Review: 100 YEN: The Japanese Arcade Experience


Worth more than your loose change.

It's saddening to admit that because of my age, the arcade boom in the west was long over before I was playing games. The idea of hanging out in a smoky room filled with bleeps and hums may not be too appealing to most people either, but it's an atmosphere that I wish I could have experienced back in its heyday. Instead, I have to rely on trips to the coast (where arcades seem to have survived in some capacity) or visit places like Japan to get that fix.

Seeing how commonplace arcades are in Japan can make you wonder how they died out abroad in the first place. Learning about where it all started is certainly an intriguing topic, and it's this that 100 YEN: The Japanese Arcade Experience aims to show its budding viewers.

Documentary films are a guilty pleasure of mine, and whether it's something video game related like The King of Kong, or the astounding-yet-disgusting Supersize Me, they're sure to teach you a thing or two. I've very recently finished Jiro Dreams of Sushi, so this film certainly had a lot to live up to.

100 YEN: The Japanese Arcade Experience
Director: Brad Crawford
Release Date: April 29, 2013
Rating: NR
Price: $24.99

100 YEN focuses, predominantly, on three main phases of Japanese arcade evolution; shooting games, fighting games and rhythm games. Along the way, we are shown how the big hitting companies and their products affected how arcades were structured, with plenty of facts, examples and opinions to accompany the journey. Towards the end, the film shifts its focus onto US arcades, what they were like and how they have, or haven't, survived since their most popular days. 

First and foremost this film hits the right spots, being both intriguing and in-depth enough to teach you some new things. No, this film doesn't spend forever talking about games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders, choosing not to dawdle on one point for too long before moving onto the next interesting nugget of information it has primed and ready. With arcades being such a broad topic it's to be expected, but it's refreshing to not have the film drag it's heels over any particular topic. 

The documentary takes up an almost essay-like structure, with the narrator's dialogue being confirmed and built-upon by those that are interviewed. It's great to hear multiple opinions and views on the subject of arcades, and the scope of people interviewed is certainly broad and relevant. However, a minor gripe is that a lot of these opinions come from Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku, and while he certainly seems knowledgeable on the subject, he simply has too many lines in the film. Other guests such as Sega game designer, Tez Okano, and director of corporate planning for Taito, Kiyoshi Ishikawa, do not feature as prominently. There must have been a lot of work involved to secure interviews with these individuals, so it's a shame they don't get more of a chance to speak.

It might sound a little odd to say so, but the presentation of the film is simply top notch. Everything from the fonts to the colours look great and in-line with the subject matter, and the partnering 3D scenes used to emphasise the evolution of arcades also works well. The 3D is also used in presenting data on occasion, which certainly beats the stale overuse of bar graphs and pie charts. The narration is also clearly spoken and concise, so the whole package appears exceedingly professional. 

One of the greatest features of 100 YEN is that you get to see all kinds of different arcades, from small specialist arcades in Shibuya to the massive arcade hidden away in Takadanobaba (a personal favourite!). There are also a lot of places you will not have seen before, and each of these is mentioned specifically in the credits of the film. It would not be a bad idea for those planning to visit Japan to take a look for some ideas of where to visit, as you'll certainly be spoilt for choice. Doing interviews with one of the arcade owners and his insane bullet-hell-loving regular was also a great decision. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the latter half of the film is, as mentioned previously, dedicated to the arcade influence in the US and how it currently exists long after the boom. It's a fascinating topic, that's for sure, but with the film already being rather short at 68 minutes, it's time that I feel should have been spent going further in depth with Japanese arcades. Indeed, there is plenty of material about US arcades and the rise of fighting tournaments like EVO to have its own dedicated documentary, so it was rather disappointing to see such a large portion of 100 YEN focusing on something not Japanese for so long. As related as the topic is, this was meant to be the Japanese Arcade Experience, after all.

But honestly, don't let that put you off this documentary, as you'll definitely be missing out on a great experience. 100 YEN is a fascinating look at arcade history and its evolution in Japan, and it never fails to show how much hard work has been put into it at every turn. It certainly left me hungry for more, so I'll be keeping a close eye on Brad Crawford and the rest of the 100 YEN team with hope of similar projects in the future. 

8.0 -- Great (A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.)

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100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience reviewed by Chris Walden



Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide


Chris Walden
Chris WaldenContributor   gamer profile

Some say that he can breathe Some say that he can jump over a All we know is that he's Brittanian, and that we are all He's on Twitter though: more + disclosures


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