Here’s an article about Junya Kondo, reluctant filmmaker and illustrious director of “Get Action!!”
March 13, 2014
In December 2012, iconic Tokyo mini-theater Shibuya Theater-N, known for showing punk rock docs and cult horror movies, closed its doors. In the spirit of DIY punk rock, Junya Kondo set his mind to making the film that had been simmering in his brain for years – Teengenerate documentary Get Action.
Led by the Sugiyama brothers Fink and Fifi, the band shook up the underground rock and roll world for just three short but intense years in the 1990s. Not long after forming, they headed to the United States and began touring the world, playing more than 80 dates a year. But in Japan, they never got their share of the spotlight.
Director Kondo, who specialized in showing rock and roll movies at Theater-N, says, “Every band has a story. Teengenerate had a huge influence on me so I thought if I had the chance, I wanted to tell their story.” While a chance presented itself in the late 00s, it didn’t come together because he felt the story wasn’t over. However, with the closing of the theater and the help of Jun Kawaguchi, who worked on the documentary Kocorono and various music videos, things finally came together. Kondo says, “I wanted to shine a light on something the world missed,” and the project was born.
In the film, band members and over forty others who loved the band including sworn ally Seiji from Guitar Wolf tell the band’s story. In the tradition of films like American Hardcore, it sticks to the orthodox American documentary approach. Kondo says, “Rather than trying to puff up the band and how amazing they were, I just put together the interviews and let them speak for themselves.”
Kondo, ever worshipful of Teengenerate, reminisces, “The Sugiyama brothers were just big record collectors, but their whole approach was that they wanted to play simple, straight rock and roll, so they did it. The story is not so much about their record collector mania, but that they started this band just because they wanted to.” The excitement of doing something brash and original, totally because you want to, has an enduring appeal even after so many years.
“Listening to Teengenerate now, it’s timeless. I think they were truly original. There wasn’t another band like that at the time. Just like the Sex Pistols, the Clash or the Damned, Teengenerate was inimitable. They were part of the garage movement that happened after the bubble burst and the mainstream punk rock boom was over and they were unlike anything else you’d ever heard before. They weren’t imitating anybody in particular, but it was like all the bands they’d listened to got blended together in their brains and produced this new sound. There was nobody else like that.”
Beyond rock flicks, Theater N introduced all kinds of films that ran the gamut from cult horror movies like Hostel, Hills Have Eyes and Martyrs to totally unique films like Bellflower. The theater had something in common with Teengenerate – It didn’t give a rat’s ass what everybody else around it was doing.
“There was a mini-theater boom and then after that, there were the cinema complexes which made it hard for mini-theaters to survive. So they had to present something different. I loved horror films and cult films, so that’s what I started showing. I guess in that way, I was influenced by Teengenerate and their punk rock approach.”
“When I was in school and I first heard Teengenerate, I didn’t know any Japanese bands. The rock magazines covered nothing but Brit-pop. If I’d only read the magazines and never gone to shows or record stores, I never would’ve heard of Teengenerate. What they taught me is you can’t be passive and wait for stuff to come to you. I think Theater-N Shibuya was really similar. We showed nothing but films you wouldn’t see on TV and if you came to Theater-N, there were flyers and previews. There were a lot of diehard fans who came over and over again. If you don’t take some risks, you never know what people are into. You can get away with that in film and that’s why it’s fun.”
About his first production, Kondo says, “Let it open and let the audience decide. When I was running the theater, I made it a point to value every film I showed. So, I want my film to be shown in theaters that value the films they show too, not just because it’s my film.” Just because of his deep love of film, he says, “You know, if a big blockbuster runs in the theater for a year, everybody’s happy, right? I wish they’d value smaller films enough to show them more than just one or two weeks.”
What about Kondo’s next film? The question gets a laugh. “This one’s the first and last. I’m not doing another one,” he says. “For now, I just want people to see this film.” He adds jokingly, “Or maybe I’ll do a splatter film. Maybe something like a remake of Dead Snow or a Japanese version of Bellflower set in Higashi-Nakano.”
“The appeal of film is that you can’t do it by yourself. I really learned that everything from making the film to showing it, you need the help of a lot of people or it can’t be done. I learned from filmmaking that a person can’t live all by themselves. Film is a funny thing.”