‘Far Western’ documents a little known chapter in popular culture
Stylized archival image of Japanese musician from 1962, photographer unknown
Following two separate stories of Japanese musicians and their connections to American country music, Matt Leach and James Payne’s documentary, “Far Western” explores the way American folk music has impacted Japanese popular culture. The film takes a look at the small, but tight-knit country music community in Japan where musicians worked against the grain to establish a scene and a wider appreciation for Western-style music.
There’s the story Charlie Nagatani—who founded one of Japan’s first country and western bands in 1961—and his lifelong, single-minded passion for spreading the gospel of country music in his country.Battling pressure from his family and the skepticism of his peers, he eventually accomplished his dream: being invited to do a yearly spot performing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Charlie’s story is juxtaposed with The Blueside of Lonesome, a Japanese bluegrass band, and their parallel journey. The film documents the band recounting their initial discovery of bluegrass music while visiting the U.S. in the 1970s, and follows them as they play for Americans in present-day Guthrie and Tulsa. The band is an eclectic mix of musicians with one common element: a deep, abiding love of bluegrass music.
There’s an endearing simplicity to the subjects’ insistence that though they may have grown up in a Japanese culture, American roots music speaks to them. There’s a repeated theme that a Japanese person can be every bit as country as a good ol’ boy from Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Director, Producer, and Editor James Payne believes that one of the film’s key messages is that “music has the unique ability to travel, and to be transplanted.” Its peculiar ability to do so means it winds up in unlikely places.
Live performances by the film’s subjects at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and Tulsa’s The Colony reveal the nervous excitement of the musicians playing for an American crowd. It’s special for an American country singer to play the Opry to warm reception, but it is several degrees more awesome for an artist from Japan to be invited, much less kill it, there.
As one of the Blueside members explains in the film, “I’ve dreamed of creating that sound of mountain music myself. I feel like I’ve been trying to re-experience that first moment, of being amazed to listen to this music.”
“Far Western” shows country music as loose, like a dog off a chain, and not limited to North America.
Far Western Tulsa Premiere
October 5 | 5:30-6:30 p.m. reception, 7:00 showing | Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis Ave. | Tickets at circlecinema.com
Blue Side of Lonesome will play at Fassler Hall afterward, 10 p.m., 21+, free.