'Mad Tiger': Film Review

Mad Tiger Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Film Movement

Mad Tiger Still - H 2016

This entertaining doc chronicles midlife crises of the hipster variety.

Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein's documentary chronicles the personal turmoil that ensues when a founding member of a colorful performance art/punk rock band suddenly decides to quit.

Most male midlife crises result in the abandonment of staid conventions in favor of a defiant stab at non-conformity. But the exact opposite is true of one of the central figures of Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein's documentary about the dissension caused within the performance art/rock band Peelander-Z when one of its founding members suddenly decides to quit. An evocative portrait of strained friendships and creative turmoil, Mad Tiger should find appreciative audiences upon its theatrical rollout in conjunction with the band's nationwide tour.

Founded in 1998, the NYC-based band, which describes itself as "a Japanese action comic punk band hailing from the Z area of Planet Peelander," became well known in hipster circles for its aggressive punk rock-style music and flamboyantly costumed personas (this documentary marks the first occasion when they have been filmed without their outrageous outfits). Its co-founders are singer/guitarist Kengo Hioki, who performs under the moniker Peelander-Yellow, and bassist Kotaro Tsukada, better known as Peelander-Red. Besides wearing garishly colored costumes, each sports hair and beards brightly dyed in the appropriate hue.

Mad Tiger, named for one of their songs, includes copious footage of their live shows, which include such colorful moments as when a band member dressed as a giant squid is used as a human bowling ball. Also included are excerpts from trippy music videos from their 2012 album Space Vacation. Interviewed just after one of the band's typically anarchic concerts, one audience member gleefully says, "I think I shat my pants."  

The central drama occurs when Red decides to quit the band after 15 years, with his bandmate Yellow feeling embittered and betrayed by the decision. The film documents the two men's last shows together and the growing strains of their friendship as Yellow contemplates continuing on professionally without his partner. He travels to his native Japan to reconnect with his family and reevaluate his life, while Red assumes a more staid existence running a Long Island City bar/music club. He doesn't, however, immediately forego his red clothes and hair, claiming that he won't be able to do so until he has "closure."

The film includes footage of Peelander-Red's final concert, as well as the first show featuring his replacement, Peelander-Purple. Band members come and go, it seems, but for Peelander-Z the show must go on.

Distributor: Film Movement
Directors-directors of photography: Jonathan Yi, Michael Haertlein
Producers: Josh Koury, Jonathan Yi, Michael Haerttlein
Editor: Hisayo Kushida
Composer: Daniel Salo

Not rated, 82 minutes