Live documentary on the back of a truck

Cargo Tokyo-Yokohama

Von Katrina Grigg-Saito

17.12.2009 / CNN Asia

At the beginning of the Cargo Tokyo-Yokohama "performance" ride, the small-statured Brazilian truck driver yells to the audience, "Minna-san nimotsu desu!" You, my friends, are the cargo.
Cargo Tokyo-Yokohama is a new "documentary performance project" by art group Rimini Protokoll (and sponsored by Festival Tokyo.) The group staged a similar performance with a cargo truck in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2006. Rimini Protokoll founder Stefan Kaegi became fascinated with truck drivers while backpacking across Europe and began looking for a way to share their stories.
They found the perfect driver for the Japan show. Aoki Milton Noboru is in his sixties, short and charming, with a shaved head and black, worn leather jacket. He is the perfect foil to his compatriot -- a taller, more staid truck driver from Niigata.
The audience of 45 sits inside the back of the special cargo truck, facing the left windowed side. Three video screens hang over the windows, where everyone is treated to a short history of cargo trucks in Japan. The video screens switch to a live feed from the cab-cam where the two drivers sit, and when the driver throws the truck into gear, a "whoa" of appreciation bellows from the gallery. As the truck moves, the screens rise slowly to show traffic streaming by, a bright blue cement truck, and little cars zipping below.
The ride takes audience members through truck-yards and warehouses, tracing the movement of goods from Tokyo to Yokohama. Between speeches by live managers on site and taped managers on the screens, the drivers wax poetic about whatever they please -- Niigata sake, their families and gas prices. When the truck pulls into a gas station, the drivers mention that it costs ¥35,000 to fill ‘er up. Once, in Brazil, the driver says, he left his truck pumping at the station and his gas was stolen -- siphoned out while he ate dinner. The Japanese driver tells his South American partner that he will direct him to the cheapest gas stands in the future.
Throughout the performance, the two lifetime-drivers reminisce -- remarking that the new brakes are more sensitive, quieter. They both miss the old squeal of heavy brakes. The two drivers are connoisseurs of the highway, excited about fancy truck sightings and the minutiae of shipping. And they are ready to share it all with the audience -- their strange cargo of the day.
Sometimes the ride feels more like a pure documentary of labor, but just to reaffirm the performance aspect, a bicycling woman in a giant yellow coat comes careening across the bridge running by the highway. At first it seems like a happy coincidence until she beats us across the bridge with a wave and the sound of a bicycle bell, signaling the end of a scene. She appears throughout the drive, singing and playing a tambourine, adding a soundtrack to the Brazilian driver's memories. And when it's all over she and the drivers help the audience members out of the truck, pouring them cups of sake for a final celebration.


Cargo Asia