The worlds of fashion, manga, music, art and movies converged, old ran into new, and East met West to shop, schmooze and party at Saturday's opening of New People in San Francisco's historic Japantown.
Billed as the "J-Pop Summit Festival," this all-day event closed off two blocks of Post Street to give an estimated 1,000+ attendees room to see live bands, meet artists like Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy, Vampire Hunter D, Gatchaman) and Yuichi Yokoyama (New Engineering, Travel), catch the red carpet West Coast premiere of the first chapter of the 20th Century Boys movie trilogy as well as eat, drink and get their first look at the art, fashion and films featured in the new 3-story complex dedicated to Japanese pop culture. I was there and snapped as many photos as I could -- some are already posted in the New People / J-Pop Summit Festival Photo Gallery.
Several fans came out fairly early in the morning to snag one of 250 numbered tickets to be one of the first visitors allowed into the complex when the doors opened at noon. Fans of Lolita fashion had a special reason to get dressed up and get in line early: the first 50 shoppers to spend over $200 at the Baby the Stars Shine Bright boutique were given an exclusive invitation to a summer tea party hosted by designer Kumiko Uehara and official Japanese ambassador of kawaii (cute) style / designer's muse Misako Aoki.
In addition to Baby The Star Shines Bright, the second floor of New People also features three additional fashion brands, each with their own distinctive point of view:
- Black Peace Now - featuring the elegant, streetwise and stylish Goth clothing and accessories for men and women
- 6% Doki Doki -a hyper-cute, extremely accessorized and vividly colorful line of clothing and accessories for the Harajuku gal who's not afraid to be adorable and a fashion innovator at the same time.
- Sou Sou - a uniquely East meets West, past meets present design house that remixes traditional split-toe tabi socks and kimono patterns with street-smart sneakers and graffiti-inspired textile designs.
The mezzanine floor features New People: The Shop, which has an ecclectic array of art books, jewelry, accessories, t-shirts, toys and "I can't believe someone thought of this" design goods that will have you reaching for your wallet, or making your wishlist for the holidays.
The ground floor features a casual cafe, serving Ferry Building foodie favorites Blue Bottle Coffee, bento box lunches and sandwiches from Delica Rf-1 and snacks from Book of Tea, including Japanese shichimi chili or curry-spiced popcorn to enjoy with movie night in the basement at the VIZ Cinema.
While the promise of finding that to-die-for dress, shirt or bag kept fashionistas pulling out their wallets, there was lots for fans of all kinds of Japanese pop culture to take in and enjoy. For those who were ready to rock, Japanese bands Noodles, Red Bacteria Vaccuum and TsuShiMaMiRe plugged in their amps and turned 'em up to 11 in the Peace Plaza as they promoted their Sunday evening "Girls Rock Explosion" show at Yoshi's Nightclub.
Manga and anime fans got a chance to meet two artistic innovators: Yoshitaka Amano and Yuichi Yokoyama, see their latest works and watch them in action.
Amano-sensei had the 3rd floor SuperFrog Gallery to himself as he unveiled a new series of paintings inspired by his love for American pop culture, with a nod to some of his most famous anime creations. He was also interviewed by Otaku USA editor Patrick Macias, where he reflected on the current state of the anime industry:
"In the past, there was a lot of outside influences in anime. There were quite a few animators who wanted to do live action films, but did anime instead. You can see that in the quality of the sequential art in these works. Whereas now, people who create anime are inspired by anime. I'm not sure that's a good thing."
Yuichi Yokoyama's artwork is full of movement, but it's not influenced by anime -- it's influenced by machines. To symbolize the "new people" spirit, Yokoyama's distinctive, surreal "faces" and vaguely mechanical men were used as a motif for the festival, and throughout the New People Shop. He also painted a 30-foot long banner along Post Street with an array of faces created on the spot.
Japanese filmmaking was also spotlighted at the opening of New People, with the opening of VIZ Cinema, VIZ Pictures' new 143-seat movie theater. To kick things off, they rolled out the red carpet and welcomed Japanese actress Takako Tokiwa, one of the stars of the live-action version of 20th Century Boys, as well as producer Nobuyuki Inuma and "Tomodachi/Friend," the film's villain / "dark hero."
"One of the key elements in the first film involves San Francisco," said Inuma-san. "So it's very exciting to have this premiere here."
Tokiwa-san chimed in, "The first chapter was released in Paris, but I think there is much more enthusiasm here (in San Francisco) than there was in Paris!"
According to the dignitaries that spoke at the opening ceremony, New People represents a new influx of youthful energy and creativity to one of the oldest, and one of only three remaining Japantowns in the United States.
"This is a wonderful way for residents and visitors to get an appreciation of Japanese culture," said Japanese Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine. "I pray that this will be come a sacred place for otaku, anime and manga fans from all over the world. I hope it will become an otaku mecca!"
For Dana Lewis, President of the Japan Society of Northern California (and translator for Dark Horse's edition of Blade of the Immortal), the opening of VIZ Cinema gives her organization a venue to promote movie screenings and lectures, beginning with a film series in the Fall. "Finally, San Francisco will have what the New York Japan Society has been offering all these years!" she said.
While everyone is glad to see New People open its doors, the question left hanging is this: Can New People succeed in today's tough economic climate? Will it generate enough youth culture / Japanese pop culture buzz to turn San Francisco's Japantown into a must-see destination for anime, manga and J-pop fans from out of town, out of state, or even out of the country? I suppose only time, fans and shoppers will tell.
In the meantime, make plans to check out New People soon. New People is located at 1746 Post Street, between Webster and Buchanan, directly across from the Japantown Mall. Street parking is available, and there's covered parking in the Japantown garage under the mall. Store, cafe, gallery and movie theater hours vary, so check the New People visitor's guide for complete details.
Were you one of the hundreds of people who came out to see New People for yourself? If so, what did you think? Add your comments below!
UPDATE: Check out some of the other coverage of the J-Pop Summit and New People Center opening (including lots of videos!) from:
- Same Hat! Same Hat! - Ryan Sands took lots of great shots of Yuichi Yokoyama in action, and got some video from the Harajuku makeover contest and concert
- Anime Vice - Gia Manry roamed the event with video camera in hand and did a floor by floor tour of the New People Center.
- Stylewylde.com has a lovely array of snaps from the Baby the Stars Shine Bright and Black Peace Now fashion show
More news and more photos to come!
Image credits: © Deb Aoki, other images courtesy of New People