Buck-Tick: The Climax
Review by Cayce
July 9th, 2017

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

Now, at last, we get back to you with a review of Buck-Tick: The Climax, which we just managed to catch on its last day in theaters. If you think that seeing the movie on the last day of its run rather than the first demonstrates a lack of sufficient respect for the band, we'd like to point out the following: 1) we ran into Mr. Imai's sister-in-law in the theater so if we're being disrespectful so is she, and 2) yesterday was the ten-year anniversary of the show Buck-Tick played with Tsuchiya Masami on July 7th, 2007, which went down in the annals of Buck-Tick lore as The Day Mr. Sakurai's Pants Ripped, Mr. Sakurai Gave no Fucks, and Thereby Broke the Internet. And if that's not an anniversary worth celebrating with a Climax, I don't know what is.

Though frankly, as we suspected when the Climactic movie thing was first announced, the whole shebang was more of an anti-climax than a Climax with a capital C. Or at the very least, a minimalist climax that lives in a spare white room with no furniture and is self-righteous about its Pilates routine and chia-seed-based vegan diet. In brief, better hands on that film could have made it a lot more excited exciting than it ended up being.

First, there was the problem of tickets - Fish Tank advertised special picture tickets for fan club members, which were sold at a 200 yen discount and came with a special extra: one random trading card (wow, much special!) What they didn't bother to announce was the fact that the shipping cost for the fanclub tickets was close to 800 yen, meaning that rather than getting tickets for a discounted 2200 yen, Fish Tank members who bought tickets through the fan club had to pay 3000 yen, rather than the 2400 yen that civilians paid at the door to the movie theater. And folks, 800 yen is too much to pay for a small piece of glossy cardboard printed with a picture of a Buck-Tick member. We're grown-ass adults here. Fish Tank, up your game.

Second, there was the problem of goods - of course they wanted to, um, "monetize" the movie even more by selling merch to go along with... but not only were the designs mind-numbingly boring, the actual items, which we viewed on sale in the Buck-Tick shrine at Tower Records Kinshicho, were of inferior quality compared to Buck-Tick's usual tour goods standard and altogether not worth it. Of course, it doesn't really matter whether the merch is cool-looking or not - boring merch just means you don't feel tempted to waste money on things you don't need. But when we consider that if a more creative person had been in charge of the design team, they might have made t-shirts which said "BUCK-TICK: THE CLIMAX" on the front, context-free, we started to feel a tiny bit disappointed at the missed opportunity.

Third, there was the film itself. Buck-Tick: The Movie, Buck-Tick's first foray into cinema, was an original film, made up entirely of new footage that had never been released or aired anywhere else. Beyond that, the director allowed the footage to speak for itself - unlike a typical documentary there were no interviews or narrations or voice-overs of any kind. One scene flowed into the next in a dreamlike fashion, showing the band's life in the studio and on tour in a way much like the way the band members themselves might see it. The end result was that rather than feeling like a documentary, Buck-Tick: The Movie felt like a surrealist drama that just so happened to also be real life. It was a very arty piece of cinema, saturating the big screen with music and color, the sort of thing you'd want to go back and watch in the theater again and again.

By contrast, Buck-Tick: The Climax couldn't be anything but a documentary, since the whole premise of the film was to offer a retrospective on the Climax Together concert series. All footage from the Climax Together had been aired before in some form, so the only parts that were new were the interviews with the band members looking back - and however interesting and gothic the lighting and decor were in these scenes, retrospective interviews with the band members is the definition of "standard documentary format," and therefore much less interesting than what Buck-Tick: The Movie had to offer.

Given the less-than-stellar choices made by Buck-Tick's management of late, and the fact that overall, the fanbase seems to have bad taste (every time Buck-Tick or one of its members does something genuinely cool, the fans complain!), we fully expected that Buck-Tick: The Climax would demonstrate at least some, if not all, of the worst tropes of the rockumentary retrospective format (if you think I use the word "rocukumentary" too much, all I have to say to you is: it's a stupendous stupid word and you'll pry it from my cold, dead hands!) However, the film was directed by Hayashi Wataru, who has directed most of Buck-Tick's live videos and many of their most famous music videos, including "Aku no Hana," "Speed," "Dress," "Die," all the Six/Nine videos, "Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete," and "Climax Together," among others. If anyone knows how to represent Buck-Tick visually, it's Mr. Hayashi, so much as we might have secretly hoped that Buck-Tick: The Climax would be a no-holds-barred cheesefest, it wasn't.

Instead, Mr. Hayashi did his damndest to give Buck-Tick the classiest silly retrospective possible, by completely avoiding voiceovers, keeping interview segments brief and to the point, and including full-length clips of songs wherever possible, in order to allow the band's performances to speak for themselves. Thanks to these efforts, Buck-Tick: The Climax is a classy enough film that it could be sold in a Muji and/or taken round to your parents' house for dinner. Yet at the same time, it remains fundamentally conventional and restrained by concerns for commercial appeal, and thereby not remotely close to the level of transgressive experimentalism that it could have achieved in another, better world.

To keep things simple, the film moves through the Climaxes in chronological order, starting with 1992, then moving on to 2004, and finally to 2016. Each section lasts about the same amount of time, and is bracketed with comments from the band members, as well as some silent-film style text sections. These were the most off-putting part of the film overall - even for someone fluent in Japanese, the text moved past so quickly it was difficult to read each passage in its entirety before the passage vanished, and the sentences were both dry and too long. Voiceovers may be cheesy, but in this context, a voiceover might have been a better choice.

The band member interviews, too, get a lackluster start. For all that the band members are painted up with more layers of makeup than matryoshka dolls, and seated in a soft-lit, luxuriously furnished gothic interior which looks suspiciously similar to the location where they shot the photos for the DIQ 2015 tour pamphlet, they all display their usual reticence when faced with a formal interview. Though Imai comes across as surprisingly articulate (almost like he planned in advance what he was going to say in order to avoid being tongue-tied!), it's still easy to see that he'd rather be somewhere else. Hide and Yutaka are earnest but brief. As usual, Toll seems to be the only one more than willing to expound, but for the most part, he doesn't have much to say about the themes the film focuses on. Therefore, it's up to Sakurai to deliver.

In fact, you very quickly get the sense that perhaps, this might have been a better film if it had been titled Climax Together, with Atsushi Sakurai and just left the other band members out of it entirely. Viewed on the big screen, you can practically hear the panting, heavy breathing of the camera as the live footage twines itself around Sakurai's stage presence, caressing his silver-bangled wrists and eyes and hair like a lens-eyed, robotic fangirl. Yet in contrast with the power, sensitivity and passion of the man on stage, the Sakurai being interviewed afterward appears waxed, glazed, and resigned. He can't help but be articulate and charming - it's his nature. Yet you can tell he feels confined - his hair has been gelled to within an inch of its life, and there's a sadness in his smile as he addresses the camera. He does his best to answer the questions honestly, yet you can tell he's only speaking a very small sliver of what he actually thinks and feels, because he knows, as we do, that if he were to tell the whole real story, the fans wouldn't get it and the management would get angry.

If Mr. Hayashi had left the sets and makeup behind and taken Mr. Sakurai round to his local bar sometime in the middle of the night in his favorite McQueen skull tee and goth jeans and simply let the vibe and Mr. Sakurai speak for themselves, who knows what kind of film would have emerged... but that's exactly the kind of film that will never get made, and that's exactly the problem with Buck-Tick: The Climax. Mr. Hayashi and Mr. Sakurai both do their best to create a serviceable film offering a glimpse of the band's work that both fans and newbies should find engaging, if not fully satisfying, but if you see the true soul of Buck-Tick in here, it's by accident, not by design.

Each of the three acts focuses on a different overarching theme, and for Act I, that theme is Buck-Tick's newfound musical maturity, as made possible by Sakurai taking creative control of the band's performances. Following a brief discussion of the unique nature of the 1992 Climax Together concert plan, stage effects, etc., we're treated to a series of clips from the show which illustrate the muddy, bloody, visceral sensuality of Sakurai's stage performance. The other band members hardly appear. Instead, Sakurai talks about his requests to the camera crew. "Film it so you can see my veins," he reportedly requested at the time. "Do you remember saying that?" Hayashi Wataru asks him in the retrospective. Sakurai pauses for a moment, reflecting, then his face blooms into a wicked smile. "I guess I did. What I meant was, I wanted them to show the sordid earthiness of my performance. I wanted it to be more carnal, more fleshy." The supercuts of "Chikashitsu no Melody," "MAD," and "Hyper Love" certainly make this apparent - and props to Mr. Hayashi for including this famous shot, which we would have thought too risque for national theaters:



Even "Speed" comes across more physical than usual - when Sakurai sings the lyric "holding tight to everything you love / you're the universe," he puts his arm around Imai and gives him a tight squeeze, to a deafening roar from the fangirls. Since we now know that Sakurai has indeed held tight to Imai for 30 years (or rather, they've held tight to each other), it's one of the most poignant moments in the whole film.

Following this, we get a bit of the show from Imai's perspective, as he comes back onstage to play "Iconoclasm" in the encore, wearing a white helmet which he admits in the interview blocked out all sound and thereby made it impossible for him to hear the fans' cheers. This kind of experimental weirdness is what Imai does best, and paired with Sakurai's carnal sensuality, it's what made the 1992 Climax Together such a stellar bit of musical theater. Yet still, it feels that the movie skirts the really important parts. Sakurai's self-indulgent rose-wallowing on "Taboo" remains one of the most interesting performances in the whole show, yet we don't get so much as a peep of that song, let alone "Victims of Love," which was unquestionably the band's masterpiece in this era of their career. Also left entirely unaddressed is the way Sakurai's struggle with his own fame was the cause of much of the angst on the Kurutta Taiyou album.

"The world of Kurutta Taiyou was what defined the atmosphere of the show... it's a very nervous, anxious world... For me, the whole thing was very personal," Sakurai says, of Climax Together 1992. "I was taking my personal struggle and turning it into something public. I guess in retrospect, that's what the show became: a fusion of those two things." Yet despite the fact that a clip of "Taiyou ni Korosareta" was included in its entirety, nowhere does anyone mention how the eponymous sun in "Taiyou ni Korosareta" is nothing less than the flame of Mr. Sakurai's stardom. Of course they don't mention it - they can't mention it. Because ultimately, this film is not a critical review, but a commercial product marketed to fangirls, and fangirls don't want to pay money to have the image of their precious idol shattered right before their eyes. Sakurai knows this, so he keeps his mouth shut, and lets the music do the talking.

Surprisingly, it's Act II that delivers the heavy-hitting. Though Buck-Tick have made numerous political statements through their music over the years, they've always kept it oblique and veiled, most likely for the very same commercial pressures we discussed above. And yet, Act II centers on the way in which the band staged Devil and Freud: Climax Together as a statement about the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

From the perspective of an overseas fan, it's a bit surprising. Why should Japan care about the World Trade Center? Yet clearly, Buck-Tick cared. Act II opens with an explanation of how the events of 9-11 served as most of the inspiration for the Kyokutou I Love You album, which in turn served as the inspiration for Devil and Freud: Climax Together. This concert was held on September 11th, 2004 by happenstance, yet the band members are very conscious of the meaning of the date.

"I didn't really want to talk about it openly, but then it seemed like it wasn't something we could keep quiet about," Imai says, with unusual candor. Following this is one of the few never before seen segments of live footage: Sakurai makes a speech to the audience about remembering the victims of the attack, then leads everyone in observing a moment of silence in memory of those who lost their lives. As long-time fans all know, this is a very, very unusual occurrence at a Buck-Tick show - Sakurai's a wonderful talker in interviews, but stage speeches are not his forte, and as we have already discussed, Buck-Tick's political thoughts usually remain unspoken. In fact, we've only ever seen the band observe a moment of silence one other time - in memory of the victims of the 3-11 Great East Japan Earthquake. Props to Mr. Hayashi for recognizing the importance of the moment, and making sure to include it in the film.

Most of the rest of Act II is live footage, and the tension here builds far better than at any other point in the film. The section begins with the opening sequence and fan joy as the band open with "21st Cherry Boy," before plunging into the drama of "Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete," which the band perform surrounded by jets of live fire on all sides. The last Devil and Freud song we get to enjoy is "Rakuen -Inori Negai'-," and nothing could be more on point, politically. If the band make a film like this about Atom Miraiha, we'd really be getting somewhere.

The segue into Act III is natural. For one thing, Climax Together 3rd was also held on September 11th, though there's no special mention of that in the film. For another, Climax Together 3rd opened with "Speed," and at this point, Hayashi feels compelled to ask Sakurai why he changed the lyrics. 

"When I first wrote the song, it was all about freedom," Sakurai replies. "When I said 'blow ourselves up,' I was encouraging everyone to be free and do what they want. But when all the terror attacks started happening, the word became too associated with suicide bombing, and it put a bad taste in my mouth, so I decided to get rid of it. The earlier version remains as a work of art, but from then on I decided to sing 'let's love one another' instead."

We're then treated to a clip of "Speed" from Climax Together 3rd, a nice complement to the earlier clip of the same song from Climax Together 1992, and from here on out, it's all typical retrospective. While the band members comments are certainly interesting, the analysis remains shallow overall.

"I feel so much more tension these days when I play the opening chords of 'Speed,'" muses Imai. "I have so much more consciousness of what I'm doing. Back in 1992, I never really thought about what I was doing or how I was playing, I just did what came naturally. These days, my choices are more deliberate."

"In 1992, we were trying very hard to put on a spectacle, a piece of theater that would show what we were all about as a band," says Sakurai. "But as the years went on we loosened up and started to enjoy the fun, interactive side of the shows more. We got less uptight. I guess that's what comes of getting older - you get more freedom to play around."

Aside from this, however, there's no deep acknowledgment of how far Buck-Tick have come, and the song selections for Act III feel largely random. What was the value in choosing "Memento Mori," rather than showing a clip of the 2016 version of "Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete" to offer comparison with 2004? Also, while we get plenty of shots of the chandeliers, courtesy of the aerial camera, why don't we get to enjoy a single second of "Romance," the song which actually made use of the chandeliers as part of the staging? "Romance" was the most memorable number from 2016, but just like the 1992 "Victims of Love," it's been erased from history in this film. Instead, we get treated to "Sekai wa Yami de Michiteiru" in its entirety, complete with Sakurai's coded farewell speech to Ken Morioka, but without any further context or commentary, what was the point of including that particular song? It smells distinctly like cheap fangirl pandering, but really, if they were going to do the cheesy rockumentary thing, why couldn't they have indulged us a bit further and included some sepia slow-mo? Go big or go home.

And then there's more regret.

"Up until now, I basically chose all the set lists," said Sakurai, with a twinge of rue in his smile. "But for this concert, I left it up to the other band members."

"When I picked the set list, I tried to include both old songs and new songs, that would show the evolution of Buck-Tick over time," Yutaka continues.

The thing that never gets mentioned: Sakurai stopped picking set lists because apparently, the band received so many complaints about the set list for the DIQ 2015 (selected by Sakurai) that either the management asked Sakurai to stop picking set lists, or he voluntarily gave up on it... and kids, can we cry about that for a moment? The DIQ 2015 was only the best set list Buck-Tick have played since At the Night Side 2012... plus, how can self-proclaimed Acchan fangirls hate on Acchan's set list picks? Yutaka may be far more in touch with fan favorites than Sakurai is, but as I recall, the song that Buck-Tick will be forever known for is "Iconoclasm," and I don't believe they ever released a song called "Shameless Pandering to Fangirls."

After "Green Cheese," we get "New World," followed by "Jupiter" from 2016, complete with the overlay of footage from 1992, and then finally "Climax Together," the song. These last two songs could have been the linchpin that tied the whole film together, but when they finally arrive, they feel like an afterthought - much like the entire Climax Together 3rd concert. There's no discussion of the meaning of "Climax Together," the song, the meaning of the concert title, or anything. (Fun fact: the phrase "Climax Together" is actually an English translation of the lyric 「絶頂へ統一」, from "Brain Whisper Head Hate is Noise." Imai chose the title Climax Together for the 1992 concert because he wanted it to be a showcase and culmination of the band's work to date. The more you know!)

The film ends with Mr. Hayashi asking the band members how they feel about their upcoming 30th anniversary.

"People are always saying to us, 'wow, you've been together so long, that's so amazing, that's so impressive,'" says Sakurai. "But since for me, since it's my daily life, I never noticed it had been 30 years till people pointed it out."

"I guess 30 years is a long time, but for me, it feels natural," says Yutaka.

But it's Hide who says it best: "Hell, that's a long time."

Whatever the film's flaws, it's nice to see the Buck-Tick members keeping it real at the end. They've never been sentimental, so why should they start now?

Unlike Buck-Tick: The Movie, Buck-Tick: The Climax does not end with an original song. Ending it with "Climax Together" would have been the most obvious choice, but instead, the film ends with "New World." Though the end credits are nothing but white text scrolling over a black field, the whole audience remained silent and seated till the very end. Perhaps they hoped there would be something special after the credits? There isn't, but watching the credits is bizarrely satisfying nonetheless. All the crew members for all three concerts are credited individually, serving as an excellent reminder of just how many people worked to help Buck-Tick realize their vision - that's the benefit of fame, and the price paid for it, too. The more people you collaborate with, the less in charge you become, and when things get out of hand, you might find your hands tied and your management forcing you to climax again and again before a crowd of 17,000 people, never able to talk about how it really makes you feel.


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