Saturday, July 5, 2014


The Group Sounds era began when the Beatles touched down in Japan in 1966* and ended with the breakup of the Tigers in January, 1971. More than just a style of music, Group Sounds captured the spirit of a young, post-war generation who wanted to wear crazy clothes, grow out their hair, and dance, man! A wide range of bands are captured under the GS label but musically most of them can be filed in comfortably with their British and American contemporaries like the Turtles and the Kinks.

But unlike the Turtles and the Kinks, the GS bands entered into an entertainment system designed to handle pop idols, not rock bands. Although they could play their instruments and rock extremely hard, they also had to learn how to play the "cute" songs their management gave them, how to be funny on television, and sell trinkets with their face on them like the Monkees. (Although one could argue that the Turtles could have rocked a crazy Monkees style movie of their own.)

[The Tigers in an advertisement for Meiji Chocolates.]

As the Tigers’ Toppo (Kahashi Katsumi) said in a recent interview with Rock Jet magazine, “There was a lot of resistance to the cutesy songs. It was like, ‘This is fucking stupid’ and ‘What the fuck is this?’”**

Along with cutesy songs and chocolates with their faces on them, the top bands also got the chance to make more money for their management companies by making movies! None of these films ended up being classic cinema like A Hard Day’s Night but they are all delightful and strange in their own ways. The basic template appears to be taken from the school of wacky band antics as popularized by the Monkees, who were quite popular themselves in Japan, but filtered through Japanese cultural ideals. And like the best of American pop of the 1960s, the main goal was to push product. As long as it sold, the bosses didn’t particularly care about artistic content, a creative freedom that was absolutely taken advantage of.

I wanted to write this small series on the GS films--a genre I’m calling GSploitation--because I couldn’t really find anything substantial written about them (or, indeed, the bands themselves) in English. I managed to track down all three Tigers films plus four films from the next most popular band, the Spiders, and one from a band that could be English-ized as either the Jaguars or the Jaggers. Unfortunately none of the films has been subtitled into English or officially released outside of Japan, so I hope my little series will be helpful to anybody looking for information.

『世界はぼくらを待っている』(Sekai wa Bokura wo Matteiru, 1968)

If the Tigers are mentioned at all in the English-speaking world, which they usually aren’t, they are generally tagged as Japan’s Beatles because of the Beatlemania style frenzy they inspired. But the comparison holds beyond the surface level. The Tigers were working class guys, like the Beatles, from Kansai which has a rough, big-mouthed reputation similar to the Beatles’ own North England. And also, like the Beatles, the Tigers went from putting on blistering live shows to being forced into the role of chocolate box idols. And like the Beatles, the Tigers pushed to express greater creativity in their own music before breaking up before their time, giving one last amazing concert in 1971.

The Tigers may not have been the best musicians on the scene or the best looking but they had charisma, style, and the epic talents of lead singer Julie (Sawada Kenji).

The Tigers’ 『世界はぼくらを待っている』(Sekai wa Bokura wo Matteiru, “The World Is Waiting For Us,” 1968) was released during the first giddy heights of Tigers-mania. The basic structure of the film was borrowed from the Beatles own A Hard Day’s Night, with the Tigers playing themselves, famous musicians on the run from fangirls. While trying to escape an especially determined mob, the boys accidentally injure a space princess named Shoobie (Kumi Kaori) and carry her off to the hospital. Shoobie, it turns out, is on the run herself--from a dumb marriage to an unfortunate looking space prince. The boys offer to let her hang out with them, disguised as the world’s most adorable roadie. Her cover is eventually blown in a tabloid and the fangirls react violently to the news that there is a girl near their beloved Tigers, pelting the band with copies of the magazine at a concert.

Shoobie decides to leave her friends in peace and head back to outer space but her lady-in-waiting, Bess (former Takarazuka actress Urashima Chikako), senses that Shoobie is regretting leaving more than just the Earth behind--she’s fallen in love with the Tigers’ lead singer Julie! Bess hatches a plan to lure Julie from the Tigers’ concert at the Budokan to their flying saucer, which takes off into outer space with Julie on board!

Julie kindly explains to Shoobie that he just can’t marry her because he belongs to all the fans and it wouldn’t be fair for him to pick just one but when he realizes that he’s being kidnapped to outer space, he does what any rock star would do in this situation and grabs a microphone. With the Tigers concert visible on the flying saucer's monitors, Julie transmits his signal--and the Tigers music--to the entire world, or at least to all of Japan. The song is シーサイドバウンド (“Seaside Bound”), during which Julie asks the audience in the movie theater to chant along. “Seaside bound… go bound!” The power of the audience’s chant sends the flying saucer crashing back down to Earth and Julie races off back to the Budokan to sing the final song.

The world had been waiting for him! Or at least Japan had been waiting!

The fans had definitely been waiting and this was a film made entirely for them. Absolutely no concession is made for the casual viewer, we’re just dropped into the story with the expectation that we already know exactly who Pi, Sally, Taro, Toppo, and Julie are and have our favorites’ posters tacked up on our closet walls. And, on top of that, perhaps wisely not trusting five non-actors to carry an entire film on their shoulders, much of the heavy lifting is done by Kumi Kaori as Shoobie and Takahashi Atsuko as the leading fangirl, making the Tigers basically the secondary leads in their own film.

[Julie (Sawada Kenji) and Shoobie (Kumi Kaori)]

Shoobie’s role, in particular, has a surprising amount of scope for a space princess love interest. Even when she’s not in male drag, she dresses in fairly androgynous outfits through most of the film and has a mod Tigers-style shag haircut. Shoobie embodies the dream of those fangirls who just want to be in the band or at least hang out with them as equals, not as “girls,” free of the social chains keeping us second class citizens. Shoobie gets to wear groovy gold chains and capes and romp around outside like one of the guys. That’s pretty awesome.

Takahashi Atsuko and her two minions are more stereotypical fangirls. They call each other “Julie no okusama” (Julie’s wife) and “Sally no okusama” (Sally’s wife) and patiently wait outside the Tigers’ apartment hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols’ faces. But stereotypical as her role is, Atsuko is darling to watch on screen and her plotting and daydreaming add a lot of fun to the film.

But it’s the Tigers that we all really want to see and good luck if you don't already know their names and personalities. Most of the Tigers scenes are a jumble of action that lend themselves, intentionally or not, to repeat viewings so the dedicated fan can track exactly what all the band members were doing at any point in time. There’s Pi with a karate kick! There’s Toppo sulking in his hipster glasses!

[From left to right: Taro, Pi, Julie, Toppo, and Sally]

Julie is Julie. Sawada Kenji would never become a great actor but he has an undeniable, magnetic appeal. Especially when he’s performing. Out of all the Tigers, obviously Shoobie would fall for him and his dreamy mole on his dreamy cheek. When he locks eyes with Shoobie early only in the film while a saxaphone plays, I could almost hear the screams of the girls in the movie theater audience. He really is that dreamy.

Pi, the cute-as-a-button drummer, and tall, gawky Sally, bass player and band leader, both come across really well on film. Pi, just because he’s naturally cute and charming, but Sally had a surprise talent for acting that would carry him well out of the GS era and into a long career in front of the camera. You may remember him under his real name, Kishibe Ittoku, in the film 13 Assassin, among others. Sally gets a couple of good scenes where he’s shown attempting to wrangle the Tigers into doing things or, memorably, holding a band meeting where he gently tries to tell Julie that they need to ditch Shoobie for the sake of the band.

Taro is wonderfully awkward and lovely. He’s about as tall as Sally but without Sally’s control over his long limbs, Taro always seems on the verge of windmilling somebody in the face when he dances. I have to admit a strong Taro-bias. He’s a big sweetheart who loves music more than anything and, with Toppo, is responsible for helping to push the Tigers out of their musical chocolate box into better songs.

Now Toppo is an interesting one and more so because lurking in the background of this film is the big Julie/Toppo Battle of 1968. The story goes that the film’s theme 「銀河のロマンス」 (Ginga no romance, Romance in the Milky Way) which Julie sang was released as a double A-side with 「花の首飾り」 (Hana no kubigazari, Flower Necklace) which Toppo sang. And much to everybody’s surprise, Toppo’s song was way more popular than Julie’s song. Needless to say, lead singer Julie was not too pleased with this and Toppo wasn’t pleased with a) Julie getting more attention than the rest of them and b) the general direction of the band. But every idol group needs a “deep one” and Toppo certainly had plenty of fans of his own, even as he skulked in the background of every group shot in the entire film and fake-smiled in every close-up.

Knowing a group makes a film like 『世界はぼくらを待っている』 just that much more fun.

But the real meat of the film was spelled out in the title: The World Is Waiting For Us. If the film was made for the fangirls, it was also a message to them. The Tigers belong to all of us, don’t try to take one home, it will just cause problems for the band and inconvenience basically the rest of the entire planet. ARE YOU GOING TO BE THE SELFISH ONE TO DO THAT AND RUIN EVERYTHING FOR EVERYBODY ELSE?! Well, are you?!

The gorgeous 「花の首飾り」 is the only part of this film that lingers in popular memory but back when it came out the fans immediately repurposed 「銀河のロマンス」 for their own ends. The song’s chorus goes, “Shoobie, my love, Shoobie, my love, my love…” and fans would replace “Shoobie” with the member’s name of their choice.

“Taro, my love, Taro, my love, my love…”

* Read an interesting article on the Beatles first trip to Japan!

**Rock Jet, Winter 2013, translation by me.


The Soundtrack Listing

All the music was written and arranged by Sugiyama Koichi with lyrics by Hashimoto Jun, except 「花の首飾り」 for which the lyrics were actually composed by a high school kid who won a contest.

1. 君だけに愛を (Kimi dake ni ai wo)

2. 銀河のロマンス Instrumental (Ginga no romance)

3. モナリザの微笑み (Monariza no Hoemi)

4. 花の首飾り (Hana no kubigazari)

5. 僕のマリー (Boku no mary)

6. 落葉の物語 (Ochiba no monogatari)

7. 真っ赤なジャケット (Ma’ka no jaketto)

8. イエロー・キャッツ (Yellow Cats) [Note: I love this one! Watch it over here!!]

9. 星のプリンス (Hoshi no princess)

10. こっちを向いて (Kocchi wo mukaite)

11. シーサイドバウンド (Seaside Bound) [Note: GO BOUND!]

12. 銀河のロマンス (Ginga no romance)

1 comment:

odadune said...

Abducted by space groupies...I like the way these filmmakers think!

Thank you for an educational review-I have a soft spot for the Turtles and some of the other English language groups of that type, so it was cool to learn a little about their Japanese counterparts.

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
.article .article-content { word-break: normal !important; }