“Dear God, please don’t erase that memory.”

History is full of examples of art and an artist’s motivation as the driving forces behind great works in any medium. However, it is rare to see the artist actually in motion, creating his work and to witness inspiration and creativity bringing something new to life. There are many famous examples, from the video footage of Jackson Pollock painting or Henri-Gorges Clouzot’s “The Mystery of Picasso” depicting the famous Spanish artist creating unique works of art. Whatever it is that drives these figures forward, whether we call it beauty, an inner voice or an artist’s spirit, it is a force which will not extinguish easily, and will also still be there in the works left behind.

In the case of Japanese musician and painter Hiroki Morimoto, better known under his stage name Goma, this drive is not only the foundation for his work, but also of his life. In the 1990s, he became the first Japanese who was instructed by Aborigines to play the didgeridoo, a skill he mastered over the years. In 1999 he told the audience music and playing the instrument helped him “to become one with the spirit of nature”. During the following years he released several albums supported by “The Jungle Rhythm Section” and toured the world. Most importantly, he married and in 2005 his daughter Mahiro was born.

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However, his life suddenly came to a halt when he was involved in a traffic accident in 2009. After one day in a coma and suffering from severe brain damage, his doctors eventually diagnosed him with having strong memory loss and an inability to remember new events. Nevertheless, with the help of his family, through his newfound passion for painting and, of course, his music, he found his way back into life once again.

Eventually Japanese director Tetsuaki Matsue came upon the story of Goma. “Flashback Memory”, originally also available as a 3D-version, follows the career of Morimoto until 2012 when the filming took place. Using his experience from other music documentaries, such as “Live Tape” (2009) and “Tokyo Drifter” (2011), the project would rather highlight Goma’s music rather than the stereotypical “talking heads” (Mark Schilling).

In a nutshell, the premise of “Flashback Memory” is quite simple, even a little banal at times. With a few exceptions, the majority of the movie features a performance by Goma and his band while the background includes either archive footage of his past – his gigs, home videos and his time in Australia – or drawings of certain events, like the accident. However, as the movie continues, one cannot help but be sucked into the rhythm of the music, the guttural sound of the didgeridoo and the repetitive percussion accompanying it.

As a music documentary stressing the art is obvious, but Matsue seems to be after something far more important. The images in combination with the music serve as a surrogate memory, a picture of the past, which Goma has lost. In fact, as Matsue states in his statement on the film’s homepage, the musician most likely will not remember most of the filming which took place. In the film, Morimoto describes the frustrating feeling of watching old footage of himself, a version of him who has become a stranger to him, an abstract entity if you will.

In the end, music and images recreate a sense of memory, but most importantly time. Considering Goma’s sense of time has been disrupted, the rhythm of his music as well as  the practice of painting help to regain a sense of time, those he has lost, those he is in and the one he will live through in the future. Swiftly edited by Daisuke Imai, the flow of image and music turns into a flow of time, a changing “mental and emotional landscape” (Mark Schilling) of the artist.

Additionally, the film is driven by the portrayal of Goma the artist, the father and the husband. Even though much of his private life is left out, with a few exceptions, the force behind Goma is one which drives all of his roles, a believe in the “future self”, a way of accepting the kind of person he has become. Through the words of Goma and his wife, the images and the various instances of animation, the story of regaining a sense of life and time after the accident becomes dramatic and touching. At the same time, Goma’s presence as a performer is essential as the flow of creation and his passion carries over to the viewer, the optimism and sheer will behind it.

“Flashback Memories” is a documentary about the healing power of art, about memory and time, but most of all, about regaining a sense of “self” after a terrible tragedy. Carried by the music of Goma and his band, a creative direction and vision, this is an interesting and passionate documentary, one whose message will surely stick with its audience. Perhaps the most important message of Matsue’s film is how much of our “self” is defined by our experience of time, of our memory, and to what lengths we go to maintain these parts of ourselves.

Sources:

1) Zhou, Amelia (2017) Why you need to hear … Japanese digeridoo master Goma
https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/why-you-need-to-hear–japanese-didgeridoo-master-goma-20170209-gu8xv0.html, last accessed on: 07/11/2018

2) Director’s statement
https://films.spaceshower.jp/flashbackmemories/, last accessed on: 07/11/2018

3) Ross, Annabel (2016) Japanese digeridoo player looks to the healing power of art
https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/japanese-didgeridoo-player-goma-looks-to-the-healing-power-of-art-20160203-gmkxmm.html, last accessed on: 07/11/2018

4) Lehmann, Megan (2012) Flashback Memories 3D: Tokyo Review
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/review-flashback-memories-3d-383057, last accessed on: 07/11/2018

5) Schilling, Mark (2013) Furasshubakku Memorizu 3D (Flashback Memories 3D)
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2013/01/17/films/film-reviews/furasshubakku-memorizu-3d-flashback-memories-3d/#.W0W4nLSLR9M, last accessed on: 07/11/2018

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Ever since I watched Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" for the first time (and many times after that) I have been a cinephile. While much can be said about the technical aspects of film, coming from a small town in Germany, I cherish the notion of art showing its audience something which one does normally avoid, neglect or is unable to see for many different reasons. Often the stories told in films have helped me understand, discover and connect to something new which is a concept I would like to convey in the way I talk and write about films. Thus, I try to include some info on the background of each film as well as a short analysis (without spoilers, of course), an approach which should reflect the context of a work of art no matter what genre, director or cast. In the end, I hope to pass on my joy of watching film and talking about it.