Melbourne Documentary Film Festival: We talk Mad Tiger with director Jon Yi

Japanese punk doco Mad Tiger is showing at this year’s Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. We reviewed the film earlier and the week and caught up since to talk about the film with one of the directors behind it.

How did you first discover Peelander-Z?

My friend Kenji Hayasaki introduced me to Peelander-Z in 2008, right when Blue had exited the band and Green had stepped in as the new drummer. Their live show blew me away and I became a big fan.

Following that, how did you approach them about the project? What was their initial reaction?

I began directing music videos for Peelander-Z in 2009 (“So Many Mike”) and always loved filming their shows. When the band posted a really weird video announcement about Red’s final tour, I called my friend Michael Haertlein and asked him if he would join me in making a short documentary about Red’s final days in the band. The initial idea was that it would be a short film about walking away from your dreams of rock stardom. I asked Red about filming him and he told me to ask Yellow, since he was the band leader. Yellow blessed the project since we had already successfully worked together in the past, but it took some time for him to realize that our intent was to make a real documentary about their real human lives. We also didn’t realize at that time that this idea for a short film would end up evolving into a much different feature length project.

How long did the whole documentary take to come together?

We officially began the project in 2012 and finished shooting in 2014. There was an intense stretch of 7 months where we filmed non-stop. Editing took another year after that.

Just as the relationship between Red and Yellow is the heart of the band, it very much feels like the heart of the this film. What was the most important aspect of that you wanted to explore with Mad Tiger?

The documentary evolved into a relationship story thanks to the input of our amazing editor, Hisayo Kushida. We initially began filming with Red as the central character of the film, but Hisayo urged us to also pursue Yellow’s story. The story became much more compelling and universal once it became a story about friendship and the pursuit of happiness. The most important aspect I wanted to explore was the complicated nature of these intense creative partnerships. It was a story I always wanted to tell, having been in bands myself and having damaged so many friendships with my past bandmates. I think any person who has ever been in a band can understand what I mean, but so can anyone who has ever built anything with anyone.

 Kengo seems like a tricky personality to read, let alone work with, what was working with him like?

Kengo (Yellow) is an artist through and through. He is a visionary with very strong opinions. His personality is what allows him to thrive in art and music. I think it’s always hard for people like that to yield to another creative person, but Yellow was able to trust us with telling his story even if it was difficult at times. I think he understands that it’s important for us to have our own vision, even if it might be different from his own. We occasionally fought with Yellow while we were filming (and you can see that in the film), but there were no surprises since we were up front with him throughout the process.

There’s that one particularly intense moment where Kengo confronts Kotaro in the corridor. What was it like filming that, was there a temptation to step in?

That scene was unexpected. We didn’t expect Yellow to explode like that and Yellow didn’t expect to either. They were having an intense conversation after Yellow had endured an incredibly difficult, life-changing event. At the time, we couldn’t hear the audio over the loud music in the bar, but the conversation did not seem like one where it would be right for us to step in.

You end things on a lighter note with the two managing to somewhat reconcile, were there any other moments you considered closing the film with?

There was an edit where we ended the film with Yellow going back to Japan and going back to painting again, but when Yellow and Red reconciled it was clear that it was the true end of this story.

Was there anything major or memorable that ended up on the cutting room floor? Any particularly crazy stage theatrics too convoluted to include?

There were so many scenes that we loved that didn’t make it into the final film. We went to Tokyo to film Peelander-Blue’s story. It’s a great story, but it didn’t have a place in the film. We also left out the majority of Green’s story, which also had many layers to it and is super compelling on its own. There’s also a lot of great stuff with Rand Borden, who is the only non-Peelander member in the film. Luckily, all of this is included in the deluxe dual-disc DVD from Film Movement, which will be released on July 12. It even includes the full concert movie of Red’s last show. It was the best Peelander-Z show ever.

Mad Tiger is showing at this year’s Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.