Live Tape (Japan, 2009)

Sometimes it all comes together.

Back in my teens, I played guitar in a beautiful mess of a band. We were one of those bands who formed out of friendship rather than a want to play good music and also who had a gig before we actually had songs. In fact, just a scant few weeks before that aforementioned first gig, our keyboardist and I were attempting to put a few songs together so we didn’t embarrass ourselves too much. We were already at this for about an hour when, partially out of frustration and boredom, I hit my fuzz pedal and tore out a simple three chord riff in rhythm to the drum machine we were using at the time. At the same time, our vocalist started yelling this improvised rap, I added a bridge into the cacophony and we had our first and probably most popular song, a drunken singalong bit of musical anarchy entitled “Cheese”.

Watching Live Tape brought back these high school memories. Not that Kenta Maeno, the Dylan lookalike troubadour and subject of director Tetsuaki Matsue’s musical documentary/travelogue, plays the sort of three-chord crap that took my band an hour to put together. Rather he plays jangly rock/folk with some genuinely beautiful melodies and singalongs. One listen to “Can’t Be Just Friends”, an especially soulful ballad, is proof that the guy knows his music. Rather, there’s a sort of “stars in alignment” sort of magic to the movie that couldn’t be replicated with any sort of script or professional actors or musicians. Heck, if the 1500 yen videotape on which the film was recorded had cost any more or less, it may have ruined this piece.

So here’s the film’s backstory: Matsue, who had a particularly bad 2008 after losing two family members and a close friend, pulled together Maeno, the video tape, a soundman, and a lone kimonoed girl as the set pieces for a New Year’s Day of music and healing. The kimonoed girl serves as nothing but a context provider that transitions to Maeno who strolls the streets of the Musashino district of Tokyo performing songs to the camera and perplexed and usually disinterested passersby. This all culminates in Maeno meeting up with his band for an impromptu performance in Inokashira Park. All of this in a single seventy-four minute take with no edits.

Such simplicity could easily be a turn-off for people who expect a concert video to be shot from multiple angles with non-stop tracking shots and closeups. No, stylistically, Live Tape is the anti-musical documentary in that sense. There is no stage diving, crowd swimming of communal beach ball tossing. In fact, it’s very much a punk movie in spirit, if not in tune, in that it just focuses on the raw elements of what makes music great to begin with: a person, a guitar, and a space to play in, a magical combination that is wonderfully soulful.

Crossposted on cineAWESOME!