One of the inspirations for Electric Town and a key setting in the movie was the Akihabara Radio Store, a 60-year-old maze of electronics stalls located in the heart of Akihabara. It was the original center of the famous “Electric Town” and a Japanese pilgrimage destination for tech geeks from all over the world.The first time I visited I was reminded vaguely of markets I’d seen in Morocco—but with transistors, diodes and vintage oscilloscopes instead of olives and dates. At once futuristic and anachronistic, it was a place with an atmosphere all of its own, a truly unique feature of Tokyo.
So it was with some sadness and even shock that I read today that Saturday will be its last day of business. It shouldn’t have been surprising. Even as prototyping and electronic tinkering has become more popular and accessible than ever, there’s also less need than ever for shops catering to these hobbies. In the past, if you wanted an LED matrix or a breadboard, Radio Store was pretty much your only option. Now, of course, it’s more convenient just not to leave your house. The online electronics shops and auction sites have you covered for anything you could possibly want from this place.
So Electric Town the movie has now unexpectedly become a period piece. When we shot there last summer, our biggest concern was our failure to secure permission. The place has always been notoriously unwelcoming for film crews. We spent an afternoon shooting on the sly, with Ivan basically holding his camera in front of him and pretending to admire the viewfinder. At the end of the day I was thrilled with the amount and quality of footage we’d managed to get. Now that the place is going to be gone, that footage is even more precious to me.
I’m so, so glad we shot it when we did. I realize it wasn’t an especially close call. But it sort of feels like it was. Life has a way of going by, and it’s easy to put a big, intimidating project off and see a year or two whizz past. I had no idea that an institution that had stood for 60 years would be gone the following year. If I’d prioritized things in my life a little differently 18 months ago, today’s news could have been the end of the line for my plans to make this movie. But we did get it, and the movie’s fine.
Still, it’s sad to see things change.