directed by James D. Payne
(Not rated, 1 hour, 33 minutes)
This feature documentary from 2016 traces the fascinating history of American country music in Japan and the ways it has dramatically influenced Japanese society and culture. Just after the end of World War II, the U.S. Department of Defense established the Far East Network, a string of military radio and television stations designed to serve primarily U.S. forces in Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, and Guam. But soon the broadcasts of programs such as the Grand Ole Opry were being discovered by young Japanese disillusioned with the strictures of their traditional culture.
This incubated a fascinating subculture of young Japanese country musicians, who persisted in spite of the majority's reflexive skepticism of American culture. Nearly 80 years later, Japanese country music thrives.
Payne's movie tells the story largely through the personal histories of artists like Charlie Nagatani, who has enjoyed some success in the United States as well as Japan, performing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1985. Nagatani owns what may be Japan's most famous "honky tonk" -- Good Time Charlie's, which is on the fifth floor of a nondescript commercial building in Kumamoto, where his band, Charlie and the Cannonballs, has performed for nearly 60 years.
Moving back and forth from modern Japan to the American South, to which the various musicians make pilgrimages, "Far Western" speaks to the uncanny power of a simple, straightforward music to bridge cultural, geographic and language barriers.
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