Half Japanese wield an instantly recognizable yet consistently evolving amateurism springing from the immediate shockwaves of 1977 and continuing right up to the present; they stand as one of the true pillars of Underground USA. Featuring numerous personnel led by solitary constant member Jad Fair, the band has inspired scores of folks to pick up instruments and press record. Particularly significant were the albums released in the late-‘80s; this week Fire Records carries on anthologizing their output by collecting those and relevant bonus material in the 3LP/3CD/digital set Volume Two: 1987-1989.
While it’s taken a back seat to Jeff Feuerzeig’s excellent 2005 film portrait The Devil and Daniel Johnston, I rate that director’s ‘93 documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King nearly as high, in large part because its approach, often comedic but never mocking, is as endearingly unconventional as the subject it covers.
Much of the humor is Feuerzeig poking fun at the overzealous stumping of music docs in general. Along the way indie celebrity talking heads, occasionally purposefully grandstanding, help to deliver essential background as performances by Jad Fair and his cohorts quietly shift the film’s tone from satire/parody (a mock-Mockumentary, if you will) to an essay of singular brilliance.
Like the movie, the sounds harnessed in the prior installments of Fire Records’ reissue series, namely ½ Gentlemen/ Not Beasts and Volume One: 1981-1985, vividly illustrate that the world, certainly not before and hardly ever since, offered nothing comparable to the fascinating growth spurts of the early incarnations of Half Japanese.