The Spiders’ “Go Forward!” Movie
My friend Zac and I just finished translating a 1968 film by the Japanese mod band, The Spiders called “Go Forward!” (「大進撃」). Nikkatsu Studio produced the movie, the same studio where Seijun Suzuki, Shohei Imamura, and actor Tomio Aoki worked. The film was vaguely modeled after “Help!” style band movies, but throws into the mix a cheesy spy plot which was also a popular genre of the time. Another influence that deeply affected Japanese movies was the studio system which imposed stylistic uniformity on all movies and recycled actors to star in different films by the studios. At this time, even in the late 60s, you can see the effect of this system on the movie- the recycling of actors from some of Seijun Suzuki’s films even, and the emphasis on including a spy sub-plot to promote other Nikkatsu films. The film begins on a plane. The band has just come back from a tour of the US and one of the members, Sakai Masaaki, is working on cutting off the skin of a tambourine he bought. The tambourine is jeweled with what he thinks are fake gems, but actually a ring of spies has used the instrument as a way to smuggle in diamonds. The beautiful spy girl (Mari Annu) sits diagonal to him, and it’s there that they first lock eyes. The spy follows the band throughout the film, trying to retrieve the tambourine from “Masa” as he’s referred to through violence or seduction.
Meanwhile, after being mobbed by fans at the airport, a mix-up occurs and another, separate spy has his briefcase switched with the briefcase of one of the Spiders. The result is the band spends the entire movie getting chased by two different groups of incompetent spies, who constantly manage to, of course, almost get the goods but end up just dying or killing a member of the opposite group.
The band goes to Kagoshima for a set of shows, thinking they’ll escape the spies there, but fail to lose their pursuers. In the end, they go to the police who help to set up a trap for the spies. The band leads the bandits, separately of course, to an abandoned lot where they ambush the bad guys, easily beat them up despite the fact that the spies are carrying guns, all of this right before the police show up to carry the bad guys away.
All of it is very superficial, and barely tolerable with a weak plot and bad acting. The only exceptions are Sakai Masaaki whose acting potential is clear from the way he carries himself on the screen (he went on to a career in TV and film and is well-known as a TV personality), and the female spy Mari Annu who is very good at being so one-sidedly bad. She became the inspiration for Gogo Yubari in Taratino’s “Kill Bill”.
The sexy Mari Annu, and the Spiders’ Sakai “The Monkey” Masaaki from a solo album.
Otherwise, there are no redeeming qualities to the movie other than as a document of a time in Japan’s postwar history that has long faded into memory.
It’s hard to imagine even at the time it came out, in 1968, that the film was received as anything other than a cheap, commercial vehicle for a music genre that was also cheap and commercial, largely the product of corporate boardroom efforts to capitalize on the Beatles craze, by producing a Japanese version. They did this by copying the Beatles and forcing bands like the Spiders to copy songs of Western bands on vinyl releases. It took a while for Japanese bands to break out of this mold, and convince record labels to put out original songs, sung in Japanese.
Of course, Japan was not the only marketplace where Beatles-mania was imitated to squeeze money out of young people. And the Spiders were more than just a Beatles copy, but in this 1968 movie you can feel the pressure to conform to the expectations of a mod band. With the forced scenes of the band getting mobbed at airports and hotel, and overdubbed screams of giddy girls, obviously superimposed, the movie reflects both viewer expectations for a “band” movie and corporate hopes that the Spiders would become the Beatles.
The movie also illustrates several themes which I covered in my Masters thesis: the rise of a “youth culture”, powered by the return of peacetime, rising standards of living, and newfound disposable income; new technology and media such as television which features prominently in the movie; and the theme of travel as leisure.
By the early 70s, what was known in Japan as “Group Sounds” or mod music was out of fashion. The Spiders and many other bands disbanded, others struggled to survive by switching styles, otherwise they quickly found themselves out of their record deals. For its part, Nikkatsu also came under increasing competition from foreign cinema and television, and by 1971 began creating pink-eiga or porn movies to make ends meet.
Although a poor film with no interesting plot to recommend it, the movie serves as an historical artifact. Unfortunately, even as a historical document, there are much better films which can hold up to repeated viewing. This one does not. There are much better GS (Group Sounds) movies from the late 1960s to watch, but again- even a poor film can tell us something about the period it was made. It was a great experience translating it, and the film was interesting to analyze as I watched it over and over and over again…
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