On the occasion of Garage Rockin Craze screening at the 19th Japan Film Fest Hamburg, we speak with director Mario Cuzic about the reasons that led him to shoot a doc about the Japanese garage scene, the hardships he had to face to complete it, the bands, Daddy-O-Nov and other topics.
How did you end up living in Japan?
Going up, I wanted to be a teacher. In the 90’s, people would finish university and go teach English in Japan. It was a cool place where you made good money and people were able to pay off university debts. I knew a girl who went to teach in Osaka and loved it, so when I graduated, I went to teach English in Tokyo. That was in 1999. My original plan was to stay until the World Cup 2002. My roots are from Croatia so I thought I would stay, cheer Croatia, then go back to Canada. I ended up staying for 18 years
What attracted you to the garage punk music scene in Tokyo?
I always loved Rock n Roll and I was familiar with the 5678s and I saw Guitar Wolf open for the Cramps in Toronto, but I was in Japan for 10 years before I saw any of the bands in “Garage Rockin’ Craze”. I actually fell into the scene by accident. In 2008, I was living in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward. I went to a bar opening with a friend and the bar was owned by a British rocker named Chris who became a good friend of mine. The bar was 1 minute walk from my house, so I went in for a drink often. A guy named Cyril Roy worked at the Bar. Cyril is French but lived in London for a long time before moving to Japan. Cyril was in a lot of cool bands in London. (Bristols, Sires) Cyril was also in the Gaspar Noe film “Enter the Void” which was shot in Tokyo. Cyril and I shared a common interest in Garage punk, Rock n Roll and movies. I already had a camera, sound stuff, pc and software. Cyril and I hammered out a script and he got a bunch of guys from the garage scene to act who I had now just met.
Cyril and I made a film called THE SWAP (it’s on Youtube). Isao from The Saturns is in the film, Members of Los Rizlaz are in the film along with some of their music. Once the swap was done, I started going to shows regularly and filming the gigs. I would go home and edit videos for the bands and upload them. I became close friends with everyone and they eventually became my family in Japan. So what attracted me is my love for Rock n Roll but what made the Japanese special is their stage presence. They all look great and sounded great. Also, Daddy-o-nov was really nice to me right from the start. Everyone was nice and humble from the start and very supportive of my filming.
In true independent filmmaking style, it took many years to complete “Garage Rockin’ Craze”. Meeting the writer and co-producer B.B. Clarke was an important step toward making the film, how did you meet?
The film took about 6 years to make. I shot live footage for a good 4 years but because my Japanese wasn’t as good as I needed it to be, I became stuck when it came the time to interview. I had a friend translate the questions I had and I would meet with the bands and have them read the questions and answer. Everyone was my friend so they gave great interviews but my Japanese wasn’t good enough to edit. In comes Clarke. I met Clarke for the first time at Halloween Ball 2012. I have seen him around the scene but that was the first time we hung out and talked. We were talking at a show one night and I asked him to come over to take a look at the interviews. Clarke’s Japanese is very very good. He thought I had great material and decided to make a story out of the interviews I had. I had enough for 5 movies but we kept it about Daddyo and BFTG. There is so much that isn’t mentioned because the scene is 30 years old. Clarke was a member of the scene and knew the same people I did and we got along really great. Clarke moved into the house I was living in and we worked on the movie every day for almost 2 years. Clarke somehow knew what I wanted without me telling him. He worked the story while I worked the live images. We basically co-edited it as well. Without Clarke, GRC would not be nearly as good or it would be incomplete.
Why did you decide to make a film about Japanese garage punk?
I was into film making before GRC. GRC was the perfect project for me because I’m passionate about Rock n Roll. I have no musical talent so I also saw this as a way to contribute to Rock n Roll. The bands were very supportive, nice, and helpful which made it easy at times. They liked what I was doing and they became my friends so I had full access. I thought the shows were so fantastic that I wanted to show them to the world, but in a style that makes you almost feel like you are there watching the bands. Maybe if the bands were snobby or unfriendly, I would never have made the movie. The bands, DJs, Rockers in the movie made it all possible.
Did “Garage Rockin’ Craze” evolve out of filming the garage punk bands playing live gigs, or was it a more (semi) planned approached?
Nothing was planned until Clarke joined me. I asked the bands about 15 questions ranging from girls in the scene to family, to Daddy, to cultural questions. I had 30 hours of interviews. Clarke looked at what I had, we talked and decided to go with a brief history of BFTG and Daddy and his contribution to Japanese RnR. For the rest 8-9 months, Clarke was combing through interviews, putting together the story, and I don’t think I ever told him to change something.
What were the main challenges in creating “Garage Rockin’ Craze”?
Working 7 days a week and making the movie was tough. I used to go 30-40 days without a day off but what was strange was that I would come home tired from work, get on the computer to work on the movie, and I would become energized. Actually, the movie made my 9-5 life easier. I had something to look forward to outside of work, just like the bands. I I was lucky because Clarke came along when the really challenging stuff started and sorted it out. Clarke did a lot of stuff that I couldn’t so I was lucky.
As for the bands themselves, there are many amazing bands, but here’s the classic question, who are your favourites?
It’s hard for me to even say my to 5, because there are so many cool bands. I remember seeing The Vivian Boys and thinking “WoW”. The Saturns were so great they were shocking. Minnesota Voodoo Men, Los Rizlaz, Stomping’ Riff Raffs, Mellvins, Texaco, Young Parisian etc…
A band I was not familiar with, until your film, is Texaco Leatherman. They are simply magnificent. What are your thoughts on this sensationally wild band?
Texaco Leatherman are very special and the most unknown among the big veteran bands. I saw Texaco for the first time in 2010 or 2011. Texaco started playing in 1987. They played for 10 years, took a break and started again. I saw them as they were starting up again and I’ve seen them go strong since. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Texaco toured the states or Europe in the early 90’s. I think they would have been big. Powerful music with a powerful look mixed with a powerful performance. They are in their 50s now but they rock harder than anyone in the scene. People tell me, you should have seen them 10-15 years ago. They are the band that has gotten the most attention from GRC. The overseas reaction has been great. Texaco shocked everyone.
I’m wondering what new cats are creeping up on the scene. Have you any pointers to the next sensations of the Japanese garage punk scene?
The Rumblers are a cool Rockabilly outfit. ED WOODS don’t appear in the movie but are cool so I’ll mention them. Highmarts are a young all girl band. Young folks come to play their records or make events. Toyozo from Fadeaways puts together shows. Mina puts together shows, Ryo the Dynamite DJs and puts together shows so it’s not only musicians it’s also DJs , fans, artists of all sorts. There is some new blood but I would like more and hopefully GRC will get the kids into Rock n Roll.
An intriguing aspect of the film is that many of the bands appreciate and consider the garage punk zone like a breathing space from the everyday life in Japanese society. The ideas of polite speech, bowing and deference seem to have been left at the door. Daddy-O-Nov is a fascinating man. He seems both easy going, knowledgeable, but a passionate organiser of the garage puck scene, who transforms into a good time Svengali. He must have a will of iron to keep things going for over thirty years. I just wondered what your thoughts on are Daddy-O-Nov’s paradoxical personality? How does he manage to the give the bands that sense of freedom, with the occasional whiff of danger?
Daddyo is really sweet and has become a dear friend of mine. I would say that Daddy-o had a huge influence on me as an artist. He’s the God Father. He’s a Blue collar worker who has a passion for rock n Roll. Japanese in general are very hard core about the things they like and Daddyo, along with the band,s take things to the next level. Daddyo also gets help from young people in the scene. When it comes time to decorate for Halloween it’s a group effort with the bands. Its a family, with Daddyo as the head. Daddyo is also very cool. He’s into super cool stuff and has been a great influence artistically to many people in the scene. Daddyo and I joke sometimes how neither of us have musical talent but we contribute to Rock n Roll. That is a big thing I learned from Daddyo, “You can contribute in other ways”. Daddyo is someone I really miss. Every city needs a Daddyo. He doesn’t really have Iron will. He has an army of helpers so he can get kinda lazy which is so cool. Daddyo also keeps the attitudes in check. Without him it wouldn’t be what it is.
How would you describe the spirit of Japanese Garage Punk?
DIY Do it yourself spirit. Samurai spirit!
The link to the art schools of Tokyo is strong on the garage punk scene. Even though this is a primitive rock and roll genre, the sheer effort that the bands put into their look, affectation and performance style is massive. And Daddy-O-Nov’s events have distinctive look too. The attention to detail is impressive. Do you think this art school aspect has filtered into the scene in general?
The Art school aspect is very important. Schools in Japan have a cultural festival called BUNKASAI every year. A lot of musicians meet at these school cultural festivals. That’s how Yusuke and Ringo from Minnesota Voodoo Men met. Its also the reason why there are so many illustrators, designers, painters, animators in the scene. Look at their record covers and flyers. People in the scene, like Ono Ching from Jetboys or Nagoya from Bobbys Bar have their own art exhibits. Art school is where many of these people met, when they were kids and where their bands got started.
“Garage Rockin’ Craze” is a superb music documentary, a wild witty experience, filled with raucous rock and roll. Where can garage aficionados and indie film freaks buy your film?
Only in Japan now but we are working on a North American and/or European release.
Have you anything new developing in the pipeline with your filmmaking?
I live in Canada now. My brother and I are shooting a short but it’s not Rock n Roll related but I’m also looking into something to do with a Canadian band that has their song covered in Garage Rockin Craze. I’ve been back for a year after 18 years in Japan so I’m still getting used to my new surroundings. I’ll be into a bigger project after the summer. Thank you so much for the interview and big hello to your readers.