Here’s a review of Get Action!!, the Teengenerate documentary which must at all times be written with two exclamation marks to emphasize how exciting it is. The review is from Hard as a Rock.
Get Action!! – Film Review
Only active for about 3 years from 1993-95, Tokyo-based punk rock band Teengenerate made a worldwide splash and today has fans in countries all over the world. ‘Get Action’ is a new documentary about the band.
The film is the first release by director and rabid Teengenerate fan Junya Kondo, who was the manager of the now defunct Theater N Shibuya, a Tokyo institution that screened horror movies, cult films and rock and roll docs like ‘Lemmy: The Movie.’ Also working on the shooting and editing was Jun Kawaguchi of ’77 Boa Drum’ fame.
The film focuses on the original members of the band Fink, main songwriter, guitarist and vocalist who now fronts the Raydios; Fink’s older brother Fifi, guitarist and vocalist who now fronts Firestarter; bassist Sammy who now plays with Firestarter and the Winstons; original drummer Suck; and later drummer Shoe. The film includes live footage and commentary by people who knew the band.
Following in the tradition of rock and roll documentaries, the film keeps live footage minimal. This is possibly due to the fact that there isn’t much live footage from the era when the band was playing that’s of suitable quality. This is also probably why the bulk of the live footage in the film, aside from last year’s reunion show, is home video quality. But this lack of video quality shown on the big screen gives the video footage a raw feeling just like the band’s music.
Starting with friend and diehard fan Seiji from Guitar Wolf, who covered Teengenerate’s ‘Let’s Get Hurt’ on its first album, 1997’s ‘Planet of the Wolves,’ the film features a revolving door of around 40 old friends of the band who speak of its greatness, including band members and label owners.
It’s cool to see so many people talking about the band and the role they played in supporting it. But what’s even better are the little surprises, the people you don’t expect to see in the film. Director Kondo made some nice decisions here as far as who to include in the film. These appearances make it something that will appeal to viewers beyond just the band’s fans.
One of these appearances is Iwata from the Strummers, an unlikely ally who reveals his connection the band and whose appearance in the film is a treat for fans who may interpret punk differently than Teengenerate did. The appearance of Ken Stringfellow from the Posies is another pleasant surprise, but although the band is considered alternative rock, it shares with Teengenerate its roots in power pop. Good job also on the appearance of Norman Blake of Scottish guitar pop band Teenage Fanclub, which shared a great affinity with Teengenerate at the time when the word ‘teen’ was actually appropriate for the bands’ names. The film shows the real personality of Teengenerate, rather than the clichéd rowdy rock and roller image that’s all too prevalent in rock documentaries.
When each person is introduced, there’s a caption telling their name, but that’s it. If you’re not well acquainted with the garage punk scene, you may not know what role they play in it. But that doesn’t interfere with understanding or enjoyment of the movie. After all, it’s not a movie aimed only at hardcore Teengenerate fans.
However, the film hardly mentions any of the bands that were influential for Teengenerate, and doesn’t even that the band took its name from a song by the Dictators.
The film focuses instead on how the band went about putting out records and touring overseas at a time when Japanese bands were pretty much unknown outside of Japan. The film also spends a great deal of time discussing different perspectives on the band and the scene it virtually created.
Although the film talks about how the band came to sing in English, it doesn’t dig into what the lyrics mean to the members of the band. As for the band’s own point of view or the inner life of the band, the film is sprinkled with hints throughout.
Even though a rock and roll band, Teengenerate had none of the clichéd rock and roll attitude of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll.’ They came from the 80s garage punk school.
Not surprisingly, the commentary by members is the most interesting part of the film, especially when they talk about the days before Teengenerate. What’s even more interesting is where they go back to their hometown of Shizuoka. These scenes give you a glimpse of the true essence of Teengenerate and I found them much more interesting than any of the talk about tours, records and live shows.
These scenes include the brothers revisiting their old school, dropping in on the record store they once frequented, meeting the teacher who turned them on to a lot of good music, and a clip of what appears to be their parents. These scenes turn it into a story of two brothers, which makes the film appealing to more than just fans of the band.
I liken Teengenerate in the days they were active to the hardcore bands from early 80s Washington D.C. Like another band coincidentally with ‘teen’ in the name, Ian MacKay’s Teen Idols, and all the other young bands in the scene around Dischord Records, they had a different approach from typical rock and roll and created a new scene that didn’t exist then. Like the old D.C. punks, the Teengenerate boys still soldier on today, having moved on with different bands. Also like the old D.C. bands, their music gives off the explosive, brash and vibrant feeling of what it’s like to be young.
The overall laid-back mood of the film reminded me of “Kokorono,” the 2011 Bloodthirsty Butchers film that Jun Kawaguchi also lent a hand on creating. The title of Bloodthirsty Butchers last album, release last year, incidentally happens to be “Youth.”
At the time Teengenerate was playing, its members had just hit their twenties. You could almost call ‘Get Action!!’ a post-teen coming of age movie.