Review by Sean Boelman
In a time when concert documentaries are receiving a bit of a resurgence, it’s exciting to see when someone tries to do something innovative with the medium — even if the ambitious swings don’t always land. A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: “Omoiyari” rides on the strength of its creator’s talent, as well as his personal connection to the material, to deliver an experience that is beautiful, if not as substantial as one would hope.
A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: “Omoiyari” follows the musician as he sets out on a journey to explore his Japanese-American identity, all the while creating the eponymous album. The documentary hopes to bridge the gap between musicophiles and history buffs, but ultimately ends up feeling more satisfying as a musical voyage than a historical one.
In many ways, Omoiyari is like a visual companion to his album of the same name. The songs are infused throughout the movie like a sonata — with breaks for the conductor (in this case, the performer/composer) to interject context for listeners about what inspired the piece and what emotions they should be feeling.
It is through these interjections that Kishi Bashi is able to explore the film’s themes, which range from timely to universal. The title, Omoiyari, is a Japanese word that represents compassion and care for others — a perfect representation of what the musician hopes to achieve with his work and advocacy.
As case studies, the movie explores some of the historical injustices committed against the Japanese people, such as the internment camps they were forced into during WWII, and connects it to more modern-day prejudices. Kishi Bashi also paints through the lens of his own identity and his family’s experience, adding a personal touch to the film. Because of all of these threads, the movie ends up feeling overstuffed.
It will likely come as no surprise to viewers that the true hero of the film is Kishi Bashi’s music. The compositions are as lovely and emotional as you’d expect, but even more impressive are the improvised pieces that the musician creates at the sites of the former camps, as a sort of emotional response to the stories he is hearing and telling.
The visuals in these sequences are also stunning, with excellent cinematography by Max Ritter and Justin Taylor Smith creating an effective juxtaposition between the beautiful musical compositions and the somber sights of the locations of so many tragedies. The incorporation of archive footage, while straightforward, is an effective addition to the storytelling.
A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: “Omoiyari” is an unrequited success in its aesthetics, even if it bites off more than it can chew in a thematic sense. Still, for those who or fans of the musician — or just appreciate good, quality music — this is definitely worth the watch.
A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: “Omoiyari” hits theaters on October 6.