Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bandage: A Beautiful Japanese Rock Movie

When I was in my early 20s, I spent a lot of time playing in rock bands* and hanging out in rock clubs, drinking free beer and plotting world domination. Obviously, it didn’t happen for me and it didn’t happen for most of my friends, although a few have gone on to make careers in one way or another in the industry. The music business isn’t just hard, it’s a brick wall. For every Lady Gaga who happened to be at the right time at the right place with the right talent, there are millions of aspiring singer/songwriters who failed. And I don’t think that’s an exaggerated number. What I’m getting to, in a roundabout way, is that I saw a film that captured all of that - the longing, the frustration, and the performing. Released in Japan in 2010, Bandage follows rock fan Asako (Kitano Kii) as her life becomes intertwined with her favorite band, LANDS.

Understated and quietly filmed by composer turned director Kobayashi Takeshi, Bandage is set in the early 1990s, in a country still reeling from the bursting of the economic bubble of the 1980s. Asako’s friend Miharu (Anne, Ken Watanabe’s daughter) is quitting high school to get a job to help support her family but before leaves, she gives Asako a gift - a CD by the band LANDS. Asako falls in love with the music. A few months later, Miharu and Asako sneak backstage at a LANDS concert and Asako ends up catching the eye of the lead singer Natsu (Akanishi Jin, who will be starring 47 Ronin). Natsu draws Asako into the messy internal politics of LANDS and we follow what happens as everything begins to fall apart.

[L-R: Kenji, Ryoji, Arumi, Yukiya, and Natsu in front.]

Although they are not the main focus of the film - that would be Asako - LANDS needs to be introduced before I write any further. There are five members of LANDS - the aforementioned Natsu, played by actual pop star Akanishi Jin, is a black hole of charisma as lead singer; Yukiya (Koora Kengo) is the dark, antisocial but artistic guitarist; Kenji (Kasahara Hideyuki) the goofy, good natured bass player; Ryuji (Kaneko Nobuaki, one of my favorite actors) is the silent and sturdy drummer; and Arumi (Shibamoto Yuki) is the moody, fiercely opinionated keyboardist - the kind of girl known only by her last name, even to her bandmates. Also in the mix is the band’s no nonsense manager Yukari (Ito Ayumi).

Bandage is one of the few films I’ve seen that has captured the odd and overwhelming relationship between a fan and the object of her affection. Asako has a normal life with a normal family but like many of us, that is not enough. She desires something more, something spiritual. Early in the film, a memorable scene has Asako walking home from the CD store (remember those?) listening to the new LANDS CD on her discman. We, the audience, can’t hear the music. We can only see it’s effect on Asako and how she is overcome with emotion and longing. When she finally meets LANDS, that powerful emotion becomes corrupted, in a way. Her passion for LANDS is confused with a passion for Natsu and, later on, Yukiya. The story of Bandage is the story of how she resolves those feelings and finds an appropriate outlet for her passion; it’s her journey into adulthood (and unless you’re familiar with Japanese storytelling conventions, I guarantee you can’t guess the ending.)

[Oh, like you wouldn't be charmed by this! We're ALL charmed by this when we're 20.]

I know guys like Natsu - or, rather, I knew guys like Natsu, a walking, talking bundle of charismatic self-loathing. Jin does a wonderful job showing how a guy like that can draw people in with his passive-aggressive nonsense and then push them away with the same shennanigans. As he is drawing Asako close, we seem him the manager Yukari at her wit’s end with the same behavior - cutesy nicknames, secrets, and working only when he wants to. Jin is pure raw charisma.

Asako is eventually drawn to Yukiya, being, as he is, the creative heart of LANDS. Yukiya is a dick but not in the same way Natsu is. They are John and Paul from the Beatles or Graham and Damon from Blur or maybe even Noel and Liam from Oasis.** One is the crowd pleaser and the other, the bitter artistic songwriter. Natsu has no problem selling shit to the biggest audience he can but if Yukiya can’t play music the way he wants to, he’s out. Yukiya has one goal in life - playing guitar and making music the way he wants to. Self-centered by nature, he needs no outside reinforcement the way Natsu does. Natsu needs an audience where Yukiya merely tolerates one.

The music business can be cruel - one reason I’m no longer working in it - and it’s not the trite life lessons of films like Almost Famous. Creative industries are filled with people behind the scenes who tried to make it as artists and failed. We feel the full force of that sea of washed-up dreams in Bandage. The threat of the inevitable desk job is lurking at the back of every crowd, giving a taste of the bittersweet in every success that LANDS has. The beauty of LANDS is that of the turning leaves of autumn or the glow of the fireflies in summer.

[Yukiya moodily playing guitar. Filmed statically and one of the most moving scenes of the film.]

One last point I want to mention, and the entire reason I’m reviewing this for my Indian film blog, is the music. Bandage is not a musical but it actually does have song breaks that felt very filmi. Akanishi Jin*** sung for himself and he has a sad, whispy voice with just a hint of that wonderful Japanese rock/pop vibratto. The songs are done at rehearsals or at concerts with LANDS playing their instruments and are integrated seamlessly into the film. The most powerful song in the entire film is Yukiya’s solo version of 二十歳の戦争 - the song we initially saw Asako reacting to in the beginnging of the film. Yukiya is rehearsing by himself in the practice space with the vocals and lyrics of the track distorted to almost nothing. All we can hear is the emotion in Yukiya’s guitar. Asako walks in while this is going on and is overcome - but it makes no difference to Yukiya whether she is there or not. He’s not playing for her.

Bandage is a beautiful film about the power of music. Visually simple, with understated acting and and understated story, the film carries you along on a tide of music and emotion. I highly recommend you check it out if you like films about music.

* Songs I would be happy to upload for your listening enjoyment if you want. If there is one thing I don’t mind, it’s showing off my bass playing skillz. Just like James Jamerson, I never changed my strings. The dirt keeps the funk, man!

** I highly recommend this book if you are at all interested in these guys.

*** Akanishi Jin is actually going to be releasing a CD in the US sometime soon. Apparently he’s collaborating with Jason DeRulo, so we have that to look forward to. And he’ll be starring in the upcoming 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves and Asano Tadanobu.


Pessimisissimo said...

Great review, FG. There are so few good movies about rock music--Bandage sounds like it captures all the tedium, psychodramas, and exhilaration of being in a band.

By the way, I am (or was) also a bass player. I never changed my strings either, but only because I couldn't afford new ones. My gods were (and are) Dee-Dee Ramone, Jah Wobble, Peter Hook, and Kim Deal; I was never good enough to worship at the shrine of James Jamerson or Bootsy Collins.

batulm said...

We'd love to hear your songs, Filmi Girl.

I'm going to look out for this film.

Nerdypanda said...

Akanishi Jin is hot. Still sad he left Kat-tun.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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