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Pachinko, Gambling in Tokyo From Wim Wenders

Loud, repetitive and cutesy, pachinko parlours help the modern Japanese relax.

Gambling is an addiction common to almost every country but the Japanese have taken the pastime to a whole other, terrifying level which reflects the void at the heart of the urban psyche. With bells ringing, lights flashing and silent congregations of gamblers watching gravity empty their pockets through clouds of cigarette smoke, pachinko is like a kind of sci-fi purgatory.

After work, the Japanese sit themselves down in crowded pachinko parlours, more alone than ever as they feed handfuls of metal balls into their machine and watch as they either lose or win more balls. The latter can be exchanged for prizes like cigarettes or electronic items which can be redeemed for cash down the street, gambling being theoretically illegal in Japan.

Naturally, the pachinko parlours are run by the Yakuza and so the police leave them well alone. Cameras aren’t usually allowed inside by Wim Wenders’ film Tokyo-Ga from the 80’s catches the essence of the tragic hypnosis that is pachinko, the film shot in the same repetitive rhythm which keeps players feeding more and more balls in.