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Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the innovative music band, "Half Japa-nese" is a mockumentary a la "This Is Spinal Tap" that just "happens" to be about a real band. Mildly entertaining, though not as zany or original as one might expect, pic is a good bet for public TV, cable and video after limited theatrical release on university campuses and in big cities, where the band is popular. It opened commercially in New York on Oct. 8.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the innovative music band, “Half Japa-nese” is a mockumentary a la “This Is Spinal Tap” that just “happens” to be about a real band. Mildly entertaining, though not as zany or original as one might expect, pic is a good bet for public TV, cable and video after limited theatrical release on university campuses and in big cities, where the band is popular. It opened commercially in New York on Oct. 8.

Composed of musical footage and interviews with the duo’s parents, musicians and associates, docu reconstructs the history of Half Japanese as the first punk rock band. The siblings’ mother proudly relates how exciting it was “that our house of 200 years has been called the birthplace of punk rock.”

The most revelatory info comes from David and Jad Fair, who convey the chutzpah that it takes to do what they did. Initially, neither could play a single note on any instrument, but the two somehow knew on a gut level how to carve a niche for themselves and display their gifts. Says David, “We decided to do two kinds of songs, love songs and monster songs.”

At its best, the uneven effort provides a humorous journey into the world of underground music, contrasting it with the rigid mainstream press and record industry; MTV, Rolling Stone magazine, commercial radio and major record labels are trashed in the process.

One interviewee sums up succinctly what it takes to enjoy the revolutionary band: “Most people lack the intestinal fortitude to concentrate and listen to Half Japanese.” This is followed by a poignant history of their first release, ” 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts,” a triple-LP box with a lyric sheet, a pink leopard-skin pamphlet and an alligator poster designed by David Fair.

Making it sound easy to form a band and succeed in the competitive music world, the film doesn’t stress strongly enough that the band struck a chord with audiences of the 1970s because it clearly had something new to offer.

Overall, moderate tech credits and quality of 16mm lensing don’t do justice to the music of Half Japanese and its place in the history of punk rock.

Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King

(DOCU -- B&W/COLOR/16mm)

  • Production: A Morganville Films production. Produced, directed, written by Jeff Feuerzeig.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Fortunato Procopio; editor, Peter Sorcher; music, Half Japanese; sound, Bill Drucklieb. Reviewed at Festival of Festivals, Toronto , Sept. 15, 1993. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • With: With: Jad and David Fair, Maureen Tucker, Byron Coley, Penn Jillette, Phil Milstein.
  • Music By: