Made in in Japan (2014) Portland 2015
Tomi Fujiyama, played the Grand Old Opry's birthday show in November 1964 and received the only standing ovation during the five hour show that included most of country music's royalty. 50 years later Tomi returns to the US in order to try and get back on the stage of the Opry.
Entertaining story of a footnote performer who continues to do what she always did which is play country music. Tomi was born in 1940 and learned to love country music thanks in part to the American occupation of the country after the Second World War. Touring Japan and the world she made a big enough splash That she was able to make her way to the US and to the Opry. That may sound like a joke except that Tomi is really great at what she does, managing to bleed out her soul and emotions with every song. Watching her perform I'm left to wonder why we have not been able to enjoy her music for the last 50 years? She's good enough that she should have been more than a footnote.
Going in I was pondering if this was going to be yet another SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN wannabe, however a couple of minutes in it was clear that while the there are a couple of parallels between the story (both singers being "gone" for decades for example) this is a story that rightly and deservedly stands on it's own legs. This is a really good film.
How you react to Tomi will determine how you ultimately react to the film. Tomi is the sort of character that you'd never believe existed if she didn't already. A perpetually smiling ball of energy she constantly is trying to express her joy at life and love of country music. She can be a little tough to take, even for her husband who, while clearly is love with his wife, really wishes that she would shut up some times (In one scene he wonders if she can go for even a minute without talking.) She's the sort of person who can get on your nerves if you're not in the mood. I'm not going to lie, there were a couple of times when I really hoped she'd go off screen for a while.
Reservations as to Tomi's person aside- I'd really like to see her live. Watching her in the film it's clear that she is something special. How has a performer who can give as much away as she does managed to stay off the radar. Additionally I would love to meet her- I need to see her and just go WOW to her in person. She is just this really cool performer who has knocked me for a loop with what she does.
Should you see this film? Oh hell yea. You'd be crazy if you didn't. Seriously Tomi is a woman you need to meet. She is the sort of person we all need to meet because in her story there is the proof that in order to be happy you really do have to do what you love.
This film has another screening at the Portland Film Festival this weekend. For tickets and more information go here.