Genki Sudo is blowing my mind. He should probably be blowing yours. Consider the following:
Now catch your breath or, if you’re anything like me, dry your eye.
WORLD ORDER is a music project by Genki Sudo, a former professional mixed martial artist (relatively successful) and kickboxer (relatively unsuccessful) who shocked Japan’s fighting world when he suddenly announced his retirement after a New Year’s Eve victory in 2006. Before his retirement, Sudo had begun publishing manuscripts, largely philosophical non-fiction essays, and since his retirement has produced even more written material, including a novel, “Catcher in the Octagon,” described at http://mma-pride-book.blogspot.com/ as “about a young boy fighting in an MMA event in Miami and his thoughts about the future, including Genki’s well-known philosophy and humor.” I’ve yet to read any of Sudo’s books (none are available in translation and my Japanese skills are meager), but he’s proving himself to be a bit of a renaissance man, and his most recent publication, “Let’s Neko,” is a photo book and essay about his time spent in Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan) with his two cats
I mention these because I think, for me, the juxtaposition of Sudo’s profession and his “real” persona—cage fighter vs. philosopher-poet—is at the heart of his understanding of the world, and at the heart of “MIND SHIFT,” the first music video I posted above. In it, Sudo (glasses, square jaw) heads a herd of Japanese sarariiman in a trek to what appears to be a Buddhist temple (though it may very well be a Shinto shrine… I am sadly very poor in differentiating without names and symbols and the two religions tend to be conflated in their native land). The video is a sequel of sorts to the self-titled debut single of the group, and, additionally, was followed by “BOY MEETS GIRL,” which chronicles Sudo’s worker-machines exploits during a night on the town. The videos are intentionally funny—Sudo is known for his sense of humor and theatrical entrances before his fights—but, especially in “MIND SHIFT,” there is also a melancholy in both the movement and the music. Sudo is obviously a man who thinks deeply, and a man who feels deeply. The moment, late in the video, when Sudo’s crew lines up behind him and windmills their arms, tornadoing Sudo’s robotic body tics, seems to be a man struggling with the mechanics of culture—Japanese culture, macho fighting cultural, world capitalism—and finding an odd solace within those walls. Sudo and his compatriots are both sad men-made-machine, and important cogs in the mechanism that is “World Order.”
Take WORLD ORDER’s newest single, MACHINE CIVILIZATION.
Here we see Sudo’s machine-man collective becoming machines themselves, pantomiming assembly lines and engineered system, timing their movements to be precise and calculated. Dance is key in WORLD ORDER—I’d consider the group closer to performance artists than musicians—because of the irony of its lack of freedom. WORLD ORDER’s dancers appear to be programmed, not spontaneous; algorithmic, not random. They don’t represent feeling, they represent calculation. This goes against much of the cultural conception of dance. Dance is often associated with the soul, with the interior made manifest. Here, WORLD ORDER dances in order to show that their exteriority is their function in society. They are workers–as much machines as any crane or car–reduced to repetitive motions, in concert with the production of themselves as objects. A Marxist more versed than I could certainly delve deeper here.
I find it rather fascinating that the man who is commenting so heavily on the separation of body and mind (something that WORLD ORDER’s videos and lyrical content obviously explore) is a fighter. The fighter trains his body as his tool, often treating it as a machine, tuning it to maximum efficiency or squeezing every ounce of power out of it. While there is social power to be gained in fighting, in the West it has also often been seen (as many other professional sports have) as an economic choice viable to those that white collar society has rejected. The tattoos so often seen on the professional fighter are marks that semiotically disqualify them from “professional” society. Yet here we have Genki Sudo wearing the Eastern uniform of middle class society–the bland businessman’s suit–while performing machine-dance with full knowledge that the viewer has seen him explode in spectacular violence. He occupies so many spaces simultaneously: the sacred (lyrical content, yearning), the mechanical (electronic music, dance), the middle class (dress, engagement with themes of production and alienation) and the underclass (the gladiator-slave). And his body of literature suggests he does this knowingly.
Sudo’s philosophy and fighting history can be viewed in a five-part subtitled documentary available on YouTube. A lot of his ideas, and his conception of himself, seems to be rooted in the same dualities that WORLD ORDER’s videos explore. Indeed, this may be true of Japanese cultural identity in general. Few nations have as voraciously adopted the modern while prizing the ancient as Japan, and few communities divide the public and private as strongly. When we conceive our existence as inherently ambivalent, there is no conundrum in experiencing both joy and pain, nostalgia and regret, or the sacred and the perverse in the same moments. “I try to live in the moment. I consider reality to be HERE and NOW,” Sudo intones at the end of his documentary. Living here, now, has always been tough, and Genki Sudo is a tough man doing his best to make sense, and order, of the world in which he is required to be an army of himself.