Saturday, September 6, 2014

Jon Kasbe's wonderful MIPSO IN JAPAN (2014)

Jon Kasbe is filmmaker you all should know. He’s a guy who is turning out some absolutely amazing documentaries. I discovered him last year at DOC NYC when his short A BEAUTIFUL WASTE played (click the  title to see the short). It’s an amazingly trip into the sewers of Brooklyn revealing a whole world of absolutely beautiful imagery. As a result of talking back and forth concerning BEAUTIFUL WASTE Jon sent me HEARTBEATS OF FIJI (which I’m posting tomorrow) and he mentioned that he was finishing up MIPSO IN JAPAN about the bluegrass Mipso group and their concert tour of Japan. When we left things he was in the process of getting it into some festivals.

Tuesday I got a wonderful surprise, Jon emailed me to say that he wanted me to see MIPSO. Not only did he want me to see it he wanted to know if I wanted to share it. I of course said yes.

MIPSO IN JAPAN is a cool little film.

Jon describes it as follows:
“A young bluegrass band is well loved in their home state of North Carolina. Where do they go on their first tour? Japan.

On a journey that blurs the cultural divide between East and West, three young musicians travel across the world to discover that the twang of the banjo needs no translation.

While performing at a bluegrass festival, jamming with fiddle virtuosos, and touring by bullet train, the band finds that the traditions rooted in their home state have far-reaching branches.”

I describe it as a great big smile on my face and a great deal of fun. It’s so much fun that I want everyone who likes the film to lean on Jon to make it into a feature film.


Because there is so much that is hinted at in these 15 minutes that I want to see more. I want to know who the guy passed out of the kitchen floor is, Who was that crazy fan? What happened with the girl who was philosophy major and bluegrass musician who the one member of Mispo had given his heart to at hello? Who are the old bluegrass players they played with?

The reason I want more is found in what I love about the film - it’s very alive. You get this wonderful sense of life, of the band , of their friends, of their fans. We are there in these places. There are these small moments that make everything so tactile, the band finishing a song and the audience waiting for one guy to applaud, the crazy fan, the various jam sessions, the "Kodak" moments. It’s alive- living and breathing and possessing a beating heart.

The best thing I can say is the film is a kind of spiritual cousin to the film LIVE TAPE, which is one of the best music films I’ve ever seen. LIVE TAPE is Kenta Maeno wandering through Tokyo taking and playing music. It was done as one take and generates a sense of being real and alive that few concert films ever mange to generate. MIPSO IN JAPAN does that.

And if you want to know how good Jon is as a director watch what he does with the technical aspects of the film, from the first song, which is cut together from multiple performances; to the structure that breaks the film up to highlight certain aspects of the trip, food, transportation, culture; to the choices of shots, the jam session with the slow move to reveal the guy on the floor, all of the typical picture poses it all reveals a keen sense of what works as a film, of what puts us there in the moment on screen and pulls us out of our lives in the seats.

To put it another way Jon Kasbe is one of the best directors I've ever run across and his films are masterpieces

MIPSO IN JAPAN is a masterpiece.

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