J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

DOC NYC ’15: Mad Tiger

Despite what you may have heard, punk is not dead yet. It just needs a bit of theatrics and costuming to perk it up. The Japanese band Peelander-Z is all over that. Their music is whatever, but their ruckus stage shows combine elements of Jackass, Sun Ra, and the Power Rangers. They are definitely a cult act, but they have sort of made a go of it. However, they are about to experience a rocky patch of soul-searching in Jonathan Yi & Michael Haertlein’s Mad Tiger (trailer here), which screens during this year’s DOC NYC.

Supposedly Peelander-Z hails from Planet Peelander. Why have they come to Earth? To rock, dummy. Peelander Yellow (a.k.a. Kengo Hioki, he’s the one with the bright yellow hair) has fronted the band since 1998, which is an eternity in punk time. For twelve of those years, Peelander Red has been their bass player and the go-to-guy for really off-the-wall physical stunts. When he decides to retire, Peelander Yellow quickly replaces him with Peelander Purple, his old friend from the dark side of Peelander. However, both Yellow and Red have trouble finding the closure they were hoping to reach.

Let’s be honest. Peelander Z is more punk than the old school punk of the late 1970s. Take for instance Peelander Yellow’s Letterman tooth gap. He originally broke his front tooth during a performance at Bonnaroo, but he gave up trying to replace it with a crown, because he kept breaking those as well.

Yi (who directed Peelander-Z’s “So Many Mike” video) and Haertlein vividly capture the bedlam of the Peelander experience, but they also document some backstage drama worthy of the old Behind the Music docu-series. They might be kind of nuts, but they have the same problems as more conventional bands. They also need more time for dying their hair, but fortunately they have a cool band stylist with a good sense of humor.

Mad Tiger is a ton of fun, but it also takes Peelander Yellow’s sudden feelings of spiritual emptiness seriously. Believe it or not, it might just include the most positive, sympathetic depiction of Christianity in any DOC NYC film this year, due to the scenes of Yellow reconnecting with his converted family in Japan. Sure, there are plenty of giant squids in Mad Tiger (named for one of their greatest hits), yet is also an acutely human film, in an intergalactic kind of way.

It is indeed a super film that comes fully loaded with energy, attitude, and lunacy. Very highly recommended for punk fans and Peelander expats, Mad Tiger screens Friday night (11/13) at the IFC Center, as part of DOC NYC 2015.

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