March 10, 2011
Before fixed-gear bikes became de rigueur for urban aesthetes, they were the weapon of choice for Japan’s fearless Keirin cyclists. A gladiatorial incarnation of track cycling that dates back to 1948, the Japanese sporting phenomenon operates by an intricate set of rules that sees competitors jostling for position on steeply banked tracks at lightning fast speeds, all but encouraging spectacular crashes. In today’s film for NOWNESS, Jonathan de Villiers (whose fashion photography and portraiture has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Wallpaper* and Fantastic Man) traveled to the national Keirin school in Tokyo and the Tachikawa and Yokkaichi velodromes to decode the strategy that governs the racing phenomenon. “I knew next to nothing about it when I went,” says de Villiers, “but I’m a big admirer of the anthropological documentary where you get taken into a whole different world. And what a strange, special and complex universe it turned out to be.” The state-run industry amasses tens of billions of dollars in gambling revenue each year.
Words and video by Nowness