.
V： So how did you get your bible, the Animal Chin video?
H： I don't remember at all. Was it at Circus Circus...? We all pitched in for the video.
N： I remember it had a shrink. You know, you keep the shrink and just cut the bottom part. We used to take turn and bring it home. Back then we hung out at my place pretty often so I remember watching it a lot at my house.
H： It was a hard case until Future Primitive, then after Animal Chin I remember they started using paper jacket.
N： Maybe we bought it at Murasaki Sports in Harajuku or Circus Circus.
V： What was it like when you watched it for the first time?
H： Tony Hawk represented everything about American teen... the long bangs, '80s design shirt and pink color... The embodiment of cool white teen. Something like that, I guess (laughs).
N： You know in Future Primitive there was a section where they skate in NY? That was kind of the early stage of street skating and in Animal Chin they skate in Chinatown with more technique. It was like, "That'S how you skate in the street, that's how you have fun in the street." We mimicked it. We looked for places where it looked like the spots in the video (Laughs).
H： Everything was more refined in Animal Chin. It was more dark until Future Primitive. The package was all black too, you know. When I look back on Animal Chin, I think it was well-packaged.
N： It was like a movie.
V： IN Animal Chin, it starts with the Wallows, then goes to SF, Bakersfield, Pink Motel, Blue Tile Lounge, and then Chin Ramp. Which part was your favorite?
N： That part before they go to that backyard ramp with Ray Underhill. The part where Jim Thiebaud was bringing jump ramp in SF. That part with super high front wallride.
H： Yeah, we didn't even know who he was back then, with that jacket (laughs).
N： That yellow jacket (laughs).
H： The rhythm of the push to the jump ramp was matched the music. I watched the video again the other day and saw Guerrero skating SF street leading the other guys. Like, "This is my town!" That was awesome. But I like the Wallows the best. How it starts with all the names and the everything pauses. It was exciting like "Here it comes!"
V： What's so special about Animal Chin video? It's been over 30 years since you watched it for the first time and it still means a lot to you.
H： I don't know. Maybe because it's the first video that Stacy Peralta was able to do the things he really wanted to do? After that he makes Ban This and documentary like Dogtown and Z-Boys. I think Animal Chin video was his starting point. Of course there were also others like Future Primitive but I think it was the first video that was complete as a legit piece of work.
N： That makes sense. For me, it was the video I watched when I was really into American culture and the ambition as skater was at the highest level. So that video becomes your foundation and it was a very important process for me. The video means a lot because I watched it in that era. It might be a boring video for younger generation today, you know?
V： It's a nostalgic video that brings back great memories. I'm sure you both had opportunities of meeting the Bones Brigade considering what you do today.
H： If just seeing them randomly doesn't count, I've met everyone other than Tony Hawk and Mike McGill.
N： You did a show together with Lance in Love + Guts, right?
H： Yeah. But before that, I had shot him for a magazine called RELAX. When I shot my POOL book, I went to see Lance and he introduced me to Salba. I used to go see demos but it was the first time actually speaking with him. It was maybe 2003? I might have met Guerrero earlier.
N： I've met Guerrero and Lance. I met Lance at the Love + Guts show in Shibuya 16 Gallery. But you know what, I had skated with TG before. There was a skatepark called MAPS int eh '90s and he was in Japan with Thiebaud when they just started Real. It was pretty recently when I actually spoke with him though. It was after he became a musician.
V： What was it like meeting childhood heroes?
H： Well, it's not like it brings me back to those childhood days anymore (laughs). I mean, at first it was like 'Wow!' but we're not so apart in age. We work as adults. I don't want to to make them feel awkward by fanning out, you know.
V： It's been over 30 years since you got inspired by Animal Chin video and Taro just released a book I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM based on Wallows through Tetsu's publishing label SIGN by DESCENDANT. You had a photo show at BOOKMARC back in May.
N： I think we did the photo show for ten days. I had art shows and exhibitions before but we did this photo show all by ourselves so we spent a lot of time at the gallery. We took parts that we normally have other people take care of. We came up with ideas from scratch, built it up and had people see it. We also did a talk event as well. It was very special because we made it happen just with friends. It was like the process when Ian MacKaye transitioned from Minor Threat to Fugazi. When I look back on this project, it was like I wanted to do it at this timing, or I had to do it at this timing... I don't know which is correct but I think it was meant to happen.
V： What made you launch a publishing label in the first place?
N： It goes way back but Taro and I was talking about doing something together. Then we decided to make a tee for Circus Circus, where we used to hang out when we were young. So we made it, but it was like "Where should we sell this?" We didn't need to sell them but we just wanted to get it out at the right timing. So we explored ideas, like photo book and photo show.
H： To explain from the beginning, I've been shooting for Tetsu's fashion label DESCENDANT's zine for the past seasons. We were like "What should we do next?" every time and Tetsu asked me if we could make something together. It was when I had maybe gone to Wallows to check it out or I had shot a bit of photos there, so I thought Wallows would be the perfect subject for the project. But I knew it'll take a couple years so we decided to make Circus Circus tee first. We wanted to go back to our roots.
V： So this project started from there.
H： Then we tried to figure out the best way to release the tee. We had just made zine for DESCENDANT with Guerrero. I shot photos at his Japan tour and we used the photos. So we thought it'd be nice to have TG involved in the project too. I also wanted to make a book based on Wallow so we had this idea where TG could play at the opening of the photo show. And we waited a year and half for our schedule to meet. Then TG's Japan tour happened so we booked BOOKMARC gallery and worked on the book.
V： It sounds like a very well-planned out project.
H： So that means I need to fly to Hawaii and shoot more at Wallows. We didn't have any editor helping out so we had to do everything, but we needed a designer. So we asked our buddy from the same school who we used skate together... he's a designer now. And all these friends who used to watch Animal Chin video together reunited again for this project. The guy who designed Circus Circus tee is also from this circle of friends. Taku Takemura did a workshop at the photo show as well. It was all planned but it was a very organic process.
V： All the friends from back then are doing their things in similar community... that's amazing.
N： Everyone did what they can do to help.
H： Even at this age, everyone is doing something and we were able to reunite. It was very fulfilling.
V： Taro, you went to Wallow like three times for this book, right?
H： First time was when I was n Hawaii for a different job and I had a day off. I was thinking how I could spend the day and realized Wallows was in Hawaii. I knew that Taku had gone there with Ken Goto before so I called him and asked him where it was. I didn't know how to get in the ditch so i didn't bring my board or my camera. But when I got there, it was exactly how I had imagined. The Wallows. I was so excited, I walked to the very top and came back down. I felt the urge to shoot the place. It was exactly like when I shot POOL, I felt that every element for me to shoot was there. The I went back there again and start shooting, but due to bad weather, water was running so I had to go there again and again.
N： I remember Taro sending us text like, "I went to Wallows."
H： We had a group text thing with the friends from school and I sent them a photo of Wallows (laughs). They were like, "It's still there?"
N： I had forgotten about Wallows (laughs). I've been to Hawaii many times but totally forgotten about that place.
H： It was somewhere we used to watch as kids so it was kind of like a dream place that never exists. It was surreal. The ground was rough. I think it's gotten rougher over the years.
V： Tetsu, did you want to to check out Wallows too?
N： Well... I guess so (laughs). I don't think I can skate but I'd like to check out how it's like.
V： At the opening of the photo show, Guerrero had played and watched Animal Chin video again together right?
N： Yeah, HASCO provided us the video and invited all these skaters from the era like Skate Thing, Yoppi, Akeem, Mino... we did a commentary. It was fun.
V： How was it like watching it after 30 plus years?
N： We watched it on a big screen. We sued to watch it on a TV screen, you know. I never thought we'd be watching it on a big screen (laughs).
H： Well, there were little things like realizing that Skip Engblom and Natas Kaupas was in the video... you know, some geeky stuff.
V： The acting was a bit...
N： Yeah, that Guerrero's scene with the milk carton... I used to mimic that (laughs).
H： "No way! This is it, this is it!" That was classic (laughs).
V： The book had comments from the Bones Brigade, which was super nice to see. But one thing I realized, There's one missing...?
H： I know. At first we were just planning to get a comment from Guerrero, but I asked Taku to get a hold of Lance. The Lance asked everyone. Tony Hawk sent one right back but we never heard back from Cab and MicGill... Then I asked Goto for McGill's mobile number (laughs). I sent McGill a text and he was like "Sure," so I sent him an email but never heard back... I tried back couldn't make it happen. For Can, I asked for his email address from Joe Brook and got the comment at the last minute.
V： I see. It would've been nice if had all of them...
H： I wanted to but didn't have enough time. I really tried until the last minute though...
N： But we were super happy with Cab's comment at the last minute. It had emoji (laughs). It was a very nice and modern comment.
H： Yeah, I copied and pasted on our group text. I was like, "YEEESSSSS!!!!"
V： Sounds fun (laughs). So this project was made happen by all the friends from childhood days. How do you feel looking back?
N： I had made things DIY like clothes, but for this DIY project I feel the amount of concentration was like no other. Everyone involved was very concentrated. That was memorable. Good times. It was all about DIY.
H： It was special that we did it on our own with friends. We all had our parts and had to complete each mission. And we were able to make it. We're all older now but this wasn't a project where we were told to do from adults. It was satisfying in that sense. I wish I had a comment from McGill though (laughs).
N： It looks as if this book has nothing to do with skating but everything is based on skating. Speaking about this new publishing label, we had Circus Circus tee first and we made photo book; turned out to sell them together. We had photo show and invited TG... Then Taro said that we need a label for the project and that7s how this publishing label got launched. So it wasn't really planned in the beginning. It felt weird to get a photo book out from DESCENDANT. So it was Taro's idea.
H： Oh yeah, that's right. The Tetsu came up with the name Sign.
N： You know, when Taro said there was all the element to shoot was there at Wallows, the "sign" of someone present is included in the elements. That's where the name came from.
V： So that means it's a label started to publish the book I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM?
N： Yeah. The label didn't come first. So other release is not planned at all.
V： One of Animal Chin video's messages is "You couldn't find the thing you were looking for but we had fun along the way so it's all good" kind of thing. It's kind of like your project with friends in the sense that the process was very important.
H： It's not like "We're the Bones Brigade," but I guess so (laughs). I posted this after Guerrero's performance at the show, but there was a moment where I thought "Maybe I had found Animal Chin." When Taku asked Lance to gather comments from the Bones Brigade members, he said "I will forward your email to the guys who are still looking for Chin." Guerrero was really happy to cooperate with us and everyone was happy... I thought maybe this is the answer that we had been looking for.
N： Well, maybe we ourselves is the answer... I kind of felt like that. Maybe it doesn't exist.
H： When you thought you found it, it goes right away. You know, I thought I caught a glimpse of Animal Chin... that's how I felt (laughs).
Born in 1973 in Tokyo. Known as the first Japanese photographer to shoot the cover of SLAP. His work varies from CD jacket, fashion to cultural magazines. His work includes POOL and I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM.
Born in 1974 in Tokyo. As director of WTAPS and DESCENDANTS, he just launched a label Sign to publish Taro Hirano's book I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM.
『I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM』
03-5784-0314 / www.descendant.jp