Music documentaries can be about concerts or careers, but they nearly all feature nonmusical moments, such as Bob Dylan sardonically jousting with journalists in D.A. Pennebaker’s “Dont Look Back” (1967).
In making “Furasshubakku Memorizu 3D (Flashback Memories 3D),” his documentary of didgeridoo player Goma (whose real name is Hiroki Morimoto), Tetsuaki Matsue has kept such moments to a minimum. For most of the film’s 73-minute running time, we see Goma on stage, weaving a hypnotic spell with his three-man backup band, the Jungle Rhythm Section. Behind the stand that holds his long, massive instrument, he plays pulsing, honking, trance-inducing sounds, waving his hands in the air with a purposeful abandon, as if conducting the orchestra of the cosmos.
When, I started to wonder, do we get the talking-head interviews with Goma and those who know him? The short answer: We don’t.
As he did with 2009′s “Raibu Tepu (Live Tape),” his 74-minute, no-cut film of singer-songwriter Kenta Maeno strolling, singing and chatting through Tokyo’s Kichijoji district on New Year’s Day, Matsue imaginatively and boldly adapts his methods to his subject, rather than force him into conventional molds.
After being rear-ended while driving on an expressway on Nov. 26, 2009 — and having a near-death experience hauntingly depicted in the film — Goma found it difficult to retain new memories. Feeling his life, including his precious time with his wife and young daughter, slipping helplessly into oblivion, he began to despair and even to contemplate suicide.
His recovery and return to music are depicted in words and images, including videos of his concerts, his travels and his family life, as well as postaccident journals kept by Goma and his patiently supportive wife, Sumie, but mostly as silent background to the aforementioned concert.
Matsue is attempting, we see, to actualize Goma’s mental and emotional landscape in the moment, as well as inform us about his past and present in usual biographical documentary fashion. Thus the 3-D, including images that resemble Australian Aboriginal dot paintings, which is intended to make the experience more vividly present.
Of course, Matsue has little idea of what is actually running through Goma’s mind as he plays. Also, as Goma himself admits, he no longer has any memory of many of the moments shown in the film. Nonetheless, the background words and images develop a cumulative poignancy and power, intimately wedded as they are to the immediacy and spirituality of Goma’s music. They take on life, we see, as he (re-)experiences them, whether or not he retains them, just as he experiences the sounds, visions and feelings he and his bandmates are creating.
The film is finally upbeat (“I believe in the future,” Goma writes in his journal), but it is more about its music than its battling-through-adversity message. Unaware of Goma’s work prior to the film, I wondered, after 10 minutes or so, if the mantralike repetitiveness of the music would knock me out before it lifted me up. After 30 minutes, though, I was a fan: In addition to the Aboriginal influences Goma has thoroughly absorbed and his stunning circular-breathing technique is a deep spirituality and musicality that transforms the seemingly simple into the sublime.
But absent any present-day interview, I also worried whether Goma had lost the ability to communicate verbally — or if he had retreated into his own reality, like Dustin Hoffman’s “idiot savant” hero in “Rain Man.”
By the end, though, I realized that Matsue, once again, knew exactly what he was about. Talking heads, Goma’s included, were not needed to convey his reality, his tragedy — and his eternity-in-the-moment bliss.