Casey Novotny (Kochi-ken, 2005-08) gave us the inside scoop on 100 Yen, a film about the Japanese arcade scene coming this fall. Casey, who’s currently a program coordinator at Asia University in Tokyo, and director/JET alum Brad Crawford first met as JETs from Canada, and years later collaborated on this original project. Find out what inspired Casey and listen to his predictions for the future of the arcade scene.
How did you find yourself originally interested in Japan? Was it through games?
Yeah, I guess since when I was a child my interest in Japan started through video games, anime and such. The real thing that interested me those things, and thus Japan, was the gaping cultural differences. I really couldn’t grasp how the Japanese way of thinking could be so similar yet so different to ours. There was some weird stuff out there! I mean, there still is, but I think living here for over six years has kind of desensitized me to most of it.
How has Japan influenced your career and personal goals?
The first time I was an exchange student in Japan was when I was seventeen for half a year. That experience definitely changed my life, and I knew I wanted to make a career where I was going to use the Japanese language skills I was learning. At that point I wasn’t sure what kind of career, but I knew I had to improve my language skills and cultural understanding, and so I made a lot of my personal goals related to that. It seems I may be here for the long run, so it will probably continue that way!
How did your experience on JET lead you to where you are now?
I was a CIR in rural Kochi for three years. After enjoying life in the countryside and wanting to continue a similar career somewhere in Japan, I left for Tokyo and worked with a recruitment firm for more than a year and a half. It was a great experience and great place to work, but I realized that my place was with international education and exchange programs. I’ve been working with Asia University in Tokyo since then as a program coordinator for their America Program, which is the largest exchange program of its kind in Japan and probably one of the biggest in the world. I can definitely say I owe the experience that got me to this point to my time working as a CIR, and working with enthusiastic young students who want to study abroad during that time has motivated me to continue working in this field.
How long have you been playing games?
I remember playing arcade machines back when I was about four years old, and around that time my dad bought me my first console for Christmas–the Sega Master System. Looking back at it now, it was a much superior system compared to the Nintendo Entertainment System, but I nagged my dad to get me an NES anyways after that because it had so many more games! I was pretty hooked for most of my childhood.
Coming to Japan as an exchange student in high school blew my mind to the amount of games and consoles that were available in Japan, as well as the size and popularity of their arcades. While I haven’t been playing many games lately, I still like to check the stores from time to time to see what’s available out here and what the trends are.
How did you get involved in the 100 Yen project?
Brad Crawford and I became friends back in 2005 when we both came to Japan together from Winnipeg to participate on the JET Program. After finishing our time on JET, he was back in Winnipeg working hard on his film career, and I was in Tokyo for work. He mentioned that he was coming to Tokyo to shoot a movie on video games, and when we met up for dinner he asked me if he could ask me some questions about my experience with games and Japan—and that’s what you see in the trailer that’s out now. The response to the whole project has been really positive so far, and Brad is currently back in Japan with his team to complete his filming for the rest of the project.
Regarding 100 Yen, do you think this will be a film for gamers, or a film for people who are unfamiliar with gaming culture?
From what I’ve seen and heard about the plans for the film, I definitely think it will appeal to both gamers and a general audience. It looks like there are going to be interviews with some top people in the gaming community, and a lot of background history on gaming in Japan in general. There will definitely be something for everybody.
Where do you see arcades in Japan in say, ten years? Do you think a real resurgence can ever take place for America?
In the past ten years that I’ve been in and out of Japan, it seems that the general popularity of arcades has definitely been declining. It seems to me that most of the money is made from UFO crane catcher machines, photo sticker machines, and “gambling”-type slot machines rather than game machines. My opinion is that both in Japan and in North America, one of the main reasons that people would originally go to arcades was that the machines there had way better graphics and sound that home consoles and you could also play with or against your friends. Both of these reasons have been eliminated now, as modern consoles have amazing graphics and allow you to play over the Internet with anyone in the world.
Arcades in Japan will still have things besides game machines, but unless there is some kind of new innovation to draw people in and make a need for people to play games that can only be experienced at the arcades, I think that game machines will fade out of existence. Similarly, if there is going to be a real arcade resurgence in America, it needs to be through innovation and also diversifying the types of machines and services available at the arcade like Japan has.