Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the innovative music band, Half Japanese is a mock documentary a la This Is Spinal Tap that just “happens” to be about a real band. Mildly entertaining, though not zany or original enough as one might expect, docu is likely to be aired on public TV, cable, and perhaps even get limited theatrical release on university campuses and big cities, where the band is popular.

Composed of musical footage and interviews with the duo's parents, musicians, and associates, docu reconstructs the history of Half Japanese as the first punk rock band. The siblings' mother proudly relates how exciting it was “that our house of 200 years has been called the birthplace of punk rock.”

The most revelatory info comes from David and Jed Fair, who convey the chutzpa that it takes to do what they did. Initially, neither could play a single note on any instrument, but the two somehow knew on a gut level how to carve a niche for themselves and display their gifts. Says David: “We decided to do two kinds of songs, love songs and monster songs.”

At its best, the uneven Half Japanese provides a humorous journey to the underground world of music, contrasting it with the rigid mainstream press and record industry; MTV, Rolling Stone magazine, commercial radio, and major record labels are bashed and trashed in the process.

One interviewees sums up succinctly what it takes to enjoy the revolutionary band: “Most people lack the intestinal fortitude to concentrate and listen to Half Japanese.” This is followed with a poignant history of their first release, “1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts,” a triple-LP box with a lyric sheet, a pink leopard-skin pamphlet, and an alligator poster designed by David Fair.

One of the potential dangers of Half Japanese is that by making it sound easy to form a band and succeed in the competitive music world, docu will encourage all kinds of dilettante musicians to try their luck. The film doesn't stress strongly enough that the talented band struck a chord with audiences of the l970s because it clearly had something new to offer.

Moderate technical credits and quality of 16 mm docu don't do justice to the music of Half Japanese and its place in the history of punk rock.

With Jad and David Fair, Maureen Tucker, Byron Coley, Penn Jillette, Phil Milstein.