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08.10.2000

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flick pick | Half Japanese, The Band That Would Be King 1993
Directed + written by: Jeff Feuerzeig
Starring: David Fair, Jad Fair, Penn Jillette, Maureen Tucker, Gerald Cosley
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: documentary 
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:
true?!?, whimsical
The verdict: ½ / 5 the rating system explained

Plot synopsis Told through a combination of interviews with the band, their family and friends, and various music industry personalities, and interspersed with performance footage, this lovingly detailed documentary pleads the case for Half Japanese as the best unsung rock band ever, so defiantly indie that they don’t even care that you’ve probably never heard of them. Eccentric brothers Jad and David Fair began Half Japanese as teenagers, recording songs from their Maryland bedroom, self-releasing limited edition records and cassettes, and all along, basing their music on just one tenet: Forget about learning chords; just play music. Learning to play guitar, in the Fair world, was as simple as realizing that the fat strings play low notes, the skinny string high notes, and to play faster, you move your hand faster. What’s amazing is that despite their devotion to NOT properly playing any instrument, the Fairs – and in particular Jad, who continues to make music today – managed to become such indie world legends, inspiring countless later lo-fi bedroom-punk bands and the fanatical devotion of music critics everywhere.

Review Every five minutes as we watched this movie, my boyfriend would murmur, "This can’t be real," over and over again, a mantra of incredulity. (He refused to believe my assertions that Half Japanese really exists, until I showed him their entry in the Trouser Press Record Guide). Indeed, there’s a lot about this documentary that brings to mind that classic rock mock-umentary, This is Spinal Tap – skinny, bug-eyed, bespectacled Jad Fair is every bit as (unintentionally) hilarious a rocker as Christopher Guest’s Nigel Tufnel, and there’s a deadpan earnestness that’s so unabashed that the cynics among us can’t help but think: this must be satire. Ultimately, you may not end up convinced that Half Japanese really is the Band that Would Be King – the music is frequently un-approachably a-melodic, and Jad’s vocal stylings decidedly on the grating side of the listenable scale – but what you will get from this well-crafted, well-informed documentary is a good look at what independent music meant, back in the days before independent became mainstream. Hunt down this hard-to-find video or DVD when you’re feeling utterly jaded about the money-grubbing world around you, and get reassurance that there are still a few token souls out there doing what they do not for some end result of fame or money, but for the pure and noble joy of the process. reviewed by Y. Sun 

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