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5 Japanese Movies About Rock Bands You Need To Watch Now

Experience the transformative power of rock and roll with these five must-see Japanese rock band movies.

By 5 min read

Japan is an incredible place to be a music fan because Japan loves music. What do you expect from the country that gave the world karaoke and made singing a song a viable hobby? It also has the second-largest music industry in the world (after the US).

This love of music also extends to movies, with films depicting the adventures of bands and musicians like Swing Girls often striking a chord (pun intended) with filmgoers. What could be more Japanese than a group united in a single purpose and doing their best to overcome personal and external odds?

Here’s a list of some of the best films for rock fans. They’re all available on streaming (at least in Japan), so grab a bag of popcorn and settle in for a weekend of head-banging.

Linda Linda Linda (2005)

High school girls form a band to play cover songs at the upcoming festival. It doesn’t have a grand plot, but Linda Linda Linda, the film in question, manages to be much more than the sum of its parts. And director Nobuhiro Yamashita wisely focuses on the small moments of life. It’s required viewing for any fan of Japanese rock music.

With the school festival only a few days away, the band–guitarist Kei (Yu Kashii), drummer Kyoko (Aki Maeda), and bassist Nozomi (real-life musician Shiori Sekine)–need a new singer. So they settle on Korean exchange student Son (Bae Doona). They do their best to hold it all together until the concert at the festival.

The performances are top-notch, the soundtrack by ex-Smashing Pumpkin James Iha is pitch-perfect and the songs from legendary Japanese pop punk band The Blue Hearts keep the mood ebullient.

  • Japanese Title:リンダ リンダ リンダ
  • Stars: Bae Doona, Aki Maeda, Yu Kashii
  • Where To Watch: U-NEXT, dTV, Apple TV

Detroit Metal City (2008)

Soichiro Negishi (Kenichi Matsuyama) only wants to sing twee indie pop like early Flipper’s Guitar. But after answering a job posting for musicians, he’s found himself fronting the death metal band Detroit Metal City in full corpse paint face makeup. And now death metal god Jack (actual Gene Simmons from Kiss) is gunning for Soichiro and his band.

Detroit Metal City is a comedy based on a manga that also spawned an anime series. Like its manga source material, it’s often over the top, with plenty of hilarious set pieces and exaggerated reactions. But that makes it funny, and Detroit Metal City manages to walk the line between cartoonish situations and relatable emotions.

Fans of heavy rock genres will be in heaven, but you don’t have to be an expert at deciphering death metal band logos to get in on the fun.

Nana (2005)

If you’ve never experienced Nana, either the manga or the movie, you should. Nana portrays the struggles of being in an up-and-coming band with the kinds of relationship issues and life changes many of us experience in our twenties into a very satisfying whole.

Two 20-year-old girls named Nana meet by chance on a train bound and become roommates. The story jumps between Nana Osaki (Mika Nakashima), a dark and moody musician, and the cheerful and girly Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki).

While there are musical scenes, much of the driving drama comes from the two characters’ friendship and relationships with men. Both actresses are excellent, which goes a long way in selling the story and keeping it from tipping over into melodrama.

Nana could have gone really wrong–manga adaptations can be hit or miss–but it turned out just about perfect. The same can’t be said for the sequel, sadly.

Brass Knuckle Boys/Shonen Merikensack (2009)

Although Brass Knuckle Boys (also known as Shonen Merikensack) also stars Nana’s Aoi Miyazaki, don’t expect tearful sincerity and moving human drama. This is a comedy from writer/director Kudo Kankuro, the madman behind laugh riots like Maiko Haaaan!!! and Ping Pong. Brass Knuckle Boys is just as hilarious, with the added bonus of punk rock.

Junior record company exec Kanna Kurita (Miyazaki) discovers a young and rebellious punk band via an anarchic live performance clip on the internet. Only after signing them and setting up a tour does she realize that the clip is 25 years old and the members are all middle-aged and decidedly over the hill.

Much of the initial fun comes from watching the washed-up band reform and attempt to get their old spirit back, with things like senility and hemorrhoids getting in the way. It is a feel-good comedy, and any long-time punk fan will love the life-affirming message of staying true to the scene.

  • Japanese Title: 少年メリケンサック
  • Stars: Aoi Miyazaki, Tomorowo Taguchi, Yusuke Santamaria
  • Where To Watch: Hulu, YouTube, U-NEXT, dTV, Apple TV

Hibi Rock: Puke Afro And The Pop Star (2014)

Takuro Hibinuma (Shuhei Nomura) believes in the power of rock’ n’ roll to change the world. He may not know why, but he believes in it strongly enough to spend all his time in a dingy basement live house, playing gigs with his band Rock’ n’ Roll Brothers and pushing a broom around. Hell, he and his bandmates even live there.

His life is turned upside down during a gig one day when a rock-loving drunk girl with a serious anger management problem stumbles into the club and wreaks havoc. She’s secretly techno-pop idol Saki Utagawa (Fumi Nikaido). Although it seems like she hates them, she eventually asks Hibinuma to write her a song.

Based on the manga of the same name, Hibi Rock is tailor-made for anyone who’s ever spent more of their life than they probably should in a dingy live house. The first half is chaotically hilarious, particularly when Saki and the band are going at each other. The second half takes a sudden turn into heavy drama.

What are some of your favorite movies about bands? Let us know in the comments.

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