Bring on the Melody!

Here’s a tip: the next time you fly Delta, sit back and enjoy a viewing of Japan’s stunningly bizarre answer to Glee, Bring on the Melody:

When Chika discovers that the high school’s wind and brass band is set to be disbanded, she joins forces with her friend to recruit new members.

…but that doesn’t even start to cover it.

Chika is a belligerent high school freshman whose innermost dream is to play flute in a concert band, and over the course of the movie, she bullies eight of her fellow misfits into re-forming the school’s wind ensemble, which disbanded under mysterious circumstances at the end of last year. Her primary recruitment tools are handmade flyers and physical violence, but she also spends a lot of time running up to people and screaming in their faces.

She needs to find one player for each of the other band instruments: oboe, clarinet, saxophone, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, and percussion. Her one guide is a group photo of last year’s band class which she uses she stalk each member one by one. (In point of fact, she snatched this photo from a fire with her bare hands, like, for real.) What makes her quest even more difficult is that she’s only got three weeks to round them up, because the school’s sadistic old principal has vowed to cancel the band class once and for all if she personally can not recruit nine members.

And so she sets about finding her Eight Samurai:

1. Her first recruit is an old childhood friend, a cute boy who plays the horn (and very well he does indeed. One of the interesting things about this movie is that it’s obvious the actors are all playing their own instruments, which is refreshing and welcome.) Now I don’t read Japanese (for shame, I know) but every time this boy’s picture appeared on the screen with some writing beside it, the words “Sexy Zone” appeared in quotes, and it turns out that in real life, he’s part of a Japanese boy band – wait for it – Sexy Zone.

2. Next come the trumpeter and oboist as a pair. They are a boy-girl couple, and they are the last functional remnant of last year’s band, tasked with burning all their school’s old sheet music (this is how Chika gets the group photo.)

3. Next comes the saxophonist, whom Chika seems to recognize as a kindred spirit when she first sees him beating the crap out of some random other kid. It turns out that he’s had to quit the baseball team and he’s taking it out on everyone else. Chika reveals that she had to quit the volleyball team and we get a surreal flashback that shows how she was uplifted in her time of trial by the dulcet tones of a high school concert band.

4. The tubist is a talented young girl who gave up her instrument because every time she practiced, it left her lips swollen to the point that she was slut-shamed by all her classmates. Her solution was to wear a surgical mask to school every day (not so uncommon in Japan!) In a show of solidarity, the other band kids also don surgical masks, under which they have smeared the most disturbing sanguinary lipstick since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

5. Chika attempts to recruit the school’s star clarinetist, a virtuosa who has won several competitions, but it turns out she has lost hearing in one ear, so she’s defensive and hostile to Chika’s requests:

(Which I’m going to have temporary tattooed across my forehead the next time I attend a cocktail party.) Anyway, she doesn’t join and I can’t remember who they actually end up getting.

6. The last major addition to the group is the percussionist, and his backstory is one of the wildest bits of storytelling I’ve ever come across. It turns out that he dropped out of school last year because his grandfather died, and since quitting school, he has been running an unlicensed nursing home from which he broadcasts a late night radio advice show along with a panel of his elderly residents who answer listeners’ write-in questions.

The other kids share a firm consensus that their percussionist was the spiritual leader of the band and that without him, they will never be able to achieve musical cohesion. Luckily, the old fogies convince him to return to school and to the drums (which necessitates nary a bit of paperwork, administration, or even explanation; meanwhile, the fate of the nursing home’s residents is left a total mystery.)

OK, so that, plus some other unimportant characters, is our band. But the one character I’ve neglected to mention up until now is in many ways the film’s most perplexing: the conductor. (Isn’t it always?)

The conductor – who is also the official teacher of this class – has been absent during this entire recruitment process. All we know about him is that he won second place (!?) in an international conducting competition.

But that raises so many more questions than it answers, like, why is he doing nothing to help the recruitment efforts? If there is no band, does he still have a job? Would he just have to go and teach like driver’s ed or biology or something? Why would he instruct the kids to burn all their old music? What is he even doing all day if he doesn’t have a single member in his music classes??

I suppose none of that really matters since Chika was more than happy to do all the heavy lifting. But here’s the twist: after going to all that trouble to recruit a class of nine members, it turns out that CHIKA DOES NOT EVEN KNOW HOW TO PLAY THE GODDAMNED FLUTE!!

Just let that sink in for a second.

Now I’ll give this conductor one thing: he’s nothing if not consistent. Because once it’s revealed that Chika hasn’t mastered even the basics of her instrument, instead of, you know, teaching her, he just makes snide comments to her in the middle of class:

And it’s more outrageous than that, because it turns out that he is a frustrated composer and they are playing one of his pieces. And he specifically refuses to simplify her part for her. What an asshole. He’s written a big flute solo and foisted it upon this poor girl – without whom he would be unemployed – and he won’t just relent and give it to the clarinet.

Anyway, you can kind of game out the rest of the movie from here, but the specifics are amazing, especially some of the subtitle translations, like when the kids get in a big fight (filmed in one wide shot over the course of 5 minutes):

In sum, this movie is amazing and you’ve got to watch it, though I have no idea how you can do that outside of Japan or a Delta flight, but here’s the trailer. I’ve done my best to describe the plot, which is weird enough, but that’s only scratching the surface, because some of the sequences are as surreal as anything you’ll see in Eraserhead.

With that, all I have left to say is: BRING 👏 ON 👏 THE 👏 MELODY!!

One Comment

Mike C.

Might as well blare ***SPOILER ALERT*** regarding the clarinetist. Thanks for ruining her arc by revealing she doesn’t join.

Now excuse me, I need to get this film from my friend Torrents…

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