Grainy film. Stark blue skies contrasted with grey concrete. Vintage camcorders and 90s headphones that have been dusted off just to be put in front of the camera once again. These are just a few motifs that indie artists from all over the Japanese music scene are embracing.
It’s a new aesthetic that evokes a strangely familiar feel–one that’s more homemade than manufactured, more honest than contrived. Almost completely out of nowhere, it seems like every rising Japanese artist from indie-pop (Homecomings), singer-songwriter (YeYe), and indie-rock (betcover!!) have taken on a similar look and feel for their music videos. In the past few months, this trend has continued to spread outside of Japan. Singaporean indie-rock band Sobs adapted it on “Astronomy”, Indonesian dream-pop outfit Gizpel tried it on “Your Loss”, and abrasive South Korean rap group Balming Tiger did it on their head-banging “Armadillo”. But why? Where did this particular style of filming come from? A scroll through the credits on each of these videos and you’ll find your three-word answer: “Directed by Pennacky”.
As a 22-year old Tokyo-based music video director, it’s incredible to see how much Pennacky (Ken) has shaped Japan’s independent music video scene with his bold stylistic choices. Pennacky’s weapon of choice is classic 16mm film–an audacious decision to make in our digital era. Yet, it’s a format that he seems to be completely comfortable with. Similar to Yoni Lappin‘s videos (of Mura Masa fame), Pennacky’s videos have a certain rustic charm that makes each and every one of his films shine. But choosing to shoot on film isn’t the only reason why Pennacky stands out from the crowd. While most directors would turn towards the urban city for inspiration, Pennacky has an affinity for shooting in the abandoned outskirts of Japan. Empty parking lots and dirty seasides which were once forgotten have become the new go-to location for Japan’s indie music scene. Grey rooftops and chain-link fences that depict a grimier side of life are reframed to look beautiful. Abandoned basketball courts have now become the site of art. Welcome to Pennacky’s world.
Though Pennacky recycles the same few locations in nearly every video, they’re given a new perspective every single time. In YeYe’s “うんざりですよ”, clean lines and geometric shapes along with a static camera evoke a sunny innocence while the lead singer shoots a film on the beach. In Homecomings’s “Hull Down”, those very same locations are tinted an extra blue, creating a calming, mesmerizing feeling. Sobs’s upbeat “Astronomy”, which is once again shot on the beach, is given a different feel yet again. By adding a grey tint to his film and erratic camera movements to match lead singer Celine Autumn’s energy, Pennacky has succeeded in finding something new in a once familiar site. It’s clear that Pennacky recycles the same few locations to shoot in (the locations of which remain closely guarded secrets), but even then he’s managed to capture them from a different angle every single time.
Recently, Pennacky has also branched out to more mainstream work. Two months ago, he was involved in shooting a video for V6’s “Super Powers”, a theme song for the popular anime One Piece that is sure to draw him even more attention. Although “Super Powers” doesn’t have the same nostalgic feel as his other pieces of work, it’s a sign that Pennacky is seriously being recognized by the industry. For Pennacky, his future seems to be as expansive as the wide open skies in his films–there’s no telling what the young director will take on next.
After being captivated by Pennacky’s work, we reached out to the Pennacky via email to learn more about the mysterious man behind the camera.
How did you first get started directing music videos?
I first had an interest in movies and would often watch many films. One day my middle school art teacher introduced me to a filming crew called “Tomato”. I watched their music videos and thought I would be able to make something similar. I would go to live shows often in high school, mostly hardcore band shows. I would go to a live shows to film the bands I liked and sent the videos to the band themselves to see if they wanted to work with me. I then started filming for the band Otus who I was a fan of since high school.
Did you always want to be a director?
Yes, I always have had an interest in movies and will like to go into directing a film with a screenplay myself one day.
What directors do you draw inspiration from, if any?
I have a great interest in films and watching movies is my hobby. So I am usually inspired by film directors. I am especially inspired by the movie directors, Takeshi Kitano, Hayao Miyazaki, and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
We’ve noticed that your music videos often have a nostalgic, filmic quality to them. What kind of equipment do you like to shoot with to achieve these looks?
I’ll keep that a secret, haha! But I study cinematography in University and we use 16mm film quite often in school. So I try my best to get it close to the 16mm film quality. I haven’t yet been successful in achieving the exact quality though.
Recently you’ve started directing more rap videos–for example for Omega Sapien and Balming Tiger. How different is it filming a rap video versus an indie-rock video?
It’s pretty much the same thing. It all depends on the artist themselves.
Omega Sapien allows me to direct the video freely, so I am able to experiment creatively while making the videos.
We’ve noticed that a lot of your music videos features the same themes: blue skies, wide open spaces, spaceships, concrete, camcorders, old-fashioned recording devices. What draws you to these themes?
I am very interested in Japanese sci-fi and special effect movies, such Godzilla and Ultraman. I get inspiration from these films which include many of these items. The sky is mostly blue so it just naturally became blue!
How much creative freedom do you have in your music videos? Do artists tell you what they want in their video, or do you have to come up with the ideas yourself?
The more mainstream the artist is the less freedom I have in the creative ideas. I have a lot of creative freedom when working with indie artists. When the artist has a strict image for themselves, I usually listen to what they have to say.
What kinds of songs are you listening to right now?
Who would you like to make a music video with in the future?
Big Animal Theory.
This interview was conducted via email in English by Li-Wei Chu during the month of February in 2019.
The following videos are all directed by Pennacky.
Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think.
He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.