J-Cin is a new, semi-regular weekend feature for This Japanese Life discussing Japanese Cinema. This is the first installment.
Title: Linda Linda Linda (リンダリンダリンダ)
Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
TLDR: Linda Linda Linda is an understated indie comedy about high school girls planning to play three indie-punk songs in the school culture festival.
Indie Rock in Japan
Back in 2009, The Guardian wrote a series of articles searching for credible underground music in Japan:
“In Japan, “punk” is not an attitude or a spirit, it is just a fashion. So Japanese people will think that the Sex Pistols and Avril Lavigne are the same thing, because they are associated with a trend.”
Of course, that’s not really distinctively Japanese. And while the article seems to falsely assign an almost genetic resilience to punk to the Japanese, it does paint an interesting depiction of life for Japanese bands.
The reason you may not see many Japanese indie or punk bands is because it’s really difficult and expensive for these bands to book shows at venues. In punk record shops in my city, you won’t see indie-label Japanese artists, but you’ll be awash in import CDs (A handful of shops carry small-label bands in Tokyo, and hip-hop is everywhere, with DJ mixes sold by hustlers on street corners).
Japanese art is driven by the ideal of mastery, which can be an enemy to self-expression. In a lazy bit of shorthand, I think of garage bands as kids who refuse to speak English in class. There’s a lot of pressure not just to communicate, but to say the thing perfectly. This is the antithesis of communication – and of the garage band.
Putting out a CD of sloppy music – even in a genre designed to be sloppy – is an enormous financial risk. So many bands have to leave the country and make it big elsewhere before coming home to labels, venues and shops that will peddle their wares.
Most kids in high school – and most people after college – don’t have time to put into an ambitious music project. But go to any culture festival like the one in Linda Linda Linda and you’ll be blown away by the number of musicians hiding out in Japanese high schools.
In Linda Linda Linda, the punk still isn’t political. But the lyrics frame an unspoken adolescent angst lingering in the background of this film in a very Japanese way, and the music takes on an edge of social defiance.
The “punk” in Linda Linda Linda isn’t the Sex Pistols or Fugazi. It’s more like the twee-punk scene of the 1980’s (after all, there are two Beat Happening posters in the girls’ practice room).
Twee-Punk – at least for me – was based on owning the awkward feelings of adolescence and proudly declaring that you were a goofy, awkward kid with dumb crushes. And it came wrapped in a lo-fi aesthetic that left jaded listeners wondering if the bands could play their instruments. But for the kids who couldn’t play their instruments, it told us to go ahead and try anyway.
The core of Linda Linda Linda is about being too awkward to say anything. The characters rarely communicate directly: Son, the singer, is a Korean exchange student with clumsy Japanese. The teacher running the culture festival constantly asks people to convey messages on his behalf.
No one says what they want to say easily. This is a distinctly Japanese aspect of this film that could strike American audiences as slow or awkward, but it’s a fundamental frustration of Japanese culture.
The message of Linda Linda Linda, like the message of twee-punk, is “just say something.” Son says in the film – in Japanese, after her Korean isn’t understood – “You have to tell him how you feel,” and the girls look at her like she’s crazy. If there’s a reason the climax is so satisfying, it’s because there’s finally something being said.
- The blog Just Another Day In Japan’s “J-Music and Me” series has some good videos for indie-minded, non-J-pop bands. Meanwhile Koenji Calling had a 2009 post on the most influential J-Punk bands.
- I made a pretty popular Shibuya-Kei mix a while ago over at 8tracks. (Not the music I talked about in this post, FYI).