Director defies conventions in documentary about music

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

“We Don’t Care About Music Anyway” is a documentary studying experimental musicians in and around Tokyo. Its structure is experimental in itself.

The film shows plenty of musical activity. However, it does not bother to identify any musicians with on-screen credits. Unless you read about the film before watching it, you will not know who is performing or where they’re performing.

The two directors, Cédric Dupire and Gaspard Kuentz, wants the viewers to concentrate on what’s in front of their ears and eyes. Labels mean much less.

However, audio and visual impressions can sometimes deceive or have more than one interpretation.

An early shot in the film shows what seem to be delicate paper sculptures waving in a breeze. As the camera pulls back, we see that these are actually fluttering pieces of waste paper, in the middle of a city dump.

Near the dump, or so it seems, a slumbering man stirs, moans, and pulls himself up from a rough cot. No credits identify him, but this is musician Hiromichi Sakamoto.

He apparently lives in this abandoned building. His main instrument is a cello, which he carries with him everywhere.

He taps his bow against the hallway walls, against the wood and glass paneling. Different sounds emerge from each tap.

Sakamoto derives music from anything he does. He can play cello in the conventional manner perfectly well. But he sometimes prefers to drag the cello over concrete. Sympathetic vibrations through the instrument’s metal spike, or endpin, vibrate the strings.

The cellist also spins vinyl LP records while dropping objects onto them. In the movie’s most challenging musical moment, he holds what appears to be a magnet over an electric guitar. This produces what sounds like an old-fashioned television test tone signal.

After his guitar solo, we see Sakamoto in a dark room at a table with other musicians in the film.

The darkness, punctuated only by one overhead light, and the atmosphere of secrecy suggest a gathering for some secret purpose. However, the more the viewer watches and listens, the more the meeting seems like a gathering of old friends. Once again, the exact meaning of what’s going on is unexplained.

“Conformity is defined by a social consensus,” proclaims musician Fuyuki Yamakawa. “Especially in Japan.”

The musicians seem loosely united in their desire to rebel against the Japanese social consensus. But they go about it in many different ways.

Some play conventional instruments in unconventional ways, as Sakamoto does with his cello. Some devise their own instruments from electronics. Some devise dance routines and visual aids to compliment the music.

The performances alternate with montages of Tokyo life. Crowds push along sidewalks. Huge neon signs and video screens flash. A crowd of gamblers watches a race of one-person watercrafts, similar to a horse or dog race.

The noises from it all bleed over, finally, into the music.

Some of the players wonder whether the Tokyo they knew growing up will survive 21st century modifications to the city. For all its forward-looking artistry, the artists and their work suggest a fading era. A wistful sadness underlies their pageantry. It is one more impression with more than one meaning, from this singular film. ♦

“We Don’t Care About Music Anyway” plays on Feb. 7 and Feb. 8, at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Avenue, Seattle. For show times, prices, and directions, call 206-829-7863 or visit nwfilmforum.org/live/page/calendar/1609.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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