In the streets of Tokyo hang huge posters where mechanical-looking robots are jostling in raging flames. Rumors of what lie behind these posters reach my ears here and there at the bar counter. It’s a robot performance never seen in Japan by the legendary group called Survival Research Laboratories (SRL). The performance was finally held by NTT-ICC at a huge stadium not far from Shibuya in an uproar for Millennium Christmas. Like a boy in front of a special effects movie, I was looking forward to the day…

On December 23th, the last national holiday in the millennium for the Emperor’s Birthday, the street of Shibuya was filled with the shouts of couples. Walking toward to Yoyogi Park, those crowds went out of sight and people wearing strange costumes were walking in the opposite direction. In the area, there was a notice saying ‘SRL, Machine Circus at the end of 20th Century!!’. Going in the direction, Yoyogi National Stadium came into sight.
The admission was free and thousands of people were lining up in front of the entrance two hours before the doors opened.

When the door opened, strange robots were standing silently, the smell of oil inside. The iron-barred ring was specially prepared for this outdoor event, and a huge tower made with cards and steel animals came into sight. Pop sound enhanced the emptiness like a deserted themepark.

Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) based in San Francisco was founded by Mark Pauline in November 1978. Their performances use huge handmade robots made from scrap parts of industrial machines. The machines act and battle themselves and shows us a destructive utopia of machines. It is said that the audiences who restrain ourselves in high-tech society can get a catalysis, by seeing this huge open space where the machines act as machines themselves with our own eyes. This excites audiences more and more.

“Humans are present only as audience or operators” from SRL web site

Since 1979, SRL has staged over 45 mechanized presentations in the United States and Europe. For this first performance in Japan, robots, machinery and materials weighing over 28 tons were packed into 40 containers. They left the west coast on November 26th for Tokyo.
Their performance used to use radio remote control, but this was first time for them to adopt an operation system by ICP/IP remote control though ICC (InterCommunication Center).

“This performance involves loud sound, low frequency and blinking strong light. If you feel bad, please request assistance from a person in charge.” The stadium echoed with the announcement. Fire engines were stationed outside of the fence and at the same time, the loud noises of engines started to ring through from ‘robots’ mixed with the smell of oil. Temporary lives were put into the machines for this show. The clock showed between half past six to seven.

Machines started to move silently. A robot that raised its head like a dragon shot out fire, and another one that filled up a huge nunchaku swung it about like a helicopter. A huge paper-island with rocks and grasses went up in flames and was destroyed.

A TV reporter standing next to me was shouting, ‘Yeah, I’m happy to live at this moment!’
A huge cannon sniped at the island while a batting machine, aided by a laser sighting device, smashed rectangular lumbers into its victim. It was bullying rather than a battle…

Nonresistant ‘islands’ were being destroyed… Robots destroyed and destroyed without mercy… The ‘island’ kept on going ahead in silence.
The next target was an animal robot looks like a dog or cat. Machines kept watch on the animal robot that were going ahead in silence… Then it was pierced with a rectangular piece of lumber, scooped out with a nunchaku, burnt with a flamethrower and blown off its support by a cannon…

Turning my eyes to a huge signboard called ‘Pig Licker’ were wriggling its surface and a huge wheel called ‘Woody Copter’ covered in collage were thrashing about. Those humorous robots without weapons were destroyed by other brutal robots.
After everything was destroyed, the tower behind the huge field put together with huge cards started to move slowly and silently. It was just knocked down.

For about 45 minutes, everything was destroyed. It was bitterly cold and everything felt into ruins.

Machines with much destructive power attacked nonresistant machines. It’s naked violence. Did catalysis lodge in this destruction without pain?

SRL in Tokyo (NTT/ICC official guide)

Text and Photo: Tomohiro Okada From Coolstates Communications.
Translation: Mayumi Kaneko

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