“When you create something, it doesn’t matter if it’s art or music…there is always suffering attached to the creative process.” — Peelander Purple (Akiteru Ito)
Directed by Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein
Peelander-Z is a Japanese-born punk band, via New York City, sort of a cross between Gwar and Japanese science fiction. In their own words, they are a “Japanese Action Comic Punk band hailing from the Z area of Planet Peelander”. They have been releasing music to a cult following since 1999. Their hits include “Mad Tiger” and “Ninja High School”. Music is only 10% of what they do, with elaborate stage shows, stories, monsters and characters to go with it. Like many Japanese super-teams, they are all completely colour coordinated. Their founding leader is Kengo Hioki, or Peelander Yellow. His partly-shaved head is always dyed yellow, and his costumes match. According to his wife Peelander Pink (keyboards), Kengo first had to learn how to play guitar standing up in order to form a real punk band.
Their music is meant to be fun, to bring happiness. The music itself is not serious, but Yellow takes his band very seriously. When original drummer Peelander Blue left the band in 2008, he was replaced by Peelander Green who helped bring the music to a more professional level. Bassist Peelander Red (Kotaro Tsukada) was the lynchpin, being the member who was the most physical on stage and able to do the stunts that Yellow could not. A new stunt involved him riding a unicycle in a squid suit and crashing into the stage. He’d often be the member who was climbing on top of things, and hanging from the ceiling by his legs. Other gags include human bowling a-la Jackass, and chair fights like WWE wrestling. Red’s physicality was essential to this.
The atmosphere around Peelander-Z is bubbly and celebratory, but inside, there is tension. Red has decided to leave the band and open a bar in New York. A final show for Red is a big deal, an emotional event for the members — each one changed colours to red for this special show. For Yellow, it means not only losing a close friend, but having to create a new character for a new member to play. Another friend, Akiteru “Eatman” Ito, is flown in from Japan to play bass. His musical style is different from Red’s, and different from what Yellow is used to. He becomes Peelander Purple, a rhino-headed bass behemoth, and they prepare for their first show together.
While this movie is ostensibly about a unique punk band with a 15 year history, it is more so a look at Kengo Hioki, a born entertainer who was facing a crossroads in his life with the departure of Red. We get to visit his family in Japan, his devoutly Christian father and his siblings. We get a sense of what friendship and commitment means to Kengo, especially in regards to the tensions between his partners in Peelander Z. Watching the band seemingly fall apart while he was working hard to build it back up is poignant. Filmmakers Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein chose to leave in raw, emotional footage that Kengo wanted to sum up in animated form.
The songs are silly and fun, but the passion is genuine. Check out Mad Tiger.