the rise and fall of the unparalleled band

The first film I decided to see on Wednesday evening was a new offering from young director Hiranami Wataru, whose previous work Scherzo (2008) was screened at Pia and whose upcoming filming Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (2011) will be released this year.  This was the international premiere of the film, so Hiranami-san and lead actor Tsuchiya Takeshi were in attendance to introduce the film and field questions after the screening, through a Japanese-German translator.  (Thank god I speak Japanese; as they say, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut.)

From right to left: actor Tsuchiya Takeshi, German-Japanese translator, and director NHiranami Wataru.

I was of course immediately struck by the utter Japaneseness of Hiranami-san and Tsuchiya-san, who seemed mildly embarrassed before the room full of anticipation and sounds of Japanese beer bottles clinking, and who bowed incessantly throughout their introductions and answering sessions.  This kind of “Oh look, Japanese people being Japanese” observation will undoubtedly lose its novelty as I grow re-accustomed to the demeanor and body language that tends to accompany the Japanese culture, and it’s probably just a factor of my recent deprival of most things 日本的 (nihonteki, or ‘Japan-like’), and the odd but fascinating experience of re-encountering that foreign yet familiar culture in a country that is halfway around the world from East Asia, yet is equally foreign to me.  In fact, I feel more comfortable being at Nippon Connection than being in Germany at large.  This is an interesting example of how concepts of uchi/soto become subjective in the face of shifting contexts — just as how during the Q&As I laugh during the original Japanese answers, and am lost and quiet during the German translations, when the locals around me and chuckling appreciatively.  In reality though, since my understanding is nowhere near the level of native, I exit more in a liminal space of being Western but not German, Japanese-speaking but not Japanese — in this encounter between Germany and Japan, I am in some ways uchi to both groups, and in some ways soto to both groups, which affords me an interesting position as critic, observer, academic, and lover of Japanese film.  I’ll be working through feelings of both alienation and inclusion over the next several days, but it’ll be interesting and mildly post-modern, so bear with me.

Nippon Connection seems to be characterized by an intensely pink attention to detail this year.

But now to the intended topic of this blog post: The Rise and Fall of the Unparalleled Band, or 青すぎたギルティ (Aosugita giruti), which tells the story of a mediocre (fictional) rock band in Tokyo, from their first successful concert to their slow break-up, structured along the 12 tracks of their only record and narrated in oddly broken English by a Nepalese gaikokujin (‘foreigner’).  Think mockumentary meets J-Rock meets student film.  Think This Is Spinal Tap meets Japan.

The members of The Guiltys charge at the camera.

The original title directly translates to “The Guiltys that were too blue/young/fresh”.  My first reaction was to wonder whether perhaps it was not the only the film’s fictional band, but it’s executors who were ‘too young’.  From the opening shots, I felt a mild resistance to the aesthetic of the film — it felt very much like a student production, giving the sense that it had funding to match (a fact that Hiranami-san did acknowledge in his introductory comments).  But about a third of the way into the film, there is a fantastically shot sequence which revealed, I think, some of the deliberateness with which the amateur aesthetic of the film was crafted.  At this point in the film, the bassist Sato has been cast in an independent film, and the entire band is on set.  Turning his camera on his own genre of jishu eiga, Hiranami-san creates a hilariously self-reflexive vignette within the larger narrative that shows a brutally violent, disaffected, self-absorbed director and quirky actors, a rather bumbling crew of over-earnest PAs and technicians, creating a brilliant satire-within-satire that made me see the whole film in a new light.  This light, however brilliant, though, did not make up for the inconsistency of the actual lighting in the film (and the foley, for that matter…) — I’ll forgive them their low budget, but a couple of C-stands and china balls wouldn’t have broken the bank for some of those woefully underexposed shots.  The reality of filmmaking is a balance of the economic, the expressive, and the technical, and in this case the neglect of the technical does, I think, detract from the emotional impact of what the program notes describe as a film that “confronts us with a truly energetic and impressively dynamic, yet thoughtful impression of today’s youth and pop-culture in Japan”.

That being said, the film succeeds on several thematic levels – it treats on issues of stalking, suicide, and the sad slipping away of success with a mix of slapstick humor and surprising poignancy.  The primary actress in the film, whose name I think is Kotori, also deserves a nod for her portrayal of heavy-drinking, hardcore replacement bassist Midori, of all the exaggerated performances in the film, hers had the most realism and emotional depth.  (I will hopefully return to her character for more extensive analysis as soon as I can – I think she presents, along with lead-singer Yamada’s girlfriend and an occasional trio of fangirls, interesting visions of the modern Japanese woman.)  So, while not without its faults, The Rise and Fall… stands, I think, at the vanguard of the new generation of jishu eiga filmmaking.  Here’s hoping Hiranami-san can parlay this international exposure into a little extra cash for C-stands and full-time foley artists in his next feature.

My Ratings for the film

Acting/Direction: 5/10
Script: 6/10
Lighting/Cinematography: 3/10
Editing: 8/10
Overall: 4/10

For those of you who were in attendance, weigh in below — how did the film measure up to your expectations?


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