2005 photo essays
Week twenty-five (September 11, 2005)
· Corporate Japan vs. The World's Countries Revisited
Well well now now, it's time for a preliminary summary of my stay in Japan here at the Expo. The first step is to follow up on my very first entry, 'Corporate Japan vs. The World's Countries' which I wrote before ever coming to the Expo and witnessing the presentations with my own eyes. Now, almost exactly half a year later I will once again put these pavilions in contest and see whether the free world can still keep the pace of the Japanese corporations.
In case you don't remember, the background to that essay was the question whether the free world's countries, who have no money, could hold up against Corporate Japan, which has heaps of money, with their pavilions at the Expo; this time around, this article is based on actual first-hand experience - thanks to the easy access system for official participant staff.
· Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) vs. Lao People's Democratic Republic
The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association includes all major and minor car brands of Japan from Daihatsu to Yamaha and Isuzu to Toyota. Their pavilion at the Expo Wonder Wheel was comprised of a 17m (50 feet) tall ferris wheel which ran through the exposition space building halfway. The exposition was about "the relationship between cars and society" and the "past, present and future of the relationships between people, vehicles and the Earth".
In fact, you saw a few very short (but well done) movies during the three of four minutes you traveled through the exhibition - I especially liked the animated version of Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" - the horses laying down to die, the clocks falling down on their corpses and bending (as in the picture), then some cars come driving by and everything becomes alive again. Upon leaving the exhibition area, you had a superb view of the northern Expo site from the outside part of the ferris wheel, especially when riding at night. Generally, the Wonder Wheel staff was exceedingly friendly and gave us a special VIP treatment while we were waiting - a much appreciated gesture.
In the case of Laos, one could see the disadvantage of the module system - the rather nice Lao temple was quite out of place inside the neon-lit warehouse. However, their staff was very friendly, and they were selling genuine Lao coffee (still the best in the world) for just 100 Yen a cup; also they had Beerlao - I need say no more.
Everything considered, I liked both pavilions a lot even though the presentation was nothing special. I judge for a draw of 2:2.
· Toyota Group vs. United Mexican States
Toyota as one of the largest automobile manufacturers on the planet didn't spare any effort to put up an awe-inspiring presentation at the Expo. One the one hand, they furnished the Expo with the automatic driver-less IMTS inner-site buses and the FCHV shuttle buses going to the Seto Area. Also, their pavilion was one of the most popular at the Expo with queues up to six hours waiting time. Its main attractions were the Robot Show, which featured robots playing the trumpet and MC battling, and the Three-Dimensional Mobility Theater which introduced futuristic transportation devices such as the i-unit and i-foot. Their extensive information material explains in minute detail the eco-friendly construction and dismantling of the pavilion (100% reusability and zero construction waste), the materials used and technological know-how applied.
The show in the pavillion itself was nothing to write home about - the robot band limped inside the auditorium, played "When The Saints Go Marching In", then they had a quite ridiculous "DJ Robo" MCing with a smurf-like voice - what followed was a long and boring acrobatics show, and then the futuristic cars that did little more than driving around in a circle.
The pavilion of Mexico was hailed by many as one of the best pavilions at the whole Expo. It was divided in different areas treating various nature-related subjects. Even though the presentation was quite atmospheric, the pavilion didn't do that much for me, and I basically walked through without stopping for long.
Toyota and Mexico both had the potential to offer a fantastic presentation - in the end, they turned out to be rather mediocre. Also, Toyota gets special point reduction for all the hassle they put everybody through regarding admittance of foreign staff, even though their show is just smoke and mirrors and nothing to write home about - 1:1.
· Hitachi Group vs. Republic of Singapore
The Hitachi "Ubiquitous Entertainment Ride" aimed to bring people in contact with rare animals from the red list of endangered species. In the pre-show area, you could gather some facts about those animals by placing a so-called Nature Viewer (looked like a Game Boy) over "access points" - pretty much a waste of time. The main show was riding a virtual safari train, all the while wearing a hand sensor and 3D goggles that enabled you to view animals in the scenery and even interact with them. For example, you could decide whether you wished to throw bananas to the begging monkeys or not.
The actual ride was quite short but a lot of fun: I was getting kind of uncomfortable with the turtles, giraffes and parrots getting quite to close - even though only virtually - for my liking (fending them off didn't quite work, since you couldn't just slap the animals or shove them away). Judging from this (actual) feeling, I guess it was a quite immersive experience. They also took a commemorative photograph in the beginning, which was used during the ride and could also be downloaded on the Hitachi pavilion's web page - as you can see, I was trying to make a contemplating and sorrowful face for all the endangered species in distress.
In my first entry, I didn't have anything bad to say about the extremely slick Singapore pavilion and I don't have now - on the contrary, it turned out to be even better than anticipated. Their excellent web site warned you that "as you approach the pavilion, you will find trees that will talk to you". These talking trees (actually human faces projected on trees) could be seen in a TV broadcast once, but I couldn't find them on site. The first special attraction inside of the pavilion was a room with an artificial rainforest storm simulation - they handed you an umbrella and played a movie, and then all of sudden hell broke loose; even with the provided umbrella my trousers and bags were completely soaked wet afterwards.
The whole pavilion was very stylish and had a lot to offer - you could spend a whole day there, mainly because of the fantastic library "Memories of Singapore". It contained a huge number of shelves from which you could select from a collection of hundreds of folders. Each folders contained a single item taken to Japan by Japanese visitors to Singapore. These items spanned a huge range of items, such as "a paper restaurant bag", "a ferry ticket", "a hawker's licence", and each folder included a short comment by the holder of the item. A fantastic idea which surely took lots of fieldwork and preparation, but it paid off for the visitor who may have spent hours exploring the library. There were also a lot of design exhibits (only in the last month - every month had a different theme, such as "design", "culture" etc.), a herbs gallery, and a very good restaurant called "World Café", which, on top of it all, would give priority and 50% off for staff orders - does it get any better?
In my first entry, I put these two top-notch contenders against each other without knowing (maybe only precogniting, how about that) that they would be the best corporate and country pavilions of the Expo, respectively. Back then, I was also somewhat critical about the showy mottos of the two pavilions; however, they hit the mark as you can say that Hitachi was "ubiquitous" and Singapore was "unique". It's still a close fight between these two but I declare 3:2 in favor of Singapore.
· Japan Gas Association vs. Romania
The Japan Gas Association (a corporate association of more than 200 city gas utilities and more than 250 firms involved with the gas business) created the Gas Pavilion also titled "Dream Energy for People and the Earth". They touted their presenation as "a show with special effects, images, music and live performers overflowing with excitement and entertainment", but in the end, it was just a very simple magic show with about three magic tricks and two songs by the apprentice magician, accompanied by a few burning gas flames in the background. The songs were going like "Fire is a very useful thing" and "We need to use gas because it's so beautiful", but that was the only connection to the Expo nature theme. As I assumed from the beginning, a very weak presentation, a kid's show, really - funny that 90% of the people queuing for the pavilion were adults. Yeah, we're in Japan..
The Romanian pavilion was really boring. You entered through a wooden windmill wheel, walked past a stage, and entered through a similar exit - that's it. Actually, the Gas Pavilion was very boring, too. These two pavilions really were so boring that I can't find anything to say about them anymore. 0:0.
· Mountain of Dreams Joint pavilion vs. Republic of Kiribati
The building that housed the Mountain of Dreams pavilion still looks like a broken umbrella to me - a major eyesore. The pavilion was jointly hosted by local companies such as Brother Industries, Sekisui House and the Chunichi newspaper, and the design was supposed to "evoke images of Mt. Fuji" - and I still hate it. Three of the four compartments, hosted by the local companies, were more like workshops for children and absolutely uninteresting, but the fourth one was different. As I foresaw, the Theme Theater "Open Your Mind" (a more faithful translation of the Japanese "mezame no hakobune" would be "Ark of Awakening"), created by Mamoru Oshii of "Ghost In The Shell" fame (see below), was one of the best experiences at the Expo. The show lasted only ten minutes, but the atmosphere created by the 140 dog statues, the eerie music and the animated movie sure was a special thing. Great stuff. (You can see a few photos of the show in next week's entry. Meanwhile, check out the official brochure: title page, page 1 page 2, page 3.
A note about Oshii's 1995 "Ghost
In The Shell" ("kôkaku
kidôtai"): This science-fiction anime movie is based on
manga by famous artist Masamune Shirow. The main storyline is about
a half-cybernetic female agent, Motoko, and her partner Batou, who are
working for so-called Section 9, an anti-cybernetic terrorism unit. They
pursuit an artificial intelligence called the "Puppet Master",
which is trying to breach the gap between humans and computers by attaining
its own "ghost". The underlying philosophy of both the manga
and the anime is heavily based on one of my favorite movies, "Blade
Runner" (which once again is based on the novel
"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by one of my favorite
K. Dick) and William
The other contestor Kiribati, housed in the joint Pacific Islands pavilion, beat the Mountain of Dreams in the first contest due to the down-to-earth charm of its official representation on the Expo web site. This time, they don't stand a chance against the Mountain of Dreams - even though it gets major point diminution for the clown shows, the Open Your Mind show did a lot for me atmospherically and therefore I declare 2:1!
· Final Result
8:8? A draw! Who would have thought! The World's Countries are still on par with the corporate giants of Japan. Okay okay, I did some points manipulation here and there but still, this is the most fair outcome, I guess. The contest could have turned out a lot different, though - what would have happened had I included, for example, the very boring Wonder Circus vs. the excellent State of Qatar pavilion? So let's keep it at this - we saw quite bad and really good presentations at the Expo, but let's not worry about competing anymore.
It's funny that in most cases, the pavilions that seemed to be interesting or uninteresting beforehand turned out as expected - talk about self-fulfilling prophecies. No matter what, the pre-Expo presentation (as transmitted by the respective web sites) did tell quite a lot about the final product.
· Next week: Expo highlights roundup