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Can punk rock save the world? Director Yoshihiro Makamura certainly thinks so as here he gives us this multi-thread, genre hoping tale of Gerkirin. A rock band from 1975 who having had no success, record one last song "Fish Story" before the band splits up, which years later could be the key to saving the world from its impending destruction from a meteor on a collision course.
There are certain films which frequently remind me of the differences between the films being produced for the Asian film market and those being produced by Hollywood and this would especially being one of those films. A quick look at the plot summery alone is enough to confirm it, for can you see any major studio getting behind a film were the Earth is saved from a giant meteor by a song? No as "Armageddon" proved they would more likely get behind the film were they can spend millions of dollars giving Michael Bay another reason to make things go boom in some spectacular fashion or another.
What we get here though is something not only free of those usual cliché's but altogether more special, as director Makamura not only pokes fun at the Michael Bay approach with mention of a failed attempt to stop the meteor by the Americans to detonate nuclear bombs on the Meteor called "Operation Armageddon", while he also breaks the film into what could almost be seen as four short and seemingly unconnected films, as the film crosses multiple time frames from 1975 to 2012. Starting with timid driver (Gaku Hamada) being told a prophecy about him meeting a girl who will save the world, as he scouts for girls with his friends. Next the film gets a martial arts twist as a ferry cook (Moriyama) channels his inner Steven Segal to give us what is almost "Under Siege" on a budget as he saves schoolgirl (Mikako Tabe) from a group of gun toting hijackers. Finally we have the story of how Gerkirin, a band trying to kickstart a punk revolution a year before the Sex Pistols, while also explaining how they came up with the song "Fish Story". Inbetween these seemingly unconnected shorts the film cuts back to the present were three strangers meet in a record shop discussing the song, while with five hours to impact the rest of Japan has fled to Mount Fuji in an attempt to escape the impending tsunami scenario, with the last hope resting with an attempt being launched by of all counties India....who'd have thought they'd have a space program, but then I thought the same for Australia until I saw "Iron Sky".
While it frequently feels like these segments are unconnected, especially with the song being the only connection for one of these segments, you are left to trust in Makamura, who thankfully delivers a satisfying conclusion that confirms that no matter how random these segments might seem, they do in fact all link together and more often than not in the most surprising of ways aswell as thankfully none of the smugness that M. Night Shyamalan tends to bring with his twists. With Makamura it is more a case of presenting the maths and revealing the links that were always there and more often than not staring us right in our face, its just we didn't know it.
The real strength though of this film though is how simply it tells, what could easily have been turned into a complex and confusing mess, while equally staring true to its main theme of fear which runs throughout, be it the fear of the end of the world via the ever approaching meteor, the fear of never achieving a dream or just the fear of being killed by a bunch of machine gun toting terrorists. It is also a surprising theme for a film filled with so many naturally comedic moments, let alone frequent genre shifts the likes of which I haven't seen since "Save The Green Planet" with science fiction, kung fu and supernatural thriller to name but a few included within the films framework with a colourful and largely likeable mix of characters helps make it a fun if incredibly strange ride.
The main problem here though, is not so much the frequent genre changes or leaps in time, but more so the unbalanced nature of the segments with Moriyama's kung fu antics easily stealing the show, thanks to his real-life background training as a ballet dancer, making his despatch of the bad guys only all the more graceful to watch. Elsewhere the final segment about the song being recorded is greatly helped by the raw enthusiasm of the band, which unlike so many movie bands actually have the feel of a proper band, rather than a group of actors thrown together, while the song which is supposedly going to save the world is thankfully catchy enough, so that you don't mind hearing it on what feels like a continuous loop during this segment.
While it might seem out there (and it is) this is a simple enough film to follow if you focus on one segment at a time, rather than worrying about the larger picture and how it all links together, as like I stated at the start of this review, this truly is the sort of movie that you would never see coming from Hollywood and perhaps it is this uniqueness which makes it so much fun, while certainly helped by some strong writing and intriguing plotting, which ensures that you genuinely don't know which way the story will go next, making it one of the more original let alone downright strange movies that I have seen as of late.
The film is directed by Yoshiro Nakamura and was released in 2009. He has directed several films, all of which I have never heard of! The film uses almost exclusively Japanese actors with the exception of some of the extremely bit part characters. It is based on a novel by Kotaro Isaka although my research has yielded a fruitless search for the title of said novel.
I watched this film for free, after recording it on my family's Sky Box where it was shown on Film Four. Film Four described it as "a Sci-fi movie about how a song can save the world", although personally I think describing it as Sci-fi is pushing it. Sure it's a fictional movie and it does have a little bit of science in it, but the film's scenarios are very much understated and realistic.
A massive simplification of the plot of the film is that it deals with a seemingly inevitable end of the world caused not by flesh eating zombies or Doctor Who like Aliens but by an approaching comet and shows how people react to it. See what I mean about believable? Did I mention though this film asserts that a song can save the world?
Genre-wise, I feel the film is more of a drama meets buddy movie meets 3rd person "reality" documentary with more than a little humour thrown in. The film I viewed was subtitled, I don't know if there is a dubbed version but really I would highly recommend the subbed version as it is best to watch foreign language films closest to how they were intended.
The film is set in modern day Japan in 2012. It's a day like any other, except is it? The film starts with showing us an old super hero kids TV show called "Go-Rangers" which is shot in Plasticine using stop motion (like how Wallace and Grommet was shot). It then cuts to a row of houses which looks very much like the clay stop motion in the TV show. We see an ageing man called Taniguchi emerge in an electric scooter with a walking stick and a dialysis or chemotherapy bag.Scattered on the deserted streets are random bags. Taniguchi then knocks over some bikes blocking his way with his walking stick before he hears some music, which prompts him to investigate where it's coming from. He stumbles across a music shop which is playing the music.
In the shop a young man and an older shop owner, Okazaki, are discussing the origins of punk music, which seems to annoy Taniguchi who wonders if they know that the end of the world is nearing due to a comet approaching earth which is 100% certain to hit the earth. He seems annoyed they are so carefree about the end of the world, they talk in a very amusing manner "perhaps super heroes will save us" the young man says. When Taniguchi points out how silly that sounds, Okazaki unabashedly replies with absolute sincerity " Music will save the world".
Okazaki then goes on to describe how an obscure, band called Gekirin recorded the first punk record in Japan in 1974, a year before the Sex Pistols exploded onto the scene and made punk popular. The track they recorded was called "Fish Story", a song inspired by a fictional book called "Fish Story" (both fictional in real life and a book of fiction in the film). The film then introduces the first of several time warping story changes which at first are confusing but quickly become familiar and understandable.
The first Story the film takes us to is set in 1982 where a young man Masashi listening to a tape of various bands with his two friends who are into looking for occult messages in music. Both his friends are not particularly good friends to him as they boss him about and one of them is an absolute bully.
This section of the film details Masashi's timid and shy nature, and how he meets a girl in a bar who tells him he has to stand up for himself, or he will end up losing the girl of his destiny to someone else. It also introduces us to a situation where one night, after failing to stand up to his bully of a mate, he is travelling on the road listening to the track "Fish Story" when he hears a scream of a girl; he stops and sees a girl being attacked by a rapist, will he work up the courage to do the right thing?
The second story, which the movie flits back and forth between with the present day narration, is set in 2009. In this story a young, nubile teenage school girl called Masami falls asleep on a boat trip home and ends up missing her stop thus ends up back on board travelling to where she just came from. She breaks down in tears and is duly consoled by service worker Segawa, who tells a tale of how his childhood goal was to be "A champion of justice".
He describes to her how his father pushed him to become strong and to have Zen training along with martial arts classes. An old couple think he is just making it up for romantic purposes however when the boat gets taken hostage by a bunch of pseudo Christian cultists who think the end is approaching he gets a chance to show his intentions where honest, and practice his skills which he has told us he rarely gets the chance to use.
The third story that the movie tells us of is set in 1974 which covers how the formation of the band Gekirin occurred. This story shows us the typical quarrels between band members with each other and with their manager and their producer over the direction the band should be taking. We also see how the silence in the track was recorded.
Throughout the film the above stories are introduced before switching to the present day in the record shop or switching to another of the stories, and we wonder just what relevance do the seemingly disparate stories have to each other? The film slowly and brilliantly builds up until near the end of the film where all the various little stories mentioned slowly become interweaved with the deftest of touches from director Yoshiro Nakamura. Nothing is overblown or outlandish yet everything is connected brilliantly. I may not have exactly spelled out if a song can save the world and if it can how it can save the world. However by watching the interweaved stories slowly and subtly being brought together, you will learn how a song might just be able to save the world not just in the land of film, but in real life too!
~~~Cast and Acting~~~
The Shop Owner; Okazaki, is played by Kenjiro Ishimaru who manages to portray the hopeful nature of his character very well along with his love for music and his ability to not let seeming destruction get him down which to me very much exemplifies the very best of the human spirit. He does so very well and makes you feel like he is not actually acting which to me is the sign of someone acting extremely well. He even sets just the right tone when he briefly loses his tone over the incessant negativity and doom mongering from Taniguchi, and punches him!
Masashi is played by Gaku Harmada who portrays the shy, submissive young man very well; his face is also just right for the part as he looks very young and is physically small and weak. We see a person who has been intimidated for so long, who wants to stand up for himself but is too scared to. He is very relatable and believable as his character knows physically he is not a match for a lot of men and does not have some ridiculous fantasy confidence that a lot of small, slightly built men in films have which is often unbelievable because of the said fact they would be scared to fight because of getting battered unless they had had martial arts training or something. The part is well written and Gaku's hesitancy for most of the film is pitched at just the right level so as to not be beyond wimpish, nor to be appearing too willing to take on bigger opponents for the character he is meant to be playing.
Masami is played quite well by Mikako Tabe. She does the whole upset at being on a boat she intended to get off thing brilliantly and she has the innocence of youth. However I feel that there is not too much for her part to do other than what she does do. She is by no means bad in fact she is good, but her performance is not the best that there is in this movie.
Taniguchi is played generally extremely well by Kenjiro Ishimaru. Indeed he comes across as a thoroughly miserable git who is very hard to like, as was intended by the director Yoshiro Nakamura. In fact he is worse than a miserable git, he actually wants to be right just so he can tell people he told them so 10 years ago. He manages to make us feel everything from pity at the very start of the movie to anger for most of the movie to pity again when we realise his character has chosen to stop cancer treatment because the world could end. It's a classic case of not being able to stop the preventable death because of focusing so much on that which is not preventable. Indeed he makes such a big deal of the end of the world, yet little of a fatal illness. It seems he can't reason with himself that it doesn't matter how he dies as it's still death. There is however one time Kenjiro slips up, or it could just be a slip from the director, but at one point he gets up and walks about freely even though he was supposedly in need of a Motability scooter and a walking stick, yet he gets up just fine and walks about as if he had nothing wrong with him! That is the only slight criticism of his performance.
My interpretation is that the central theme of the film is that it is a metaphor about death, and how we can choose to react to it, or more generally how we attempt to react to the presence of the potential for tragedy in our lives. We can choose to be foolhardy and totally reject risk, ending up quickly coming unstuck, or we can choose the other extreme and be afraid of our own shadow, of never trying to fight back against the investable path of fate. Finally we can choose to stand up and fight, cautious about risk but taking both risk and tragedy in our stride, choosing to make the most of what time we have got and doing meaningful things, and changing things we have the power to change.
Other notable themes of the film include the need to have hope in order to function and be happy, of not getting hung up on the seeming inevitability of our destruction, choosing to live the lives given to us by nature or the divine for our own enjoyment and doing so in the service of others. Finally a possible major rival theme for title of main theme of the film is the power of music to inspire us and its impact in our lives.
At one point in the film, the band member Goro asks during the recording why such a good record can't mean something to someone. Why can't it reach someone? As the film cleverly shows us the song actually does manage to reach someone, indeed many different people. As the film shows the song does actually manage to reach someone, indeed multiple people. To find out exactly who and how, and the songs wider significance beyond just the small stories, you will have to watch the film! I don't want to over feed the audience everything in the film but instead attempt to get their mouths salivating and their minds intrigued.
The film is a very funny film. The humour in the film is present arises in an understated, not ridiculous way. The humour is subtle and intelligent, more often found in the way characters say something than what they say. Although there are plenty of jovial moments that are amusing on content alone. I don't want to give away all the good lines. However I will refer you to my favourite bit of the film from a comedy standpoint. Grumpy old bugger Taniguchi is telling Okazaki and the young man how the American ship missed the comet with its nuclear missiles and how they are all doomed when shop owner Okazaki says "But look here an Indian ship is attempting to fire nuclear missiles at it"... to which Taniguchi says something like " I didn't even know they had a space ship we're still domed".
As there are so many characters, space for character development is rather short as only a few develop massively, but those that do would be too long to write about from a length perspective, as it might bore you and may disincentivize you from going to see the film as you would already know exactly how they develop and what they are about. So instead I will talk about the traits of a few of the main characters and what I liked and disliked about them and the way the director used them.
I liked the kindness of Masashi, yet disliked his timid and cowardly nature for most of the film, however in the end I liked how he changed through the course of the movie. I was initially sympathetic towards Taniguchi who looked so frail and vulnerable, yet I quickly found myself disliking him as he was always looking on the down side of things and refusing to let the infectious hope and courage of the shop owner and the young man infect him. He becomes someone you just want to scream "get a grip" at, and yet by the end of the film we pity him because he has spent his whole life more concerned with being proven right about the end of the world than living his life and attempting to cause good in the world by helping people. Finally, I really liked the bravery of the service worker on the boat who was a bit of a hero in this film.
The band had reasonable characters, but that story, other than the actual track "Fish Song" and the scene where they record it, did not grip me as much as the other stories did and I would have preferred the pace to be a bit faster at this section and possibly another epic small story thread to have taken some of the time devoted to telling us the story of the band's formation.
The shop owner and young man in the shop stay upbeat throughout, only ever showing fear for a few brief moments towards the end of the film. Their infectious courage in the face of impending doom is highly admirable and shows us a blueprint of how to react to the unexpected, of the extraordinary hope at the heart of the human condition, and their childlike devotion to music is very refreshing in a world where people love things and not people, where people love drugs and not art.
~~~The Song Fish Story~~~
There is not much of a soundtrack to this movie and the songs other than "Fish Story" I did not really pick up on too well during the film. However the song that is meant to save the world is in fact quite a catchy and toe tapping song. It enters with a slow, long, crisp jazz guitar tone playing a sort of blues melody that sounds lush and serene, which is not very punk like at all. However before long, an infectious beat kicks in, a far faster tempo arises, gone are the dulcet, husky, sonorous tones of the lead singer, and in their place are raspy, shouty punk rock vocals that ooze with militancy and rage. It's a very upbeat track and has a great bass riff that really hooks you and some brilliant guitar finger burning solos played at breakneck speed.
The lyrics don't make a lot of sense. However they play a massive role in the film and match beautifully with many of the scenes in which major events occur and you will see just how important the lyrics are in this film when you watch. One of the reasons the lyrics don't seem to make much sense such as "My solitude is like a fish" is explained in the film; again it's not something you want to find out about until you actually see the film. The song fits the key moments in the film brilliantly indeed and in the context of the movie, they do make sense. All in all it's a great little up tempo track that is ever so slightly popish enough that it will be well liked by even people like me who aren't massive punk fans but do love sweet guitar and bass solos and some catchy chorus vocal hooks.
Fish Story is basically a movie about a fictional punk band made up of nearly men, the story of their song and how it came about, which is fused with a lot of other elements such that the whole story becomes much bigger than just a music movie or just an end of the world movie. The film ends up touching the viewer on multiple levels. With such a blend of styles and subject matters in the movie, it's the kind of film that could appeal to everyone and anyone. I especially love how all the little stories are largely interconnected and woven together nicely towards the end of the movie, all of which I did not see coming beyond the fact I had the faintest inkling as the movie progressed, that the stories were going to become interconnected, but did not know how or just quite the extent to which they would become interconnected.
One of the many great things about this film is that a large part of the plot is based on events which conceivably could have actually occurred, even though in reality they did not. In fact, the film fuses the real with the fantasy, the slightly implausible with the plausible, as hopefully any one that watches the film will come to appreciate and love, like I did. Whilst the events are fictional it's easy to see how most of them could occur as they are set in a world very much like the "real" world and not some grandiose futuristic world where people can teleport via de-materialisation!
The movie stylistically for me feels very much like a cleverer and more profound version of a Quentin Tarantino film meets a less sappy yet every bit as stirring, if not more so, romantic drama like Four Weddings and a Funeral. It is a movie that has everything, funny humour, strong acting performances, music, action, believable reactions of the characters and romance. It covers several central themes from the ability of music to touch all our lives in various ways to the way we live our lives, such as not fearing taking a stand as it is only by trying to alter our destiny can we hope to change it. Above all it is a movie which ties together nicely, never lets you guess ahead of time what is going to happen and has several emotional, poignant scenes that will make your eyes literally water, as mine did!
It does what a truly great film is supposed to do, transport us to another world, and in this case it manages to transport us to such a world which is largely like our own, and in doing so gives us hope that we may be able to achieve some good in our world which helps to change the course of history in a favourable direction. It's an escapist film and yet it manages to do so whilst keeping itself very believable and making the audience feel as if the events in this film could happen to anyone. It makes a point about how we are all connected together and how our actions can have a domino effect for both good and bad.
~~~Would I recommend?~~~
Yes films like this are few and far between, I watch many trailers and only ever fancy between 1 in 20 and 2 in 8 (depending on quality at a given time of year) of which most are only good or modest, some are actually poor and some are great, but this is another level up from great. Life of Pi, The Guardians and There's Something About Mary, those were great films. However this film is something even rarer than that, this is an astounding film. A film that makes you want to take back the word "masterpiece" from many great movies, cause only the 0.1% club deserves that title!
This film is so good that I put it up there with Mississippi Burning or..... Actually I'm struggling to come up with another one! I do know of one film but can't recall its name. It gets 6 out of 5 Dooyoo stars from me. A hidden masterpiece if ever there was one!
A region 2 version DVD, the format used in Europe and the UK, can be purchased just now on Amazon for £8.46. I paid nothing as it was on the television. I thoroughly recommend you buy this DVD because you will not be disappointed, unless you really dislike multi-interconnected story type movies.
This review appears on ciao under my user name "newprideexperiadj2".