Flashback Memories 3D: Tokyo Review

A terrific music documentary with a difference.

Tetsuaki Matsue’s restlessly inventive film takes us deep inside the fractured memories of Japanese didgeridoo player Goma.

TOKYO – Just when you thought it had all been done, Japanese filmmaker Tetsuaki Matsue manages to upend the documentary format with Flashback Memories 3D, a truly novel cinematic experience that is part biopic, part concert movie, part vicarious trippy rave happening.  A groovy and stirring fusion of stomping electronica-driven world music and personal insights, it introduces Japanese didgeridoo player Goma, whose memory functions were severely damaged in a 2009 road accident, through prismatic 3D recreations of his fractured brain images.

The slow-build trance effect created by the drone of its subject’s virtually ceaseless didgeridoo won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the Space Shower TV production gives more insight into how it feels to be Goma than a hundred talking heads could manage.

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Following on from his equally unorthodox music documentaries Live Tape, awarded Best Picture in the 2009 Tokyo International Film Festival’s Japanese Eyes section, and last year’s hit Tokyo Drifter, Matsue’s latest does his country proud as the sole Japanese entry in this year’s main competition.

Design here has clearly been inspired by the circular breathing technique used to keep a continuous flow of air moving through the ancient Australian aboriginal instrument. The steady, unbroken sound of Goma’s didgeridoo, backed by his excellent three-piece percussion-and-drums ensemble, the Jungle Rhythm Section, underscores the entire film.

Dressed in white, hands fluttering and twisting as he breathes into the stand-mounted wooden instrument, the charismatic musician, whose live shows are a sensation in Japan’s dance clubs and festivals such as Fuji Rock, takes centre stage throughout the live studio performance, filmed at Tokyo music venue Shibuya WWW.

Behind him, on an enormous screen, his life plays out. Matsue mixes old performance footage with home videos, snatches of sketched animations, still photos and superimposed diary entries by Goma and his wife, Sumie. Occasionally, a colorful swirl of Aboriginal dot paintings consumes the background.

It’s a restlessly inventive arrangement, enhanced by the layering of the 3D format and Tomonori Watanabe’s crisp cinematography.

Exposition via a tapestry of footage dating back to the 1990s takes up the first 30 minutes or so. We see Goma busking with his didgeridoo on the streets of Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, and hanging with the Outback aborigines. Moving quickly through his return to Japan, marriage, CD releases, the birth of his daughter and many performances, we come to November 26, 2009.

Goma was traveling alone in his car on the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway when he was involved in a collision. He recounts a near-death experience – via superimposed titles as fluffy white clouds bump against each other behind him – and the doctors diagnosed higher brain dysfunction. Partial memory loss and difficulty maintaining new memories – he cannot remember the filming of this documentary – led Goma to question at times the wisdom of living.

He and wife Sumie are candid and ultimately hopeful about his life post-accident, while the ever-present, harmonically dense music of the didgeridoo – considered by proponents to have mystical properties – provides an aural conduit to Goma’s strong spirituality.

Cast: Goma, Kosuke Tsuji, Kenta Tajika, Kyoichi Shiino

Production company: Space Shower TV

Director: Tetsuaki Matsue

Producer: Junji Takane

Director of photography: Tomonori Watanabe

Editor: Daisuke Imai

Sales: Spotted Productions, Tokyo

No rating, 72 minutes