Recently there’s been a major push to go after anyone not Japanese from wearing a Kimono. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts had to deal with protesters when they offered to let people visiting an exhibit to try on the traditional robe. Yet nobody wants to recognize that there are people on the other side of the Pacific who love American culture. Who knew that in the Post-World War II Japan Country Western and Bluegrass music not only found an audience, but Japanese musicians who wanted to play and live the life. The local kids bought up the records that G.I.s and Sailors brought onto their land. Many of the major players all those decades ago are still performing and influencing others. Far Western is a fantastic introduction to the music scene and lets us understand why the key figures have an affinity for the Americana sound. The movie made for a toe tapping evening at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC.
The first person we really get to know is Charlie Nagatani. He’s been a staple of the Far East country music scene since the late ’50s. He was playing for the U.S. troops in Vietnam. And even though he’s over 80 years old, he’s on the stage at his honky tonk bar in Kumamoto, Japan nearly every night. He also hosts Country Gold, a major outdoor festival that has brought in major stars for over 25 years. Charlie has rubbed elbows with the best including Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings. He’s also made a yearly visit to the Grand Ole Opry for decades. There’s nothing about Charlie that will give you a clue that he’s over 80 under his black cowboy hat. The movie follows him as he goes from Japan to Nashville. He takes the stage to sing a song that sums up his love for the music and his wife (who works at the bar with Charlie’s son).
Masuo Sasabe becomes another leading personality as he heard the call of Bluegrass as a young man. With his band Bluegrass 45, they flew to America to play at various festivals. During this time, he found himself jamming with Bill Monroe, the father of Bluegrass and releasing 4 albums. There’s great footage of them on their first American tour in the ’70s. They aren’t just a novelty act, but professional and tight as any band from Kentucky. He and his latest band Blueside of Lonesome hit America to play at festivals like Charlie. Both men want to share their joy of the music anywhere in the world.
Far Western has so many great performance that you’ll get the urge to clap during the film. Director James Payne, cinematographer David McMurry and producer/editor Matt Leach along with the rest of their crew have made a film that gets to the bottom of people enjoying cross cultural arts. Nobody needs to be telling Charlie that he shouldn’t wear a cowboy hat because that’s not Japanese. People get so tight now about cultural appropriation that they forget it’s an exchange. And when the cross-pollination spreads right, we all become enriched by the creation a world music. Far Western distills how Armed Forces Radio changed the lives and tastes of so many. The performances are captured with the excitement of the music. The film is about the history and the now of Country Western and Bluegrass in Japan.
For those of you curious, Charlie is scheduled to be on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in May.
Far Western – Official Trailer from THIS LAND PRESS on Vimeo.
Tags: Far Western, Full Frame Film Festival, Grand Ole Opry