So Lonely: The Police in Asia

The music video for The Police 1980s hit So Lonely is a classic example of the early 1980s low budget guerilla filmmaking that characterized the pre-MTV era. The video features Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland wandering through the underground corridors and trains of the Tokyo metro system singing into walkie-talkies while other scenes take place on the streets of Hong Kong. The video was filmed in 1980 during the Police Around the World Tour, which took the band to East Asia. As part of a new blog series on the depiction, use (and abuse) of East Asia in Western media, this post will examine the video and try to uncover the locations used.

The Police played six dates in Japan between February 14th and February 20th and two shows in Hong Kong on February 26th and 27th. Although it possible some parts of the video were filmed outside of Tokyo, the locations so far identified place the filming locations in Tokyo. Given the compressed timeframe of six shows in seven days, it is unlikely there was a lot of spare time to film the video footage. Additionally, The Police wear the same clothing throughout the Japan segments and it is doubtful continuity was the first thing on anyone’ mind in the halcyon what-are-we-doing days of music video production in the 80s. It is most likely the band and a small crew simply rode the trains for a few hours and filmed when they could.

You act as if you just don’t care
You look as if you’re going somewhere
–So Lonely, The Police

The music video is a curious snapshot of early 1980s East Asia. The main part of the video was filmed in Tokyo on various platforms and trains of the Tokyo transit system. Whether intentional or not, signage is usually obscured and when it does appear, the 1980s video quality is such that it is difficult to make out what is written. Pedestrians mostly pay the musicians no mind, although on occasion puzzled glances can be seen directed at the trio. The key to researching this post proved to be the trains visible in the video. Despite seemingly quite uniform, the trains of the Tokyo transit system are remarkably diverse. 30 different operators run over 100 train lines within the greater Tokyo area, with many different models of trains. The different trains were the key to placing the Tokyo locations in the video.

Signage behind the trio in one scene identifies their location as Tamachi Station in Minato, part of the Yamanote Line. In another scene a Toei 5200 train pulls up to the platform where The Police are mugging for the camera, which places them somewhere on one of the three Toei Subway lines extant in 1981: the Asakusa line, the Shinjuku line, or the Mita Line. In a third scene, the trio board a Keisei 3500 in the colors of the Toei Asakusa line

The Hong Kong footage shows Stewart Copeland drumming on various objects on the streets while Andy Summers climbs onto a traffic control platform to mime playing his guitar. Sting does not appear in the Hong Kong segments–perhaps he just wasn’t in the mood to wander the city that day. Without the visual cues within stations and the distinct trains of Tokyo, it is harder to place the scenes in Hong Kong. Again, no easily visible street signs or markers are in place, although if I had to posit a rough guess I would guess the scenes were filmed in the Wan Chai area on Hong Kong Island due to the proximity to the concert venue and major hotels.

The mixing of different Tokyo train lines and scenes from both Tokyo and Hong Kong represents a common issue with Western depictions of East Asia. Taken together, the video blurs the distinctions between two very disparate cities and blends together into an undifferentiated whole. To a viewer in 1980, the video is of one large nameless East Asian city.

As a final note about So Lonely, the irony of the line “Just take a seat they’re always free” is particularly strong in reference to imagery of Tokyo trains, which have a well founded reputation for being crowded.

In early 2018 a series of Youtube videos appeared featuring Logan Paul in Japan attracted a great deal of criticism.  While much of the outrage centered around Paul’s encounter with the body of a suicide victim in Aokigahara, the remainder of Paul’s videos chronicling his visit to Japan read like a handbook on what not to do as a visitor to another country. In one video Paul wanders Tokyo with a raw fish and squid tentacle, waving them in the faces of passersby and slapping them against the glass of a restaurant. Ultimately Paul leaves the fish atop a taxi.

Copeland’s actions in the video for So Lonely are a precursor to Logan’s antics and the general trope of foreigners behaving badly in Asia for the purposes of a video narrative. In one scene a shopkeeper chases him away as he attempts to drum on jars. Towards the end of the video he slaps a fish down on an outdoor table, much to the surprise of the people gathered around, harkening to Paul’s stunt decades later. Time and distance have rendered the factual elements of the video opaque but it is reasonable to posit given the guerrilla theater nature of the video, nothing was staged. Like Vegas, what happens in Asia stays in Asia. However, Hong Kong was still a British colony in 1980 and in one scene Copeland is drumming against a police vehicle with the aid of a little camera angle trickery, as he is obviously a short distance behind the police vehicle and not actually drumming on it–no need to get the law involved, especially if the problems can follow you back home.

Identified locations

  • Minato Station on the Yamanote Line
  • Unknown station, Toei Asakusa line
  • Unknown station, Toei Mita or Shinjuku line

Possible locations

  • Wan Chai, Hong Kong

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This post will be updated with new information on the locations seen in the video when it becomes available.

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References

setlist.fm for information on The Police’s 1980 tour dates.

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