A man with wildly spiked, bright yellow hair sits down in a chair. His outfit and sunglasses matches his hair – unusual and yellow. He proclaims, “If you don’t know about Peelander-Z…I gonna kill you!” His name is Kengo Hioki, but he goes by the stage name of Peelander-Yellow. He’s the co-founder of Peelander-Z, a self-proclaimed “comic book ninja rock” band featuring all Japanese members based out of New York City. This cult band is the subject of the new documentary Mad Tiger from the directing duo of Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein. This crazed band mixes a raw and raucous sound of punk rock with strange theatrics inspired by Japanese pop culture; the band dresses in color coordinated schemes that don’t seem too far off from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. There’s Peelander-Red (Kotaro Tsukada), Peelander-Pink (Yumiko Hioki), Peelander-Purple (Akiteru Ito), and Peelander-Green (Akihiko Naruse). Mad Tiger isn’t merely a movie that serves to prop up the cult status of Peelander-Z, this is a remarkable film that explores the relationships behind the band during its most troubled times. Here we have a film that is funny, heartbreaking, and rockin’ all at once in what is surely to be a must-see documentary for a lover of rock ‘n’ roll.
The early parts of Mad Tiger document the history and performances of this madcap band. As someone with some familiarity with Japanese punk rock, my initial thoughts were about how I never heard of this band. Upon seeing footage of their live performances, I thought, “I have to see this band live.” There’s a sense of audience participation and showmanship to their stage show, with Peelander-Red doing all sorts of crazed acrobatics while other members of the band put on monster costumes and coach the audience on how to participate. Even though Mad Tiger doesn’t focus solely on their performances, it’s quite apparent that Peelander-Z is a band without many peers.
Yi and Haertlein find Peelander-Z in a moment of transition, as Peelander-Red is preparing to join the band for one final tour before leaving the band. Known mostly as Red, the musician must learn to become Kotaro once again. He has married his hairstylist and plans on opening his own venue and bar. However, Peelander-Yellow isn’t too pleased with this revelation. The two have bandmates for over 14 years, having built a bond that is entirely unique to them.
But Mad Tiger doesn’t dabble in hagiography. Despite the costumes and outlandish backstory involving coming from another planet, Peelander-Z is a band comprised of human beings with emotions and insecurities. Through all the wild music and showmanship, Yi and Haertlein find a deeply personal story about Yellow trying to live without Red as both a friend and a bandmate. Kengo sheds the layers of fantasy that have created Yellow and reveals a controlling and fragile man, scared that the changes in the band may very well leave him without the identity he’s created for himself. The film doesn’t hide the ugly side of Kengo either. He can be controlling and rude to his bandmates, desperate to control every minute aspect of their look, backstory, and how they conduct themselves. One particularly intimate moment has Red and Yellow in a hallway arguing over loose ends that Red used to handle. When the one-sided argument has ended, Yellow looks directly at the camera and asks that the footage not be used. For the good of the movie, the request was ignored.
Mad Tiger is an excellent documentary, one that works as a biography of its subjects but is willing to go far beyond the surface fascination and finding something strikingly human in its brazen showmen. Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein have crafted a magnificently shot documentary that is edited together with precision and care, leaving Mad Tiger an intoxicating mixture of audacious rock, humor, and tragedy. While Mad Tiger may not wind up with the largest distribution platform, the film will endure as a cult movie about a cult band, one that is essential viewing for fans of punk rock and oddball bands. Peelander-Z was never destined to be a household name, or even a band that receives regular airplay on the radio. They’re an oddity residing on the fringes of the scene. Thankfully, Mad Tiger is a film that encapsulates everything that makes their shows a can’t-miss spectacle and, more importantly, the humans behind the show.
Peelander-Z will play at The Frida Cinema on April 13th and Mad Tiger will play at the theater for one week starting on April 15th. Tickets are available at The Frida Cinema’s website. For more information about Mad Tiger visit the film’s official website.
Through examining the members of the cult band Peelander-Z, Mad Tiger powerfully documents a band in transition, finding the wounded humanity in the outlandish alter egos.