The western Hemisphere knows Beck as Beck Hansen, the indie musician, but there was also a manga series named Beck that sold over 15.000.000 copies only in Japan.
The most fascinating fact about the success of this manga is, that it revolves around something, that is a 100% impossible to produce in a manga: music
But still being published from 1999 to 2008 in the Japanese Gekkan Manga Magazine, it took the reader on a 9-year ride of fandom and appreciation of the world of rock music and created its own sound by the mention of many famous bands through-out music history.
The writer and artist, Harold Sakuishi*, himself admitted to be a big fan of western rock bands and the western, more liberal approach to music.
(Apparently his first contact with rock music was a friend being at one of the first RHCP concerts in Japan, calling him and letting him eavesdrop on the whole concert via cellphone.
Damn…how old school-ish cool is that?! And considering Japanese cellphone fees it might have cost him about as much as the concert ticket. )
Many manga do in a rather direct or indirect manner uttered criticism about the Japanese society, in this case Harold Sakuishi:
the mainstream direction of the Japanese music industry.
As many Japanese idols are actors/actresses and models, aside from being a singer, rather flat pop music tunes are produced by their agency and in some cases even released on a monthly basis.
On top of that wearing some glittering, over the top costumes seems to be more important than actually singing live and leaves really little space to let the „idol“ himself/herself make an artistic statement.
And even though group effort is more appreciated in a pluralistic society like Japan it makes music feel like the perfect marketing product and not the carrier of real and raw emotion.
Synopsis:Tanaka Yukio, nicknamed „Koyuki“ is the cliché of a main character in a manga:
14 years old, a shy introverted teenager who gets bullied at school.
After meeting Ryuusuke and his slightly weird-looking and seemingly dangerous dog Beck (tadahhh…there goes the band name) he sees Ryuusuke play guitar and is fascinated by the raw edge of the music. And later on maybe even more by Ryuusuke cute baby sister Maho. Ryuusuke and Maho were raised abroad and therefore break many of the typical behavioral patterns of the Japanese society and simply suck at Japanese characters (Kanji).
He gets a guitar from Ryuusuke for saving Beck, which unfortunately gets brutally smashed by some bullys at school.
But even under these circumstances his motivation to learn an instrument is ignited.
(Before meeting Ryuusuke he listens to typical Japanese pop music, sung by idols and created by their agencies)
As Ryuusuke is having an ongoing pissing contest with his band’s singer about who is the leader, it comes to a break-up and the road to creating „best band in the world“ is set.
This promise which Ryuusuke made to his best friend Eddy in America is shown repetitively through-out the movie.
Eddy, not lead guitarist and of an internationally successful indie band called „The Dying Breed“ used to play in a band with Ryuusuke back then and both of them share a dirty, dirty secret (uuuhuuuuu…).
After an interesting tricks to gather the other band members, Taira (bass), Chiba (rap/vocals) and Saku (drums), Beck is complete.
Still with his meagerguitar skills Koyuki is definitely the weakest link.
That soon changes after Maho, being a pretty good singer herself, discovers Koyukis real talent: his voice.
The band coins its uniqueness with Chiba’s rapping and Koyuki’s vocals and the load and stony road to getting famous has begun.
Almost all band members are inspired by real musicians, Chiba is inspired by Rage against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, Ryuusuke’s way of holding a guitar is an allusion to Tom Morello and Taira with his bleached blong hair and being a basist is hinting at Flea of RHCP)
The name „Mongolian Chop Squad“ is chosen for an album release and tour in America, as Beck is already taken by Jeff Beck.
Even if this become a real momentum for the chemistry of Beck, it is not included in neither the anime nor movie, because it is simply to extensive.
Being a big fan of the 2003/4 anime series created by the animatin studio Madhouse, I was estatic at the notion of a movie with real life actors.
Even though the story and music of the anime were great, the animation was definitely the weakest, but overall a good compromise for an anime which is about music after all.
A lot of Japanese indie bands contributed their songs to give this anime its great sound and unique charme (if you can see past badly pronounced English lyrics).
One more great thing adding to my excitement: Yukihiko Tsutsumi as the directror.
He has proven his formidable skills and good taste in music by directing the „20th Century Boys“ triology.
(one of his best movies IMHO is „2LDK“ using few words and strong pictures to paint the image of a silent battle between 2 actresses of the same agency, living in the same flat, being as different as can be)
You haven’t heard of Beck the movie?
Might be. Even though the movie was nicely staffed with Yukihiko Tsutsumi and promising actors (if they all lifed up to the characters they were supposed to portrait is up everyone’s personal view), it failed one major part: the music
There have been numerous movies about the fascination of all sorts of music, bands, etc.
Even movies not mainly focused on music (e.g. 500 days of summer, Scott Pilgrim, Kick-ass) have stood out with well assembled soundtracks or catchy original songs, this one has unfortunately failed its major purpose: the music.
The trailer misleadingly suggest a good deal of music featuring parts of the „only“ Beck song with lyrics „Evolution“ as well as songs from established international bands like RHCP („Around the World“) and Oasis („Don’t look back in Anger“). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdJ0OKhpIKM
As the manga also heavily refers to these bands in awe of their achievements in music history, this is only a reasonable move directing the viewer to the core topic.
The original Beck song „Evolution“ was quite catchy at first listen. With a look to the lyrics, my admiration only rose and after heaving heard from an interview with the Chiba actor Kiritani Kenta, that he composed the lyrics himself in preparation for the role, my state of mind was utter glee.
Another great thing is the slow development of the song through-out the movie, in the beginning, it’s only a jam of guitar and bass, the lyrics slowly evolving and the quality and fluency as well through the course of several live shows.
HOWEVER after hitting Youtube for giving the song another listen and scrolling through the comment section, the suggestion that the whole song or at least the bass line is nothing but a rip-off of Rage Against the Machine’s „Gorilla Radio“ struck me hard.
They were right……
The creators of the movie decided that a blur of music and images might be the only thing properly representing the impact of hearing Koyuki’s extraordinary voice.
(lyrics were presented in form of subtitles)
The petty explanation was, that the actor was not a singer and overall the voice described as to epic as to give it physical form… eehmm….yeah…sure.
A review in the Japan Times commented along the line of: going to this movie to see music is essential, like going to the opera to see the „fat lady“ sing. But what’s the point going there if she doesn’t?
And damn that’s right!
In terms of reality, we all know that kind of voice does not exist. But let’s take an extraordinary voice, that managed to remain hidden and was developed only with the scarce training of um…. maybe karaoke. As unrealistic as it is, that no one realised what a brilliant singer Koyuki is, there is a what so ever slight possibility.
But still then no untrained voice could be that much of an epiphany and hence there is no reasonable excuse to give him no singing voice at all.
Damn…they could have dubbed him with someone, or overly optimized his vocal performance in post production, but nothing at all feels like a ripp-off to me.
It seriously made me wonder if the sound track of my online DVD rip was just off or there was possibly a new method of censorship for a version that was (intentionally?) leaked online.
Even though I was already heavily frustrated at the non-acoustics of the first song, sung by Koyuki and Maho at the fishing pond (called „Full moon sways“ in the anime), I felt a weak hope, that in order to multiply the viewers anticipation for Koyuki’s legendary voice, they decided to not let us hear the vocals in the first song(s).
And as hope dies last, stupid me watched the whole movie in the anticipation: „Oh…next song, we will be able to hear the voice!“
Simply did not happen.
Interesting are the approaches of fans, who must have felt similarly frustrated to give it a worthy ending:
As a fan with high expectations, it’s hard to make an objective statement about this.
First of all, they did make a good compromise which parts of the manga to emphasize in the movie, the camera work was not only fitting, but marvelous and in a typical and beautiful Japanese manner a lot of emphasize was put on various little details (e.g. choosing the same clothes as the characters as in the manga).
But they should have made a bolder move on the most important point: the music.
I’m sure lots of Japanese indie bands would’ve loved to contribute to this.
Anything to add?
I know there are a lot of disapproving reviews out there and this might just be another one of them, but I tried to set it in a broader context along with the review.
Otherwise I’m curious for your opinion.
*in case you were wondering if he might have non-Japanese parents, Harold is a self chosen first name, because having a pseudonym as a manga artist is not uncommon in Japan
Japan Times review:
Transfered from readthatshit.wordpress.com on February, 10th (originally published September 11th, 2013)