In Sho Miyake‘s minimalist music documentary The Cockpit, two Japanese hip-hop freaks spend a few days in their Tokyo studio concocting beats and rhymes with the help of a turntable, an Akai MPC and several six-packs of Red Bull. All that’s missing is a big ol’ bag of weed to make this giddy low-fi jam session complete.
Likely to enthuse DJs and rap fans but to turn off anyone looking for the slightest semblance of a story, this succinct feature-length effort is nonetheless instructive for those wondering how most popular music is created today, or otherwise curious to see how hip-hop culture has become a worldwide phenomenon, branching out over three decades from the block parties of the South Bronx to the rest of the world. Premiering in the First Films Competition of the Cinema du Reel in Paris, Cockpit will land at additional festivals while securing a certain cult following online.
Drop that beat.
Shot almost entirely from a camera positioned above the workstation where mixed-race producer-rapper OMSB slaves over a brand new track, the film offers up zero commentary or explanation, providing the kind of raw footage found on the various beat-making videos available on YouTube. Yet there’s something fascinating in watching a song being made from scratch — or rather from scratching, sampling and remixing old records until they form a layered background to accompany the lyrics.
As OMSB reworks the same beat to a point that’s almost maddening, his scrawny MC accolade, Bim, jokes and dances in the background while remarking on the track in progress (“Feels like Woody Allen,” he quips at one point). Indeed, the song they’re composing — eventually titled “Curve Death Match” — is far from the kind of hip-hop that gets steady rotation these days on Top 40 radio, and closer to the heady underground tracks of acts like MF Doom, Madlib or Run the Jewels.
Once the beat is ready and the two take to the mike, they belt out a flow of clever rhymes that mix Japanese pop culture references with more existential longings. “Maybe we can rap on nothingness?” OMSB wonders during one instance of writer’s block, although it doesn’t take long for the duo to find plenty else to rant about.
Not unlike the seldom seen, unauthorized Lil Wayne profile The Carter, The Cockpit serves as valuable documentary evidence on how rap artists work, even if the pair featured in the film are not quite on par with Weezy. But they’re definitely talented — as evidenced by the final version of the song heard in the closing sequence, during which Miyake’s camera exits the studio for a train ride through the outer reaches of Tokyo. Hip-hop may be made indoors now, but it still lives on the street.
Production company: Pigdom
Director: Sho Miyake
Directors of photography: Sho Miyake, Junya Suzuki
Editor: Sho Miyake
No rating, 64 minutes