“The view was breathtaking, especially at night. The lights would just go on forever,” recalls Kazuhiro Hazuki, the 21st leader of Specter, one of Japan’s most famous bosozoku gangs. In its prime, the Chiba Soumei Rengo (alliance), of which Specter was a part, stretched between eastern Tokyo and western Chiba and could bring out 2,000 bikes riding in formation in a single night. Sadly, those days are gone.
HBO’s Vice has released a new documentary called The Setting Sun: The History and Present of Bosozoku, a worthy watch for those even remotely interested in Japan’s motoring culture. It’s also a fantastic story that cuts to the heart rather than just a montage of drone and tracking shot footage set to a thumping beat.
The short film is based largely on the oral history of Specter’s Hazuki, who today is in his 40s and works as part of a concrete demolition crew. “The last stop for people who’ve never held any real jobs,” he calls it. After life as a bosozoku, a yakuza and several stints behind bars, he is most fond of his days as a young teen and new to the Specter tribe.
He even remembers the day he decided to become a bosozoku. He was sitting in class in middle school when a gang rode by outside, zoku-revving their engines. “At that moment, my concept of school lost all value,” Hazuki recalls. “As soon as I heard those engines roar, my interest in school disappeared instantly.”
Once he joined Specter, his life became a string of riding, fighting and run-ins with the police. He was assigned a senpai (elder, or big brother) who mentored him the ways of the violent running tribes and their turf battles: “You gotta prey on them before they prey on you.” Hazuki served him loyally until… well, you’ll have to watch the film to learn the senpai’s fate.
Nowadays, the bosozoku are all but extinct. A few younger members carry the Specter flag and that of some other gangs in the Chiba Soumei Rengo, while other formerly mighty syndicates have completely retired. In any case, you get the sense that the bare-knuckle hardness is gone, though. The senpais don’t seem like they’d put in the effort to beat up a subordinate for a weak introduction anymore. It’s more like a big extended household and the elders are just happy someone’s carrying on the family business.
One such gang is the infamous Nina Mona, whom Hazuki credits as the originators of the Chibaragi Shiyou and gurachan styles of bike and car modification. As fate would have it, one of Nina Mona’s elders, Atsushi Muto, has just passed away as the documentary is being filmed. JNC readers may not know the name, but are likely familiar with his car, the “Muto Z.”
As gray-haired patriarchs of the surviving bosozoku clans reminisce about their former lives, Hazuki becomes visibly heartbroken about the bygone era. “The reason bosozoku are gone now is that Japan is a fully developed country. It won’t allow any flaws in the system,” he theorizes. “Current society will not let the average low-life succeed by doing low-life things.”
Perhaps this is why Hazuki chose to tell his story after all these years. Despite their flashy getups and loud bikes, it’s uncharacteristic of “low-lifes” to let outsiders, especially journalists, into their world. But that world is gone. Knowing that, Hazuki’s parting words seem especially poignant: “The excitement I got just from living life will never be the same.”