(L-R: Sally, Pi, Julie, Toppo, Taro)
The first Tigers film, 『世界はボクらを待っている』 (The World is Waiting for us, April 1968) feels like a rush job to cash in on the Tigers’ teen idol popularity because that’s exactly what it was. Understandably reluctant to put the weight of a feature film on the slim, fashionable shoulders of a group of dopey boys from Kyoto, the heavy lifting acting-wise is given to the talented cast of character actors, with the Tigers left to pose and smile pleasantly for the camera. The first Tigers film also feels incredibly old-fashioned, with two feet planted firmly in the pre-A Hard Day’s Night era of teen idol filmmaking. 『世界はボクらを待っている』 (The World is Waiting for us) was like an Elvis movie, in which forcibly goofy stuff happens all around Elvis and he does whatever the director tells him to. 『華やかなる招待』(Fabulous Invitation), on the other hand, is like an episode of the The Monkees, looser, full of riffs and displaying the Tigers’ own charming personalities. The production was just as much of a rush job as the first film but the continued success of the group--and perhaps the demonstrated appeal of The Monkees television show in Japan, which only began airing in Japan towards the very end of 1967--allowed the group more freedom.
『華やかなる招待』opens with a delightful HELP-inspired opening credits sequence set to 「シーシーシー」(C, C, C; The song is an upbeat and nonsensical ditty about puppy love with the title taken from a line referencing the English alphabet, “ABC and ABC and C… C… C… C....” ), in which the boys get up and get ready for the day.
The Tigers are playing lightly fictionalized versions of themselves, high school students who have been dedicating their energies to playing rock music instead of attending classes, much to the chagrin of their parents and teachers. The Tigers are having rehearsal one day when their homeroom teacher, played by the late Nishimura Kou, stumbles up from the pub and begins berating them about their long haircuts. The boys are having none of it and run off, hiding in nearby freight train… that takes off to Tokyo with them in it!
Starving and with no money to their name, the guys try to get an audition with a production company to no avail, although they do treat us to 「君だけに愛を」 (Kimi Dake Ni Ai O, I love only you), a hard stomping rock number showcasing bass-player Sally’s ear for a hook.
Meanwhile their teacher has been sent to Tokyo to look for them and he does find them, although he spends quite a bit of time flirting with the buxom owner of teen club “Boku” (former cheesecake pinup Harukawa Masumi).
But the Tigers have decided that they like Tokyo and there is no way they are heading back to their provincial town. The boys end up hiding out in a super-fancy restaurant where they accidentally order a massive meal and are forced to duck out on the check, making a fool of the adorable pixie-cutted cashier, Kumiko (Kumi Kaori).
With no money and nowhere else to go, the Tigers end up dejectedly sitting around a park where they meet the friendly young art student Mary (singer Koyama Rumi) who invites them back to her apartment to stay. Guess who Mary’s roommate is? Kumiko from the restaurant!! The guys feel incredibly guilty about their dine-and-dash and offer to do some chores around the house to make up for it.
Kumiko is completely won over by their charms and (understandably) promptly develops a huge crush on Julie, writing his name on his cheek in lipstick while he’s sleeping and indulging in a gauzy, pastoral fantasy sequence set to the symphonic 「光ある世界」(Hikari Aru Seikai, A Light-filled World).
Love may be in the air but you can’t eat love. The Tigers still have no money. Kumiko gets them a soul-crushing job working as roadies for a fusty old Ventures-style band called The Shooting Stars.
Kumiko and Mary encourage the Tigers to “borrow” the Shooting Stars instruments to make a recording that they can shop around to some producers. The gang wires up an old barn and plays us 「リラの祭り」 (Flower Festival), which dissolves into a fantasy sequence featuring a colorful faux European village fete.
But the barn can’t handle the tunes and the electricity blows, starting a fire. The Tigers, who’d been separated from Kumiko and Mary while making an escape, are mistaken for a different group of 5 guys skulking around outside in the dark and picked up by the police and hauled off to jail where they meet the local 番長 or gang leader, played by the adorably goofy Ken Sanders, a young “ハーフ” actor whose father was an African American soldier stationed in Japan during the war.
The Tigers are scared of the gang leader at first but they soon come to like him. “It’s not so bad in here,” he says. “You get 3 square meals and can nap all you want.” It’s a convincing argument but the Tigers want to be musicians and they have no instruments in jail. “You can play without instruments,” says the gang leader. “Here let me show you.” He draws a trumpet on the wall of the cell and begins to play it. As the gang leader mimes blowing the horn, we hear a jazzy trumpet riff. The Tigers’ eyes light up and they draw their own instruments on the walls and floor and begin to play:「ジンジン・バンバン」, Jin Jin Ban Ban, a foot-stomping garage rock tune. The scene switches to a “Jailhouse Rock” inspired studio set and the Tigers, Ken, and some backup dancers do a groovy jailhouse rock themed dance.
The Tigers are bailed out by Julie’s family’s maid Hana (much beloved character actress Nomura Akiko), who also sets the boys up in a swanky apartment with brand new instruments.
Meanwhile Kumiko, unaware of all of this, had sent the recording she’d made off to a production company who want to sign the band immediately to make a debut--but she doesn’t know where they are! She races off to look for them while Julie wanders around looking for her. This is all set to 「廃墟の鳩」(Haikyo no Hato; The dove in the ruins), a mournful ballad sung by Toppo.
Kumiko is hit by a car trying to cross the road to tell the Tigers the good news about their debut.
Still unaware of Kumiko’s situation, the Tigers find their way back to the production company where the president plays them this hot new tape he’d gotten… it’s Kumiko’s recording! The Tigers are going to make their big debut… but where’s Kumiko? She’s in the hospital in need of surgery but where is she going to get the money?
Everything ends up boiling down to one big decision: Do the Tigers waste Kumiko’s sacrifice by missing their debut, selling their brand new instruments to pay for her surgery? Or do they make their debut like she wanted but leave her to suffer?
Obviously they sell the instruments.
Kumiko makes it through surgery and her first words are, “How did your performance go? I wish I could have seen it.”
They don’t have the heart to tell her they were fired.
Instead the Tigers use the power of imagination and play Kumiko a mini-concert on hospital grounds using bits of junk. The song they play is 「青い鳥」 (Aoi Tori, Bluebird) a bittersweet ballad about loss, written by the Tigers’ own Morimoto Taro. (Taro himself performs a memorable version of the song at the Tigers final concert in 1971, choking back tears at the line 行かないで or “don’t leave”.)
As the Tigers play, the homeroom teacher’s lady friend from the teen club arrives with… their instruments! The parents, Hana, the production company president... all the adults arrive to watch as they continue the concert using real instruments. The debut is back on! The parents are happy! Everybody is happy!
The film ends with a montage of the Tigers performing hit songs at real concerts.
『華やかなる招待』(Fabulous Invitation) is a delightful film and unexpectedly poignant. The film captures the Tigers at the very height of their youthful fame, just before Toppo grew frustrated with the teen idol garbage and quit, before Pi grew tired of the oppressive fame and quit, before Julie’s ego went supernova. The relaxed pacing of the film allows us to see just why the Tigers became such popular personalities: they were incredibly charismatic young men. With their goofy jokes and earnest smiles, it’s impossible not to like them.
And it’s not just the structure of the film itself. Musically, 『華やかなる招待』(Fabulous Invitation) is world’s apart from the light bubblegum of 『世界はボクらを待っている』 (The World is Waiting for us). These songs were taken from the Tigers’ second album 『ヒューマン・ルネッサンス』 (Human Renascence [sic]), which has a thoughtful, folk rock feel that was hugely influenced by Toppo and Taro, both of whom contributed songs. Instead of a peppy early British Invasion Dave Clark Five-ish vibe, 『ヒューマン・ルネッサンス』 (Human Renascence [sic]) bears the influence of acts like the Kinks and the Byrds.
It’s only a small part of the film but the image of the Tigers in jail playing music without instruments is a powerful one, an important reminder that art doesn’t need fancy equipment or expensive training. You can make music with what you have. It’s a wonderful message. Just eating and sleeping isn’t enough--make music!
(Note that these lovely ladies are reading a magazine with Julie on the cover.)
Throughout the film is an optimism, a feeling of possibility. The past is past. It’s time to face the future. Viva, the Tigers!