It was in the early years immediately following World War II, during the occupation of Japan by the U.S. forces, that Western influences began to dramatically change Japanese popular culture. The Far East Network (FEN), established just after WWII to broadcast American content to soldiers, played a big part. The simple, curious sounds of the West drew in a Japanese audience, disillusioned with their parents’ culture and the restrictions of the old Japanese society.
We like to think of Far Western as a little bit country, a little bit the country of Japan.
Far Western (Corinth Films) is a feature-length documentary from filmmaker James Payne that tells the phenomenal story of the transplant of American country music to post-World War II Japan. Nearly 70 years later, for a devoted group, the music has become a lifelong obsession.
Part music history and part character portrait, the fascinating story is told through the lives of musicians, fans, and live-music venue owners. Set both in modern Japan and the American South, the flick explores the uncanny ability of a simple form of music to cross geographic and language barriers, forming a strange cultural bridge between the two countries. Now, these Japanese musicians have made their own pilgrimages back to America, to the birthplace of the music, playing in honky-tonks and festivals in America.
Musicians featured in the doc include Japan’s unofficial ambassador of County Music, Charlie Nagatani, an 80-year-old owner of a honky-tonk in Kumomoto who plays moire than 300 shows a year with his house band, The Cannonballs and has played the Grand Ole Opry more than 20 times; Hisashi and Yasushi Ozaki, who are are credited for forming the first bluegrass band in Japan and were the first Japanese to be inducted to the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame; Masuo Sasabe and Blueside of Lonesome, now one of the most popular traditional Americana acts in Japan; Juta Sagai, a devotee of Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie and a key figure in Japan’s bluegrass history, Toru Mitsui, the foremost musicologist on American country music in Japan and more.
Terrific sounds of music, country crooners without a Dolly or Dwight or Reba or Keith sight.