Half Japanese was formed by brothers Jad and David Fair in their Michigan bedroom in 1975. Neither brother had any knowledge of how to play music and to this day Jad (David left the band and got married) still plays an un-tuned guitar. Jad states in the documentary “the only cord I know is the one that connects the guitar to the amp”. David also has a unique approach to guitar but I don’t want to spoil too much. Their refreshing approach to music has made them one of the most unique acts of the underground low-fi /alternative punk rock/*insert genre here* scene, and their admirers range from Penn Jillette to Kurt Cobain (he reportedly died wearing a Half Japanese t -shirt). To some, Half Japanese is pure genius and to others they are pure novelty *cough…bullshit…cough*.
The Band That Would Be King is a strange film. Its not a complete linear look at the genesis and lifespan of the band, it’s not an expose, it’s just random bits of band information, interviews with a bunch of people and some really killer performances and old footage of the band. Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King would be best described as director, Jeff Feuerzeig’s love-letter to the band. While documentaries about other “outsider artists” like The Devil and Daniel Johnston or You’re Gonna Miss Me : A Film About Roky Erickson may be more accessible to people who don’t like or know of their music, I don’t think this film is inaccessible to those who don’t know anything about Half Japanese as the film is not about mental illness, drug abuse, in-house fighting or anything of that ilk.
The quote on the DVD cover from The Chicago Tribune states: “ the funniest rock ‘n‘ roll movie since This Is Spinal Tap”. I fail to see the “humour” people say that is there in the film Penn Jillette even states in the film how horrible it is that the band is even referred to as rock ’n’ roll… I’m guessing it’s funny if you don’t know a thing about them. I’ve been listening to them for years and I don’t think they are a funny band or that the portrayals of them in film were laughable simply because Jad is a tad exuberant. I can see the appeal of The Devil and Daniel Johnston documentary as he is a bit wacky and that is – in a very disturbing way – entertaining for people. But Jad is just a guy who loves music, what’s funny about that? He doesn’t display any personal demons or anything, he is just simply a guy who does what he loves without any bullshit drama about not making it or battling with demons such as drug addiction or depression. It’s the same old story, something different and so-called “weird” simply equals funny to those who are too stuck in the mainstream and can’t identify with it. A guy wearing a jersey putting his heart and soul into his music and acting a little too emphatically is not cool compared to some tight-black-jean-wearing-emaciated-designer-fashion-clad rock star… so yeah it’s just funny and a joke and a “put on” – NY Times.
But for you Half Japanese fans, you’re treated to some really cool stuff. The film consists of interviews with Jad and David Fair (as well as other members), Mr and Mrs Fair, and has some pretty cool old footage of the band performing at home and even at a retirement village. There’s also interviews with Moe Tucker (Velvet Underground) who discusses her fondness for the band and her hatred of MTV. Penn Jillette also talks about how his love for the band and the record label he started so he could get their albums out to the public. There’s also interviews with Don Fleming, and some hyperbolic pontificating interviews with Gerard Cosloy (Matador records part-owner) and Byron Coley (music critic).
A really neat film that at times kind of lacks direction, but is very interesting and holds up to repeated viewings.
In the extras department we get two live shows: Live in Hell ‘85 runs for 16 minutes and the performance on The Scott and Gary Show ‘84 runs for 13 minutes. They perform the following songs:Firecracker Firecracker, The Thing With A Hook, Nicole Told Me, Vietnam, You’re Gonna Regret My Departure, I know How It Feels…Bad, Rosemary’s Baby, Double Trouble, A Numbered Road and No Direct Line.
There’s also an Alternative Opening Track which features footage of Half Japanese performing their cover of Gloria.
Finally there’s Jad Fair Interview which is a 5 minute clip from The Scott and Gary Show, and a Director’s Commentary with director Feuezeig and some guy called Johan Kugelberg. The commentary is rather dull, there’s the odd interesting bit but it’s mainly these two guys waxing philosophical on punk rock and the underground scene.
DIRECTOR(S): Jeff Feuerzeig | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 1993 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Vanguard | RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 1.33:1 full frame | REGION: 1/NTSC | DISCS: 1