Lately, I’ve felt a little empty. Waiting for something to spark a little inspiration in me. So, as I often do, I ended-up on YouTube, listening to music, when The Blue Hearts appeared with their song, Linda Linda. It’s a Japanese punk-rock song that you’ll have heard before if you’ve seen the film Linda Linda Linda (which I reviewed years ago.) Anyway, I’ve always liked punk music, aesthetics and all, and it’s interesting to see such a Japanese take on it. Ripped jeans, snarling faces and funny dancing.
Divorced from its culture, punk, I suppose, is about attitude. When I look at The Blue Hearts, I don’t parse (and can’t, since I don’t speak a lick of Japanese) any political subtext, it’s all about the immediacy of the image and the quality of the song. I imagine it was the same for foreign cultures observing bands like The Sex Pistols, it was their image, their attitude, that really caught the imagination. Punk is an aggressive, frustrated type of music, but it can be poetic. I love that balance of the hard with the soft. Those first 40 or so seconds of Linda Linda, the way it segues from such a slow, poetic start, to a rapid, lively pace, is perfect, and gets under my skin.
Inevitably, then, I really want to mention one of my favourite Japanese film directors, Toshiaki Toyoda, who has created a number of really cool “punk dramas,” like Blue Spring (based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto!) and 9Souls. He makes films about people coming apart at the seams and imploding, but as depressing as that sounds, there’s a hard, beautiful poetry to his films that infuses them with such bitter-sweetness. He introduced me to bands like Thee Michelle Elephant Gun and Dip. His films are filled with urban decay and graffiti. There’s so many images, so many scenes, from his films that I’ll always remember.
It’s a dichotomy that I’m searching for in everything I stumble over and probably explains why I’m so into Taiyo Matsumoto, too, a mangaka renowned for his harsh, sketchy style. It isn’t pretty, but has attitude, is ineffably cool and transports me. Tekkonkinkreet is about a couple of homeless kids fighting for their lives in the middle of an ever-looming concrete jungle, yet they can fly. Literally, fly. That tiny hint of magic creates such surreal, scary images, but is somehow hopeful, too. It’s this balance between light and dark, despair and beauty, that continually fascinates me about Japanese culture, and can even be found in its punk music.