Shinjuku, Tokyo’s entertainment district has been an ever evolving area of Tokyo, which constantly creates and celebrates the world of cinema and artistic expression. One of the more recognizable personalities within the prefecture is “Shinjuku Tiger” who has been a figure within the district since the early 70’s.

After an introduction to Tiger and a bit of his background within the Shinjuku District, the film is then segmented into his “Passions”, which include, Film, Beer and Women. It is within these segments that the curious life of Tiger begins to take more shape and the figure is further unraveled. These segments also offer up some insightful information about parts of Shinjuku that audiences may not be familiar with. A brief history of the “Golden Gai” a series of small bars usually owned and operated by a single person catering to a select clientele acts as one of the more informative and fascinating deviations from the focus on Tiger.

Shinjuku Tiger is screening at
Osaka Asian Film Festival

“Shinjuku Tiger” does seem more focused on the personality Tiger created for himself, more so than trying to understand the man behind the mask. This is most notable within the “Film” segment of his passions as there is footage of him watching a film and then talking about it afterwards to the documentary crew. This portion will appeal to other cinephiles, in particular those who approach the medium with abundant optimism. Tiger is so optimistic about everything he watches and talks about and has a wide knowledge base of the subject in various genres, although there is a lack of too much critical analysis, since Tiger seems to be eternally optimistic about the arts.

The second segment of note, and perhaps the more difficult one, is the one covering women. Although this segment shows him interacting with various female actors, his interactions if anything brings up more questions than it elaborates on his personality. Tiger spends the majority of this segment just pouring on compliments onto the actors in a way that would be considered harassment, if not for their established friendship. It is hard to tell from these segments how he got to be on good terms with the various celebs since the bulk of their conversation focuses on flattery. On the surface level, it feels like he acts as more of an ego booster than a friend. However, given the length of time they know each other, I do think this may be deceptive and there may be more depth of character outside of what the documentary crew filmed. To further argue this point, Tiger does get a bit deeper in his conversation with one actor as he discusses his past and his love for Koji Wakamatsu, (I will note this created a personal bias towards Tiger, as Wakamatsu has been a constant favorite throughout my experience with Asian Cinema) and on his views of the United Red Army. This moment feels like the closest that the crew gets to getting an understanding of Tiger outside of his created persona.

The production sets out to really romanticize Tiger and his life and to a degree overlooks any shortcoming of the man. With the film even going as far as to tout him as a troubadour, whose existence in itself is a form of defiant art. However, the documentary leaves a lot of interpretation open, as well in the words of admiration in others, which almost treats its subject matter as a celebrity, ignoring or pushing away any negative commentary on Shinjuku Tiger. This makes it hard to really back up the claims the production makes about his role and importance within his community. The film feels biased towards promoting the subject matter, over presenting a detailed document of Tiger’s life. With a lack of intimate interactions with people who don’t already hold him in high regard or a deeper look at his past, the film acts more as a celebration than a factual representation of its subject matter. This does not hinder the entertainment value, but it does leave the feeling of being a fictionalized account of a man, which will limit its overall appeal to a broader audience.

The film is scored well, reminiscent of the older films and the time period that is romanticized in Tiger’s life. It is well shot, successfully catching the intimate relationship between Tiger and his friends as he hops from place to place. The interviews and commentary are all well constructed and enhance the narrative of Tiger in an engaging way. The production feels thought out, with a great emphasis on keeping focus on the subject matter. Nothing feels rushed or poorly thought out, in structure and technical execution “Shinjuku Tiger” is well executed.

A few friends close to tiger make an observation which I think best sums up the production. That it took years of interacting with the enigmatic figure before they were able to make any sense of him. Those statements really frame the shortcoming of the documentary. However, looking at “Shinjuku Tiger” for it’s entertainment value, the film does exceed in capturing the man’s charm. In writing this review it became a bit difficult to offer critique as it felt a bit disingenuous towards a man who exudes so much positive energy in the world around him. Overall, Tiger exists as a fascinating figure within Shinjuku and his natural charm can be felt throughout the production and the documentary serves as a nice monument to a figure that would otherwise go forgotten outside of his community.

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