Architecture on Film: Tokyo Ride + Q&A

Bêka & Lemoine embark on an intimate guided tour of Tokyo, as passengers of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa and his temperamental vintage Alfa Romeo. UK theatrical premiere.


08:40pm, Wednesday, 22 September 2021


10:40pm, Wednesday, 22 September 2021


Cinema 1
Barbican Centre, Level -2
Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS



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This is a past event

After opening Architecture on Film in 2008 with Bêka and Lemoine’s Koolhaas Houselife, we are delighted to welcome the filmmakers back for the UK theatrical premiere of their latest work, which will be followed by a conversation between the directors and architect Lucy Styles.

Tokyo Ride (UK Theatrical Premiere)

An urban road movie, a diary of a day, and an extensive interview, offering a double portrait of both Japan’s capital and one of its most celebrated architects, Tokyo Ride commemorates a date, 10 years in the waiting, between Bêka & Lemoine and Nishizawa, resulting in an improvised collaboration between the filmmakers, their protagonist, the city, the weather, and a car.

Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine’s way to look at architecture is similar to the vision of a cat walking through buildings in the city. It’s a really interesting way to see!
– Ryue Nishizawa

Nishizawa, a lifelong Tokyo resident, navigates a city where nothing stays the same – including stop-offs at the house he designed for his SANNA partner, Kazuyo Sejima, a rare glimpse into the duo’s architectural office, a pilgrimage to Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi Gymnasium, and plenty of human and automotive refueling – before the lens of two filmmakers dedicated to discovering and representing architecture differently.

Along the way, Nishizawa’s narration takes in topics including his influences, the Japanese character, and the siginficance of architecture being practiced as a noun or as a verb – informed by the continent or the ocean – before the day closes with sushi on the roof of Nishizawa’s Moriyama House: subject of Bêka & Lemoine’s award winning 2017 film.

(France, 2020, Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, 90 mins)

Programme Notes by Lucy Styles

Meet Giulia 2000 GT Veloce. She’s an old lady, her emotions are low. She’s temperamental and she gets thirsty. She lives in Tokyo.

Through the lens of a vintage Alfa Romeo, Bêka & Lemoine turn their inquisitive eyes to the sprawling landscape of the Japanese capital, introducing us to its everyday with all the spontaneity, wit and charm for which they have become renowned. As filmmakers they have honed an ability to get behind urban situations that are so often overlooked, turning them inside out and revealing the narratives that stitch inhabitants to their environment. In their hands, the mundane becomes something quite magical, their films tactile and modest.

On this road-trip with the architect Ryue Nishizawa, car design, architecture and human relationships bleed into a kaleidoscopic whole, a dialogue between inanimate objects and the film’s protagonists. The intimacy of a small car interior is set against the scale of the city as it unfolds around us. Framed by its elegant silhouette we navigate the narrow alleyways, double storey highways and fragments of the city he introduces us to. The walls of the car are thin, it’s windows perpetually open and the seats flecked with rain. Tracing a fragile line between inside and outside an unscripted porosity sets the scene; defects become qualities. “One thing I learnt from the Alfa Romeo, is that it’s nice to open the roof” he says as he sits in the house he designed for Kazuyo Sejima, his principle collaborator at the architecture practice SANAA, a space that opens to the sky. It’s an Oceanic attitude, one he defines as fluctuating and unstable, dictated by seasonal shifts and uncertainty. We build verb architecture, he says.

Tokyo Ride captures Nishizawa’s innate ability to pinpoint cultural comparisons with both imagination and surgical precision. It’s a reflection of the man behind the architecture – his curiosities, observations and humour. Through this urban drift we discover the things that have shaped his interests, slipping between the buildings he’s designed and the things that have inspired him – be it Modernist architects, the additive storytelling qualities of European cities, or the Milky Way. It peels back the carefully curated screen behind which Sejima and Nishizawa so often sit, revealing unfiltered individuals and a continuity between home and office, each with its daybed, waves of acrylic, layers of transparency and disparate array of collectibles. The ceilings are high, and the paper models loom large, but the rituals are simple and informal. The filmmakers have gently orchestrated the impromptu, and only at the very end have they visibly manipulated the scene. “We need an ending” whispers Bêka. “The idea is that both you look at the moon.” Moriyama-san, an urban hermit for whom Nishizawa has designed a dispersed cluster of domestic spaces and gardens, gazes wistfully at the sky. Nishizawa can’t help but scratch his head and crack a cheeky smile.

This film is part of a larger investigation into Japan – its patterns, manners and customs – and can be read alongside what is currently four other films that Bêka & Lemoine have made in the country: ButoHouse, Moriyama-san, and two episodes of Homo Urbanus. Would Tokyo Ride have been a different movie had they made it ten years ago, when the idea was hatched? Certainly. The filmmakers have spent the past decade learning to capture the imperfection of a moment with disarming ease. Tokyo Ride, like their other films, exudes unrelenting vitality. Drawing on Georges Perec and Oulipo explorations of the infra-ordinary, Bêka & Lemoine’s films go beyond the French literary movement’s quasi-scientific, spatial but almost mechanical recordings. With a similar gift for observation, the filmmakers instead place people at the centre of their stories, capturing the emotional in the everyday.

Tokyo Ride is a loose route through the scrapbook fragments of daily life that make the city what it is, a collective and anonymous world beyond the architect himself. It’s an entrancing reflection of the filmmakers’ belief that the best way to imagine the future is to observe the present. With them, we discover a lawless jungle where nothing is preserved and nothing is really regulated. Things appear and disappear, we’re told. Nothing is built to last. In an era defined by environmental agendas, we observe a city still marked by its post-war boom, a collision of towers, temples and tableaus of thousands of tiny artificial frogs.

I once asked Nishizawa why he kept two vintage cars outside the office, in what is a distinctly Tokyo-sized parking lot. One is for summer, one is for winter, he replied, nonchalantly. Then he thought about it for a minute. I’m actually a pedestrian, he said.