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Meet Peelander-Z...and say goodbye
Loves: The Aquabats, documentaries
Likes: Punk pop, concert films
Dislikes: The realities of the music industry
Hates: Watching dreams die
For the uninitiated, Peelander-Z is like an East Coast punk-pop version of the Aquabats--a group of Japanese guys (and a girl) who dress up in sentai-style costumes, battle a kaiju-style villain and play aggressive, yet goofy music to a small, but loyal audience. Their shows are interactive spectacles with little barrier between performer and audience, and a general sense of manic happiness. Unfortunately, like the crying clown, the happiness doesn't come as easy for the members of Peelander-Z when they aren't on the stage, a problem documented in Mad Tiger, which chronicles what happens when the group's bassist, Peelander Red, decides it's time to move on.
Though Red certainly is a big part of the story as the impetus for change, there's no doubt that Peelander Yellow, the group's leader, is the star of the show. A loud, visually-striking man, he doesn't handle change well, taking Red's retirement personally, and as more change lays ahead it only gets worse for him. For a movie about a crazy band, the film's real focus is on life, dreams, hopes and maturity, as you watch this cult favorite music group face down the barrel of reality. As such, it doesn't much matter if you like their songs (some of which are ridiculously catchy), because their journey is so universal.
Considering the task this film must complete in a scant 82 minutes--introduce a somewhat unknown band, make you care about them, put them to the test and see how they emerge on the other side--the results are rather impressive. Concert footage, interviews and plenty of fly-on-the-wall footage gets you right into the group's day-glo, lo-fi world, but it's the charm inherent in Red and Yellow that really sells their story. Speaking in sometimes halting, heavily accented English (aided by ever-present subtitles), they are a fascinating pair, making a connection with the audience that much easier to achieve. When things go south, the film has you in its pocket.
Though the Peelander-Z world is a gritty, low-budget NYC, the film looks fantastic, with simply gorgeous compositions. Obviously, some re-creation and planning went into capturing some of the more memorable visuals, but even still it takes an artist's eye to make this story look as good as it does in Mad Tiger. It's so good, you'd be forgiven if you thought it was a mockumentary; the unfortunate side-effect of a documentary era that blurs the line between fact and fiction.
Mad Tiger arrives on two DVDs, packed in a clear, standard-width, dual-hubbed keepcase with a promotional catalog. The discs have static, anamorphic widescreen menus (featuring the great cover art) with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust the setup, and check out the extras. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks,while English subtitles are burned in.
The anamorphic widescreen image here is really exceptional for DVD, with some tremendous level of fine detail and solid color (with Red's...reds coming off nice and vivid.) There's some archival footage that's not as impressive, but for the most part this is flick looks great and shows no problems with black levels, dirt and damage or digital distractions.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track takes advantage of the surrounds to pump up the band's heavy music, with the low-end helping the effect, while the voices live in the center channel and enjoy good separation from the other elements. (Any issues with understanding what's said aren't with the presentation on the disc.)
The extras start with an audio commentary from Peelander Yellow, Peelander Red and co-directors Michael Haertlein and Jonathan Yi. While Peelander Red is mostly quiet, responding mainly when asked direct questions, Peelander Yellow is exactly what you'd expect from watching the film: a boisterous man who seemingly can't help but talk, interjecting throughout the track. It gets a little annoying at points, as you want to hear more from Haertlein and Yi about how the film came together as they share behind-the-scenes info. It's basically very appropriate considering how the film plays out.
Also on the first disc are a pair of Peelander-Z music videos: Yi's clip for the fun "So Many Mike" (1:57) and Rand Borden's kaiju-inspired video for "Ninja High School" (5:47). Both are enjoyable to watch, and should be watched before the documentary to get an idea of who these guys are.
On the second disc, you'll find a concert film of Peelander Red's last show with the group (68:55). Going behind the stage while also presenting the music played on it, it's an opportunity to experience Peelander-Z, including their biggest songs and wacky crowd antics, without hitting the club to do so. The crowd is oddly quiet (perhaps a mic issue) but it's an entertaining set, with a cover of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and Red's emotional farewell.
Also on Disc Two are seven deleted scenes, running 34:42 in all. Included here are scenes with Peelander Blue (who is barely in the film), more of Green's personal life, philosophical talk on death and responsibility, the making of a fake newscast with Borden (and an awesome puppet) and a look at the filming of a short for the group. There's some pretty interesting stuff here that doesn't really need to be in the film, but which is nonetheless worth watching.
The Bottom Line
Highly effective at telling the Peelander-Z saga, Mad Tiger is the best Behind the Music ever about a band you probably don't know (and if you do, all the better.) Between all the drama behind the scenes and the exuberant performances on it, this film is fascinating and entertaining, and the bonus content and high level of quality makes it worth checking out for any music fan.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.