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Takahiro Morita Interview

Morita – Sensei

“Dude, have you seen these French guys who only cruise around and do ollies?” a very excited colleague asked me a couple of years ago while showing me a video of the recently started Magenta crew. It was a completely different approach to skateboarding compared to what our optic nerves had been served at that point. Don’t ollie down if you can’t ollie up. Diving deeper into the mythos of Magenta, I inevitably came across the Japanese scene and first and foremost one person: Takahiro Morita. He published two videos, Underground Broadcasting and Overground Broad­casting, which brought attention to the scene on a global scale – and which blew me away completely. Filming, editing, music, skating – all of that was on such a high level and so different than anything else I’ve seen before. It was clear that I had to interview this guy. In 2013, contact was established and I sent an e-mail filled with questions towards Japan. Since then, many more e-mails have been sent back and forth, the only thing that was missing now was to meet in person. It was definitely not the only but, for me personally, one of the more important reasons to make this issue. The sun was shining on this Monday when I made my way towards Nagano in order to finally meet Morita in his FESN Laboratory shop.

Morita-san, finally we meet. What changed in your life since we did the last interview a few years ago?

A lot has changed because I’m making Libe Brand Universe now. It’s my clothing company, and the shop has started in 2014. I had a business partner for two years till he had to quit. I wasn’t gonna leave my store, but now I have to do both. The store is open from 2 p.m. till 9 p.m. After that, I go to my office and my studio, making designs for my clothing company, and then I’m making the videos. It’s just the right work, not business. Just life work. Despite that change, I still watch skateboarding and cruise around every day. In my lifestyle, skateboarding is the center. I’m always thinking about a new cruising style, but I have less time for skating because of all the work. Sometimes I only skate five minutes a day, but I want to skate every day. When I skate for five minutes, I put all my energy and passion into it. Just cruising, no bust spots, I don’t need a spot, I only need the street, the ground. The nighttime is a lot different: same street but a completely different situation. The people are different, cars are different, different motorcycles. Sometimes there’s police, sometimes the Japanese Yakuza, so many people. I don’t want to get into trouble, so I have to watch out for the people and just cruise around them. Soft wheels… Yeah, my skating has changed.

"Crowd surfing is my favorite. Big traffic, lots of people, like the crossing in Shibuya"

Why did you get into cruising?

Because cruising is just raw. No trick, I just need the technique. In 2014, my friend Zach Chamberlin from San Francisco came to Tokyo and he wanted to film with me. I took him to my street-cruising course. It’s my favorite thing. Crowd surfing is my favorite. Big traffic, lots of people, like the crossing in Shibuya. It makes me very excited to go past the people, lining up, walking.

But did you also switch to cruising because you had to recover from your back injury?

Yes. Before, I could always ollie high. It was a lot easier, but that time has passed. Now I get hurt and sore really quick. My body is changing and the mind too. When I think about skating now, it seems like everybody does the same tricks. I like 50-50 grinds, 5-0 grinds, frontside tailslides, frontside bluntslides, they are my favorite tricks. A lot of skaters do them better than me, but so many people do them the same way. It’s okay, but much of it is just not interesting. I took my first trip to a foreign country in 2001. I went to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I met so many professional skaters. Everybody was so good, high speed, high ollies, high ledges. I thought, “Wow, I can’t skate ledges that high!” and I knew I had to do something different. So I looked for something original. Otherwise I would’ve quit already. I thought, “What could be a different style?” I’ve broken my leg or other bones like 15 or 16 times. It’s hard for me to continue on the same level. It’s still a liberation for my mind. It’s more free.

And there’s no point in working against your body. If it doesn’t go the one way, you have to take the other route.

My mind has gotten older too. It’s getting better and better as well. Friendships have gotten better, my family and my wife – everything. Skateboarding is only myself, so it’s easy to change. It’s easy to grow. I think so much about skateboards, trucks, wheels. It’s somebody’s passion to make that stuff and I want to know all about it.

You make your own boards as well, right?

I design them in the studio. I’m free to do what I want, but sometimes people come to get a new cruiser and I ask them, “What do you want?”

Is there a big cruiser scene in Tokyo?

No, not yet. I want to make it big.

"Just cruising, no bustspots,I don’t need a spot, I only need the street, the ground"

I think what’s very interesting about you is that you did the videos, invented a new style, started the clothing brand, the cruising shop, did art shows, and now you’re doing the cruising… You’re constantly reinventing yourself.

The art shows are organized by my friends. Magenta also… Soy [Panday] told me that they want to make a guest board. So it’s not me, it’s the people. Other people make all of that happen. I’m only thinking about skateboarding, my wife, family, and friends. For example, you came here to do the interview. This is… I started skating in 1995, but because I broke my leg, skateboarding has become a little more scary. It’s a bad memory. It’s hard for me. I watched the first Stereo video with Jason Lee and Chris Pastras. That video came out in 1994. It was very inspirational. That music, Jazz, was a totally different culture. The music was so good, the skating was so good, everything seemed perfect. I wanted to make a film like the Stereo video because I loved music. ‘90s Japanese hip-hop, the breakbeats, and club music. I like the Tokyo club culture. I have so many DJ and dancehall friends, so I’m always in the club. I wanted to use this music and mix it with street skating because I know both really well. My first video came out in August 1995. I watched so many skate videos. You know the Thrasher Sponsor Me video with Mike Carroll at the end? My first video had the same feeling. It’s the same style. I got so much inspiration from it. Before, the best part for me was Sean Sheffey’s in the Plan B video, but Mike Carroll is pretty interesting. His style was so easy, cruising around, maybe only filming for a couple of hours? It was even better than the Plan B video. I got a sense of what I wanted to do. The first video I saw was Powell Peralta Public Domain. It might have still been the most influential skate video because it got me into skating. I like the American skate scene. There are so many people who put their passion into making skateboard stuff. I’m 42 years old – it’s 30 years of skating. The Japanese scene needs an independent style. We need some original Japanese skateboarding philosophy.

Is that why you made Underground Broadcasting and Overground Broadcasting? Because you wanted to give Japanese skateboarding a philosophy?

I don’t know… I was young, you know? I used a lot of energy for it. I was 26 years old when I started making it. I used eight years for one video. I don’t know… Gou Miyagi and the Evisen guys… all of my friends wanted to go and film and I directed everything and everyone was going along.

Did you feel like these videos changed the Japanese scene?

Mhh… yes, maybe.

In what way?

I got… respect. Also from the American people, and I respect the American skate scene because it’s more… My grandfather was fighting in WWII and so did pretty much everyone else from my family. So my father’s education is… I can’t explain because it’s such a deep thing. You know all the people have complexes. I have had my complexes. I visited so many places. All these are good memories, but sometimes I get bad memories. Everybody is the same, right? Also in Japan. They have a lot of heart, but so many sad things happened in history. War is one of the worst. I don’t want to be part of this crazy cycle of history. We need to change it and help mankind. I think skateboarding is the best. It’s the top of the evolution, cutting edge. I went to the United States, I met Quim Cardona and everybody. They were really kind. So I want to give that back to other people. Quim Cardona stayed at my house for two or three weeks when he came to Japan. I think there was a skate competition or something, so Quim and me and my local friends went to the skatepark. There were many skaters and some started a fight and punched each other. I tried to stop it, but Quim was faster. He said, “Hey stop it, I’m scared, alright?” I got so inspired.

Is that where “skaters must be united” comes from?

Yeah, we have to do something for a good future and skaters can do a lot. You are from Germany and we still get along with each other. It’s great. So I want my skate style to change and grow, but I also want to make new friends. I’m hoping for a good future. “Ware tada taru wo shiru.” [what one has is all one needs, editor’s note] This is a Japanese kanji. It’s the most inspirational thing. My grandmother taught my mother, my mother taught me. It has a deep meaning because sometimes all the people want is more, more, more. I had to go to the hospital when I broke my leg. Before, I was constantly thinking and was always like, “Woah, I have to get a new trick!” and in the hospital I was like, “I just want to skate.” People can be successful in their businesses but have a bad relationship with their families. In my family, everybody always cares about each other. My mother is 76 years old and she still worries about me. “Are you okay? Did you eat?” My mother and my father gave me a lot of love. Love is the most important thing. The person most important to me is my wife. She needs me and I need her, being successful is secondary. My wife understands why I skate. Of course, sometimes she doesn’t want me to skate and says, “Let’s go shopping,” or something. I couldn’t understand that some time ago. Skateboarding has been the most important thing, now family is more important. So the time I’m skating is shorter now but still with the same passion. I use my full energy. I want to introduce this way of skating to other people. How old are you?

"Skateboarding is free, right? I don’t care what other people think. Some people like my style, other people don't."

39, It’s hard work to skate now, right?

It used to be so easy, but I think my body has changed. Soft wheels are so much faster and it’s easier to skate – but skateboarding is free, right? I don’t care what other people think. Some people like my style, other people don’t.

The world looks at skateboarding and sees this California-invented street skating and everybody thinks that’s skateboarding. However, there are guys like you who go different ways and that is skateboarding as well, but people don’t realize that.

It’s a different focus.

And as you said: the friends that come with skateboarding… You come to a new city and instantly have friends because of this wooden toy. That in the end is what’s great about skateboarding.

Yeah, making friends will continue forever. Every time I start doing something else, I find new people, or they find me. A friend of mine took Ricky Oyola to my shop this week. Ricky is like my older brother or my master. I stayed at his house for a long time. We skated at Love Park and City Hall. He’s my hero. When I saw his Eastern Exposure 3 part, it changed my skateboarding because the East Coast guys around him skated in a completely different way. Ricky was always high speed, simple tricks, shiftys, switch shiftys. I liked that because I can’t really do flip tricks. I broke my legs so many times, so flicking a trick is pretty hard for me. I was nervous when I met him. I was like 19 and it was the era of World Industries, Kareem Campbell, and all the hip-hop style and fashion. I got so much inspiration from that East Coast skating. They thought differently and skated the streets only, looking for new spots, cruising. The 411 video where Ricky Oyola introduces Love Park was very inspirational. Busy traffic in the street and he’s going right into it without looking. It seemed suicidal but had a big impression on me. So I stayed at his house, skated with him, and started to understand him. He has a special technique. A video is nothing compared to the visual experience in real life. The way he moves, his passion is so strong, he has power like a horse, he’s a strong guy, and he has a good eye. He’s my master, him and Quim. Actually, so many friends influence me, and I influence them. So I made Overground Broadcasting. I also met Danny Wainwright at a Powell Peralta demo in Tokyo… maybe 1997. His skating was unbelievable. The ollie is my favorite trick, but his ollies are different. I have never seen a pop like that. It’s so original. So I had to go to Bristol, his hometown. I wanted to film his skating. He has a miniramp part in Overground Broadcasting. We only filmed for two hours and he produced a two-minute video part – and I think it was the best part in the video.

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