Nakagin Capsule Tower: Japanese Metabolist Landmark on the Edge of Destruction

(2010 / 58 minutes / DV / Japanese with English subtitles)

distributor: Michael Blackwood Productions Inc.

Metabolism is the first Japanese architecture movement after the World War II, manifested in 1960 by Noboru Kawazoe, architecture critic, and the five architects, Kiyoshi Awazu, Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki, and Masato Otaka. They envisioned a new direction for future Japanese architecture and urbanism. They created various architecture and urban plans with large, flexible and expandable structures. The Nakagin Capsule Tower is a rare built example of Metabolism.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower, completed in 1972, was designed by Kisho Kurokawa, the youngest Metabolist architect. The building is composed of two concrete core towers and 140 capsules plugged into the towers. All of the capsules were prefabricated and designed to be removable and replaceable. Each of the original capsules, about 10 square meters (approx. 107 square feet), contained various amenities, including: a bed, a desk, a refrigerator, a TV, storage spaces, a toilet and a shower. It was planned as a futuristic niche for modern businessmen in Tokyo.

Today, more than 30 years after its completion, this historic building is in danger of demolition. The building has many problems, such as pipe ruptures, leaks and disruption of water supply, which affects the daily lives of its residents. The more than 100 owners discussed the possibilities of restoration or rebuilding over the years, and voted to replace the tower with a new building in 2008, while Kisho Kurokawa proposed a plan of replacing all the capsules with new ones.

Tracing the history of postwar Japanese architecture and reviewing the characteristics of the Nakagin Capsule Tower, this documentary, filmed in 2010, examines the meaning of preservation and demolition from various points of view. Why do we need to preserve a building? What are the difficulties of preservation? Is demolition a tragedy or a natural phenomenon for modern architecture? The documentary includes interviews with residents of the Nakagin Capsule Tower, an architectural historian, a former Kurokawa office architect who was in charge of the Nakagin Capsule Tower project, Kurokawa’s son, and leading architects Arata Isozaki and Toyo Ito. It contains historic footage of the fabrication of the capsules and their installation on the tower infrastructure.

[Official Selection Film Festivals]
2015   Milano Design Film Festival in Seoul (Seoul, Korea)
2015   UrbanEye Film Festival (Bucharest, Romania)
2015   Doku Arts 2015 (Berlin, Germany)
2014   Milano Design Film Festival (Milan, Italy)
2014   Milano Design Film Festival in Venice (Venice, Italy)
2014   The 6th Budapest Architecture Film Days (Budapest, Hungary)
2011   Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (Rotterdam, Netherlands)
2011   International Festival of Films on Art, Horizons section (Montreal, Canada)
2010   DOC FEST (Rome, Italy)

Review: Nakagin Capsule Tower: Japanese Metabolist Landmark on the Edge of Destruction Nakagin Capsule Tower: Japanese Metabolist Landmark on the Edge of Destruction by Rima Yamazaki, director by Nicholas Risteen. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 73, No. 4. (December 2014)