The passion that many Japanese people have for bluegrass and country music was a shocker for filmmaker James Payne when he first experienced it in 2007. He was traveling with US Americana act Horseshoe Road for a live concert video, and was amazed to see the locals come out to shows dressed to the nines in cowboy and country attire.
During that tour he visited some of Tokyo’s top country hotspots (Rockytop, The Nashville Bar, The Lonestar Bar, Petticoat Lane), and got a taste of Japanese bluegrass, swing, and honky-tonk music. After returning home, the fascination remained, leading James to start work on a new film project, Far Western.
Through both interviews and live performances, Payne hopes to tell the story of how American music influenced Japanese culture during the post WWII occupation of the island nation. In much the same way that the Japanese people adopted baseball from watching the US servicemen play, they picked up bluegrass and country music from the Far Eastern Network.
We learned a great deal about this period at the 2013 World of Bluegrass convention when Tara Linhardt interviewed the Ozaki Brothers following their reception of a Distinguished Achievement Award for a lifetime of performing and promoting bluegrass in Japan. These two charming and important figures are also included in Far Western, along with Kaz Inaba, who should be familiar to Bluegrass Today readers, and several other Japanese artists.
It’s a lovely story about how despite a brutal and devastating war between their governments, a cultural bridge could be constructed between the people on either side. Now the Japanese have both an amateur and professional bluegrass music scene that closely parallels our own, only smaller.
Here is a trailer for the film from what has been shot to date, used for a Kickstarter appeal.
Payne set up the Kickstarter fundraising account to help him finish filming with one final trip to Japan for the Tajime Mountain Time festival in October.
Here is a story that deserves this sort of documentation. Help out if you can.