Ryo Sejiri in ‘TIMESCAN 2’ (plus Q+A with filmmaker Rob Taro)

Rob Taro is a documentarian. His latest creation, Timescan 2, brings together so many disparate styles and off-the-beaten path locations in Japan. It will break the mould for whatever notions you have about Japanese skateboarding, regardless of which approach you most associate with the country. Then there’s the laughs, the moments of friendship, indoor arcade wallrides and swinging on vines. Mix in some culture and add the forethought
to be documenting all these moments into a cohesive, yet dynamic video. I’m not speaking lightly when I say skateboarding only
gets projects of this quality a handful of times per decade. His path to being an independent skate filmmaker was not the usual route. Read on to learn more about his unique life experience, perspective, and process to assemble this visual masterpiece.

Interview by Brett Nichols

So let’s just start by telling the readers a little about yourself. Where are you from? How long have you been skating and filming?
I’m Rob Taro. And I grew up in a small town in New Jersey. I started skating I think when I was 13. I was never really a filmer before I came to Japan. I just really loved skating.

Shintaro Hongo, ollie, Yokosuka. Ph. Shinsaku Arakawa

And what brought you to Japan?
I mean, me being half Japanese, my parents always pushed Japanese culture when I was younger, so I did study Japanese a little bit. But I quit Japanese for 10+ years, just because I didn’t have any friends that spoke it. And years later, when I was still living in the States, maybe I was like 17 or 18, I saw on YouTube these Japanese skate videos that had been uploaded. So I found out about the FESN videos, Gou Miyagi’s part, the Lenz II video, The Osaka Daggers, etc. and I was blown away. Not only were these guys doing unbelievable stuff, but also the way they saw spots… The creativity in it, like not only just in the skater, but also in the eye of the filmer and the editor, and it just was something I’d personally never really seen before. And I felt like it was something I could relate to, because I grew up kind of in the middle of nowhere. And there weren’t any real legit skate spots, skateparks, or places to skate so I would just use what I had to create my own ‘spots’. So I thought how I saw my spots was maybe similar to how these guys would see spots. Like Gou Miyagi would see a spot that no one else would characterise as a spot… I just thought that was really inspiring and interesting… And also me being half Japanese, I just got instantly hooked on Japanese skating right away.

Masaki Hongo, backside 180 kickflip, Tokyo. Ph. Nobuo Iseki

So this was all when you were in New Jersey still?

So then when/why did you go to Japan?
I just don’t think I was really happy in the States. I felt alone, and I just loved skating… I was in school and I was doing all these part-time jobs that I really didn’t care about but I had to do. So, me being half Japanese, I guess I saw it as an opportunity. I thought it would be a waste for me to not ever spend time there. I had completed two years of community college in the US and then I found out about this school in Japan, so my plan was to do another two years over there, so I went. So that’s the main reason why I first went to Japan, as a transfer student.

When was this?
That was in 2016 I think. I had visited Japan a few times when I was younger, but I’d never skated in Japan,
it was just mainly to visit my grandmother in Osaka. So when I moved I stayed at my grandma’s, but I didn’t have any friends there. I didn’t know any skaters; I didn’t know anything. I just knew about the YouTube videos that I saw. So I looked up a skatepark and I went there, it was like an hour from my grandmother’s… And my Japanese was definitely not good, it was pretty sketch. And I was just saying what’s up to some skaters there… You know, just trying to introduce myself and get to know some people and then yeah, some kid pointed and said, ‘there’s a pro skater who just showed up.’ I looked at his griptape, and it wasn’t even griptape… I was like, ‘holy shit! It’s Gou Miyagi.’

Gou Miyagi, waxing, Osaka. Ph. Rob Taro

No way!
It’s insane right? The rarest skater, maybe in the world, and I just ran into him. Of course my Japanese was really shitty and he’s also a very reserved guy, but for whatever reason he was nice enough to take a photo with me that day. He usually never takes a photo with anyone. I still have that photo somewhere. But yeah, so that’s my first time skating in Japan, my first experience. Definitely a heart-warming way to be welcomed to Japan.

From then I went to Tokyo, and dropped out of school after three months, and with help from the kind and amazing skateboarders in Japan, I was able to stay here from then on.

And then you started filming?
Yeah, filming is something I picked up in Japan. Just because I met all these incredible people here that I never thought I would ever connect with. You know, including even some of the people in the videos that I looked up to before
I came to Japan. But also, there are all these skaters that have never even been in front of the camera before and not even the Japanese media is pushing them. So I got really lucky that I got to connect with all these people. See, they’re all my friends now…

Ryo Sejiri, switch frontside boardslide, Tokyo. Ph. Yoshiaki Endo

A whole crew!
It’s not just one crew. I came here alone, and I didn’t know this at first, obviously, but being alone is like a huge advantage because I could just go from one crew to another.

In Timescan it’s not just one crew I’m filming and you know, like you saw in the video, there would be like a little hesh crew, then a whole DIY crew, but then I’ll film like a street section or something… People like Ryo Sejiri, Kazuaki Tamaki, Ryo Nobuchika and others… It’s just all these different crews that are here that they would probably never skate together, but through Timescan I was able to kind of mix that. I wanted to film because I have all these incredible memories I want to hold on to, but I also wanted to share it with everyone in Japan and around the world. So that’s kind of my inspiration behind Timescan in a nutshell.

And here we are, all these years later with Timescan 2 (The first Timescan came out in 2019). So I watched the video and I was truly blown away. And I really could tell you travelled to all corners of Japan; I saw spots in Hokkaido and Okinawa, just a little bit of everything. But at the same time, I saw so much stuff that looked unfamiliar. I understand that there’s a lot to see out there in Japan, but maybe just for the readers who might think: ‘why would you ever need to go anywhere but Tokyo? Or Osaka? Or something like that?’ Why go to all these disparate, distant places in Japan? What’s the benefit?
So a lot of videos are filmed at night with a VX and that’s also my image of Japanese skating. And so Tokyo is extremely strict and it’s been the strictest it’s ever been. It’s just exhausting skating in Tokyo because you hear all these stories about young skaters getting insane fines for just warming up at a spot or something or like getting taken to the police station just for cruising around. It’s like, how are you gonna have fun skating? And everyone looks like a spy, you know?

Shintaro Hongo, pole-jam to frontside wallride, Mie. Ph. Shinsaku Arakawa

The difficulties of being in a big city… So is that what draws you out to some of the distant places you’re going to?
For sure. So of course it’s strict, the second is I film HD, right? And I think HD personally, I like how it looks during the day versus night. And a lot of Japanese videos here are filmed at night, and I kind of want to show something new. I found out about all these different sides of Japan that I never could have known about unless I actually came here myself. So I just wanted to show that.

So how would you say Timescan 2 differs from other Japanese videos?
First off, as I grew up in the States I know exactly what people want to see outside of Japan, especially because
I was a fan of Japanese skateboarding myself. I have an outsider’s perspective, but I also have the ability to communicate with everyone and have been living here in Japan for more than eight years now. Over my years living here I was able to meet all these incredible people of all different styles and visions. Most Japanese skate videos are one sided, but I somehow found a way to blend all sides of Japanese skateboarding into a single project. With these advantages, I was able to create something new. Something only I could create.

Shintaro Hongo, wallie tailgrab 1-foot, Chiba. Ph. Takuya Izumi

The Haroshi sculptures… How did you get him involved in Timescan 2?
I was always a fan of Haroshi; I went to almost all of his exhibitions in New York City. So when I came to Japan an artist friend connected me with him. And when I met Haroshi… I was surprised that he had kind of heard about me… He knew about me in Japan and we just got along really quickly. And even at one point, I was teaching him English in his office. So I would just see him every once in a while and he was always really nice to me and very caring and he has helped me out with a lot of things. So I just had this idea for Timescan 2 to maybe do something with a lot of figures he makes. I always love stop motion videos, so I thought it would be really cool to use his figures with the Super-8 and animate it. You know, move the arms a little bit and make it look like it’s walking or doing something. And yeah, he was down, so that’s kind of how that happened. And I just thought it was really nice because I’ve seen his art on skateboard graphics, and he always makes sculptures out of skateboards, but I’ve never seen his art in a skate video.

Shintaro Hongo, wallie tailgrab 1-foot, Chiba. Ph. Takuya Izumi

Nice. Okay tell me about the Hongo brothers…
Shintaro, he’s the older brother and Masaki is younger, and they both look… Well when I first met them, they both looked exactly the same. Like a lot of people here they’ll mistake one for another all the time. Like they look exactly the same, their faces… An example is Shintaro lost his iPhone once and he’s like, ‘Masaki can I borrow your phone?’ And he literally unlocked Masaki’s phone with his face ID, which is really funny, right? They’re so similar not even Apple’s iPhone technology can differentiate the two! But now that Masaki has put out a full part with Sk8Mafia and Shintaro also has been killing it with WKND, I think through their skating it’s pretty obvious which one is which. They both have very distinct styles.
There’s a lot of really good skaters in Japan, obviously, but Shintaro and Masaki, what makes them stand out, is well obviously Shintaro’s quick-foot skills are insane, plus his creativity for spots is unbelievable, but also different from some of the OG’s in Japan, like Koichiro (Uehara). It’s like another genre, a different kind of mix of old, but also with the new, I would say.

He’s skating huge stuff, but with quick feet.
Yeah… Also, they both land stuff so fast. I’m like, ‘Okay, well I guess I’m gonna be filming for a couple hours because it sounds insanely hard…’ you know? But then they go and land stuff in 10 tries or something. Also, Masaki’s flatground skills are insane, he has his own style and also lands stuff really quick. As people, both of them are very humble, very easy to talk to, they can both be friends with anyone I think, you know? They’re not cocky; they’re just very cool to be with… They’re also fun to be with even if you’re not skating, which I think is really, really important.

And going from meeting Gou Miyagi on your first day skating in Japan to now filming a new part with him… Can you speak about that?
It’s not a coincidence that he hasn’t filmed a video part in nine years and it took me an entire two years of filming with him to really understand why he is the way he is; why he’s so very careful about choosing who to work with. It was a miracle that I got in touch with him years ago… When we first got in touch, I visited him early mornings at his local skatepark for a year. No filming, just talking. He would ask me all these questions that I wasn’t sure how exactly to answer at the time. I just knew I wanted to film him. It took me pretty much an entire year of convincing him that not only I, but everyone around the world is waiting to see another Gou Miyagi part.

Sota Tomikawa, frontside tailblock, Hokkaido. Ph. Takuya Izumi

Indeed! Okay let’s talk about the competitive side of skateboarding and how much that’s been on the rise in Japan lately. How do you feel about that?
I looked up to the creative side of Japan, like, that’s what inspired me to come here, right? Like how the Japanese see spots, how their skate videos are made… Just very creative, something I’d never really seen before. But as soon as I came here, I noticed that it started to fade little by little. Now that there’s a big contest scene, with the Olympics especially, that just changed things dramatically here. Of course there’s a lot of core skaters still, but a lot of the younger generation are very serious about contest skating. And that’s like the complete opposite of how I saw skateboarding in Japan.

Skateboarding for me, especially even before I came to Japan, was a way to escape from the pressures of society. And here in Japan there’s a lot of kids now who skate because their parents have forced them to. I even judged at a Tampa Am qualifying contest with Paul Zitzer and others here in Japan… I saw in front of me that there are all these insanely good kids, like they’re all landing the most insane shit imaginable, nonstop, without barely missing. Like all 30 kids could have the potential to get first place. It’s unbelievable the amount of talent that these kids have… But also when you think of a skate event, or at least outside Japan how I imagined a skate event, is like you got like all these homies come to hang out, or you know, you got girls come hang out and there’s live music and stuff like that, and everyone comes to have a good time. But here, with that contest specifically, it was almost like a soccer club or something. You’ve only got parents there with their kids and it’s like there’s no cheering or nothing. People are landing bigger flip front boards and like 270 kickflip noseblunts, just insane shit like, like a heelflip front lip or something in a line, but like there was barely any cheering. It was just oh so serious. It was just so weird.

Shintaro Hongo, frontside 50-50, Nagano. Ph. Shinsaku Arakawa

It was like, what happened to the skateboarding I like? There are kids that only do heelflips in a run because if you heelflip into something the points are higher, so you get a higher score. There was this little girl, and she was landing crazy stuff, but as soon as she bailed, she started crying, and like, it’s not because she was hurt, it’s probably because her parents are strict. It was just hard to watch. So yeah. I don’t know. It kind of made me feel lonely, to be honest. It just wasn’t the type of skating that I looked up to and what got me into skating in the first place. It just made me feel weird.

Man, that sounds rough.
I guess to turn it around, my video is to help Japanese skating. My inspiration was to show the skateboarding in Japan that I looked up to before I came to Japan, and to bring that back. My intention behind this video is to try to bring back more of the core, the creative and just the love for skateboarding.

I think you’ve succeeded perfectly.
Okay, thank you! That’s nice to hear.

Ryo Sejiri, switch frontside 180, Chiba. Ph. Yoshiaki Endo