Do it Yourself spirit and passion projects…
A lot of people went through the phase of increased fascination with Ed Wood, Bette Page, old B-movies, tacky horrors and early exploitation, the style later on revived by John Waters. The interest either passes away or stays longer, eventually becoming a lifestyle shared in a community of like-minded people, forever charmed with the rebellious side of the 1950s – dark pin-up and rockabilly. Garage Rockin’ Craze documents such a community in Japan, focusing on the music scene that merges punk, rock and roll with 1990s garage Do it Yourself ethics. The series of interviews with the members of most representational bands and footages from the concerts not only offer a peek into a unique community but also into a way pop culture is consumed in Japan or rather how pop culture consumes Japanese.
Garage Rockin’ Craze chronologically reconstructs the emergence of the scene, from the 1980s till now. The story focuses on Daddy-O-Nov, who had been involved in the community since the beginning, organizing Back From The Grave – a series of concerts that gather devoted fans but also openly welcomes newcomers. The enthusiasm is contagious, thus Garage Rockin’ Craze became a sort of passion project for Mario Cuzic – debuting film director, who lived in Japan since 1999, working as an English teacher. He first became a steady audience member, taking footage of various concerts. The project took shape after the interpreter and eventually film writer, B. B. Clarke, joined in.
There are a lot of factors that influence the Garage Rockin’ Craze material. The musicians maintain a distance between them and the camera during interviews, sometimes even covering faces with their hair or hiding behind dark sunglasses. Even Daddy-O-Nov rarely looks at the camera and seems reserved and shy, unlike his persona during the events. It is not only because the film was made by two foreigners, but also because the musicians’ identity during Back From The Grave events is their second one, entirely separate from the family and day-job persona. The split is harshly visible in the interview with mother and daughter, both involved in the scene, but initially not knowing about one another’s participation. When they figured out they share the same friends, the daughter finally knew what her mother meant while saying she has to go to work in the middle of the night. It tells a lot about the community itself – it offers sort of an alternative family based on shared passion and lack of forced responsibilities.
There is no generation gap, because the music and the style are frozen in time, perfectly reconstructed just as they were half a century ago. The musicians are very professional and earnest, following Do it Yourself punk ethics, but not economizing. Garage Rockin’ Craze shows very well how, regardless of the subculture, Japanese attach great importance to the material aspect of the movement, spending a lot on carefully picked clothes and vintage accessories, in this case, musical instruments. These objects turn into fetish but more importantly, they confirm the group affiliation and give a sense of community and mutual understanding.
Not a lot of Japanese garage rock bands decide to pursue a professional career as musicians, even though some toured in the US. They do not seek fame or recognition abroad, sticking close to Japanese music scene. Rumour says that Quentin Tarantino heard one of 184.108.40.206’s songs in a shop. He asked the clerk about the title, but the man refuses to disclose it till the manager was called. Afterwards, the 220.127.116.11 were featured in the Kill Bill soundtrack, but while gaining world fame, the band still performs during Back From The Grave series.
Garage Rockin’ Craze documents a subculture, whose members want to recreate a 1950/60s American teen utopia, where everybody is young as long as they play rock & roll, staying forever cool. It is emblematic that venue often hosting Back From The Grave events is located in Fussa – a neighbourhood of American-style houses in the remote part of Tokyo, which, until the 1970s, accommodated officers serving in a nearby USA Air Force base. Although the occupation is over, the cultural influences still stay, carefully recreated as if in a ritual.
As B. B. Clarke said in an interview: “The music strikes a primitive chord, hitting on the kind of beat that reverberates with all humans, so I don’t really think about the future of the genre so much as preserving the rich history that it’s maintained thus far”. The footages from the concerts do look amazing, as the impeccably dressed musicians give off all their energy on stage, electrifying the audience with punk and rockabilly. Documentary delivers detailed information about the bands, the event and Daddy-O-Nov involvement. The musicians rather keep to themselves, retracing the history and development of the movements. There seems to be no conflict between their passion and daily life. Only in one scene, Daddy-O-Nov is shown doing his day job as an assistant plumber, but the motif is discontinued. The opinions from the audience are not included either. Even though Mario Cuzic uses the 1950s Ed Wood horrors iconic figure of “a narrator” or “an expert”, he does it inconsistently. The series of concert footages and interviews make The Garage Rockin’ Craze film form can be a bit monotonous.
Comparing Garage Rockin’ Craze with other latest titles focusing on Japanese subcultures, it is not as personal and self-reflexive as Tokyo Idols (dir. Kyoko Miyake) or The World Is Mine (dir. Ann Oren). It does not try to experiment with the documentary film form and it’s assumed realism and objectiveness. Nevertheless, it is a good introduction to the community’s history, a before party in anticipation of the bands’ concerts, which look like must-see events.