Good band documentaries often aren’t about the music or backstage antics, they focus on the struggles of the band and their usually very normal lives. “Mad Tiger” is a film about a Japanese punk band called Peelander-Z who live and play in NYC, which does just that. This doc is an intimate look at the relationship between two band members and if you read between the lines you can see where the troubles start.
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Peelander-Z reminds me a lot of the band Gwar. If you don’t know who Gwar is you likely aren’t a metal head like I am, but they claim to be from another planet, wear crazy costumes, play simple rock music, and often spray the audience with fake blood and put on a very crazy stage show. Peelander-Z doesn’t have the same budget for stage effects and could be seen as a baby Gwar. They make their own costumes and play small clubs around New York City. The band’s gimmick is similar to Gwar; they claim to be from another planet and are here on Earth to eat the smiles of people they play for. Each member takes on the persona of a different character based on a colour. The lead singer/guitarist Kengo Hoiki is Peelander-Yellow, his close friend Kotaro Tsukada and bassist in the group is Peelander-Red. Pink (Rumiko Hioki), Yellow’s wife, and Green (Akihiko Naruse) round out the group. Drummer Peelander-Green isn’t in the film a lot, but when he is interviewed you can tell he is very reluctant to talk about stuff that the group’s leader, Yellow, hasn’t authorized.
The dynamic in the band is one of the film’s primary focuses. Peelander-Yellow, 45 year old Kengo Hoiki, is clearly the band’s boss and can be pretty harsh with his control over the rest of the members. In one scene with Yellow and Red, Kengo is mad at Red and actually headbutts him while telling him what he should be doing with his life. It’s an ugly peak into how the band is run by Kengo and his use of intimidation and violence. It’s even more disturbing that Kengo tells the camera person not to use that footage in the film and to cut it out. Kengo’s control over the other members is obvious when they are being interviewed by the filmmakers. In one scene, Pink asks if they have already talked to Kengo/Yellow about a particular topic and implies that she doesn’t have anything to say that he hasn’t already said. Kengo walks in and out of the room and gives Pink and the crew permission to talk about whatever they want but Pink doesn’t have much to say. It’s very ominous.
The second act focuses on Red’s exit from the band to open a bar, a dream he has had for a while. Yellow clearly isn’t happy that Red is leaving and there isn’t much he can do about it and you can tell he is hurt by Red’s departure. Even though Yellow is like a father figure to Red, their relationship has a clear power dynamic. Yellow does care for him and hopefully the violence we saw was a one time thing, it’s difficult to tell.
With Red gone from the band, Kengo/Yellow invites his bassist friend from Japan to join the band who becomes Peelander-Purple (Akiteru Ito) whose outfit looks a bit like a rhino version of Barney from the popular children’s TV show. During all this turmoil, we do see the band play a few small club gigs. Their music is nothing to write home about, even Kengo says the band is based on 10% music and 90% theatre. I am not really a punk fan but it’s easy to hear that this band plays entry level silly sounding punk rock and doesn’t focus on creating anything interesting or original. The directors do a nice job of showing the two sides of the band, it’s self described Japanese action comic punk stage shows, and it’s troubled relationships and personal struggles.
Filmmakers Michael Haertlein and Jonathan Yi have few directing credits on IMBD but both are accomplished camera men. The cinematography in this doc at times seems amateur although it may be a punk aesthetic they are trying to achieve. Most of the shots are three quarter talking heads and I would bet the entire film was shot on a DSLR camera. There are a few blurs, fades and slo-mos with most of the action shot hand held, which leads to a few focusing issues but its excusable considering the content of the doc.
“Mad Tiger” is the title of one of the band’s songs and it may have been chosen to title the film since it could be referring to Yellow/Kengo himself. Kengo is an ambitious and driven man who’s future is crumbling before him but can do very little about it. If you enjoy band documentaries or docs in general you will likely enjoy this in depth yet short look at the Japanese punk band Peelander-Z.