In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Japan experienced a ‘band boom’ where musical artists began forming in mass hoping to make music, have fun, and of course reach stardom. The movie Bandage, set in this time period, chronicles the tumultuous early life of the fictional band LANDS. The film features Akanishi Jin of KAT-TUN fame as Natsu, Kii Katono as Asuka, Anne as Miharu, and many other talented actors. The film’s director is Takeshi Kobayashi who is best known as being a prominent music producer, both for the film, and such talented and popular acts as Mr. Children.
Bandage begins in the early 1990’s with two high school girls named Miharu and Asako discussing music when Miharu, who is quitting high school to work, gives Asako a CD from a new band called “LANDS”. A short time passes and Asako, now a LANDS fan, accepts an invitation from Miharu to see the band perform a live show. When the concert finishes the girls borrow passes from some exiting VIPs and sneak back to try and meet the band. Asako accidentally loses her contact and is helped by two of the band mates including Natsu Takasagi the lead singer of LANDS. At Natsu’s behest the girls join the band for dinner where Natsu, seemingly taken with Asako, invites her secretely, and privately to meet up with him at midnight. Natsu and Asako then begin a relationship that will help define them and LANDS for years to come.
If the manga Beck, also about an up and coming indie band, didn’t already have a film in the works Bandage could pass for that adaptation. Of course, seeing as that is not what Bandage is (or what it’s trying to be), then all I can say is as a Beck fan I’m glad to see a film about a rock band equally as moving as Beck. For those who do not know of or haven’t seen Beck what made that manga/anime so special to me was a) the honest treatment of daily life, b) the realistic characters, c) the powerful emotions, d) the insight into the Japanese music scene, and e) in the anime the music. My appreciation of Bandage is for all the same reasons.
What sets this film apart from Beck though is that in Bandage the primary story doesn’t revolve around the band itself. Instead Natsu and Asako are the keys to the story progression, while the band and the music serve as a backdrop and oftentimes a metaphor for the film. I do believe the band often serves as a catalyst for action in the film, but I never felt much attachment to the members because of their lack of screen time. On the other hand the frequency and intimate nature of Natsu and Asako’s scenes really connected me to both of them. This made the moments of conflict between them all the more difficult to watch, and the connections all the sweeter. I felt that Takeshi had successfully taken me on an emotional roller coaster ride, and even with the thrills and chills I loved every moment.
While the characters themselves were wonderful, I must take time to give note to those actors who brought them to life. In particular the three I mentioned earlier Akanishi Jin, Kii Katono, and Anne all delivered wonderful performances. Anne and Akanishi I had seen before in J-Dramas, Samurai High School and Yukan Club respectively, and while I loved their acting in the dramas I didn’t know how they’d carry over to such a film since those dramas were comedies. Kii Katono I had never seen act before at all, so I certainly had no expectations either way. Akanishi completely exceeded my high expectations though by delivering a wonderful portrayal of the seemingly careless Natsu. Kii I immediately fell in love with as an actress, as she, playing Asako, truly brought to life the emotions surrounding this character. Anne, who actually had the least screen time of any of the three characters, did wonderful as well, and brought much needed spunk to the character Miharu, Asako’s music loving friend. Of course being a movie about music many of these actors/actresses played double duty by singing as well, and Akanishi in particular truly showed me that he is not solely tied down by boy band music and that instead he can really bring emotion and character to the wonderful songs Takeshi created for the film.
Takeshi certainly, aside from impressing me as a director, showed his talents as a music craftsman. Not only was his ability to pull out the actor’s musical talents clear on screen, but more importantly the songs themselves that he created and produced were quite stunning. Even the songs that seem weak on their own became much more spectacular when featured in the hard hitting scenes of the film. In an attempt to give the fictional band LANDS some range with their music I think Takeshi stepped out of his comfort zone to bring the music even more life. In particular, the ska version of “Genki” and Y’s edition of “12yr Old War”, both featured heavily in the film, seem to be quite different from Takeshi’s repertoire, and yet without those tracks I think Bandage would’ve been an entirely different film.
I know I’ve talked Bandage up significantly, and indeed after watching it only once I can say I love this film. However, I do have one personal criticism, which is that Bandage leaves the audience with an open ending. I know that for many ‘indie films’ open endings are quite popular, because life does go on after the film (usually) and the future is waiting to be written. For me though I prefer for the director to deliver a more succinct story with closure. That being said many may not share that opinion, and I understand it’s probably just personally preference.
In my opinion Bandage is a wonderful movie with amazing characters and lovely music. I enjoyed every minute of the ride and all the bumps and dips that came with it. I especially loved being able to connect to such ‘real’ characters as Natsu and Asako even if only for a little while. If you like films about bands, about Japanese music, about off-kilter love, young love, or coming of age tales then you should certainly check out Bandage. Likewise if you like more ‘indie’ sounding J-Rock/Pop then you should also check out the film’s soundtrack.
Score: 4.5 out of 5