Bandage – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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One day, high school student Asako is invited by her friends to attend a concert by indie band Lands. She immediately becomes infatuated with both the band and its lead singer Natsu. By mere coincidence, she becomes the band’s co-manager, and she quickly discovers the hardships that exist within the music industry, despite developing a friendship with Natsu. When the band contemplates whether to leave artistic integrity behind for fortune and fame, will Asako’s loyalty to the band—and especially Natsu—be put to the test?

Every musical genre influxes with that of the times, each reaching heights of pure excellence and also of extreme lows. For Japan, the early 1990’s were such a period of dominance for rock music as small indie bands came to prominence to rule the charts and sway Japanese listeners. A period consisting of creative spirits, small-town acts, and personal identity, the era personified the rags-to-riches stories of how unknown musical groups could come to eventually rule the airwaves and music stores—even if it was short lived. With inevitability rearing itself, the industry soon moved on to other forms of musical talents to fill the void. First time director Takeshi Kobayashi’s Bandage chronicles the experience of one such group during this period as they make their way from local indie band to considerate stardom, with all the potential pitfalls along the way.

Written and produced by none other than auteur director Shunji Iwai, Bandage (a playful word representing the era in which the film takes place—the “Band Age”) is an exceptional look into the music industry from the perspective of an indie band titled Lands. Considering the atmosphere of the period at the time, the film is adherent to the emotional as well as professional side of being in a band as they rise towards stardom. With plenty of time dedicated towards showcasing the performance of their music, Bandage delves quite deeper to showcase both the political and creative forces that conflict with one another concerning the direction of a band and the many elements contributing towards their future development. With heavy focus on the managerial work that goes on behind the scenes, the film highlights the importance of not only the music itself, but the business element of it as well. This presents Bandage as more than just a film focusing on a singular band and their music—like so many films often do—but as a film willing to showcase the trails and tribulations that transpire between a group of dynamic musicians as they transition towards becoming famous. Initially starting out as group of friends, the film brings forth the struggles they face with stardom, love, and the relentless industry they reside in.

With the film showing both the personal and business side of being in a band, the film interjects a sense of wild bewilderment through the eyes of Asako, played by Kii Kitano. Given her great acting ability within Eriko Kitagawa’s Halfway (2009)—not surprisingly, another film produced by Iwai—Kitano seemingly represents the eyes of the audience throughout this turbulent period within Japanese pop culture history. With the industry moving ever so fast, the rise to stardom of a band can come quite quickly—and without much time for preparation, especially concerning emotional stability. Kitano is exceptionally well here as the outsider looking—but also participating—in an industry that can be as ruthless as it is rewarding. We can slowly begin to see her relationship with that of the band’s front man Natsu (played here by Jin Akanishi, real-life member of the J-pop group KAT-TUN) as a symbolic representation of the industry itself. The tumultuous relationship they share is quite reminiscent to the situational flow of being an indie band at the time—uncertain of the future and not quite sure where they fit in. Their relationship is played out quite well, and really lends a connection towards the audience as something authentic—mostly through their fascinating portrayals of individuals caught amidst a flurry of contradicting attitudes and feelings. Considering that this is Akanishi’s first acting role, he’s on par with Kitano in presenting believable characters expressing realistic outcomes.

Characterization aside, the progressive development of all the characters was a strong point within the film. Focused primarily on their relationships—and almost familial in a sense—the film didn’t stray away from showcasing how the tide of time can affect both their personal lives as well as their music. Besides some rather jarring leaps throughout its narrative structure—whether that’d be days, months, or even years—it always remained on promoting the emotional development of both the band and its contributing members. The film’s documentarial approach seems befitting for the material at hand and it provided a sense of intimacy during many of the scene throughout the film, mostly centered on the recording and production sessions that the characters participate within. This certainly raises the subject material far beyond a mere film just about a band, therein showing us the immense struggles that are undertaken to accommodate the shared relationship between artistry and marketability.

Overall, Bandage provides a very intriguing look into an era in Japanese music history where indie rock bands made their mark. Despite taking place during this period, the film also produces a great portrait into the strenuous reality of actually being in a rising band and its numerous facets—from the price of fame to the hardships of creating material, the film gives the viewer a great insight into all of it. At its core though, Bandage tells a story about the relationships one faces within this atmosphere and the way people change and evolve along the way. For a directorial debut, Takeshi Kobayashi gives an excellent first impression, and alongside a screenplay written by none other than Shunji Iwai, the film offers a realistic portrait into the music business and all that encompasses it. With an engaging cast at the helm, great direction, and fascinating subject material, Bandage is perhaps one the best films to come along dealing with the Japanese music industry for quite some time.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Ginger

    I’ve watched Bandage raw and with subs, loved it, and cried over it. I got really emo
    during the scenes of Natsu, how natural and seamless was his characterization
    by big screen newbie Jin Akanishi.

  • Miguel Douglas

    Thanks for the comments Ginger. Jin Akanishi was great and I hope to see more of him in future films!