A loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Sado Tempest (Arashi) is the story of the singer of a rock band on the rocks who collapses on stage only to find himself waking up shackled, in a pink jump suit and on a hellish island ruled over by a brutish idiot who longs only for gold, booze, tobacco and women. Like Narnia this is a land of endless winter, always snowing and no hope of spring. The members of the rock band (along with the pre-existing prisoners) are made to sit out all day in the freezing cold sifting the local river for gold. They are told that should they choose to flee there is no possibility of surviving alone; either the climate gets you or the cannibals do. However, in a brief moment of escape, our hero the lead singer manages to explore the island and comes across a man who claims to have been exiled there many years ago, and whose chief interest was interacting with the islands ethereal beings which have all disappeared since the great storm brought in the winter. This man had a daughter who’s being held captive by the thug in charge and has gone half mad during her long years of suffering. She seems to keep singing snatches of the same song, but what could it mean?
Perhaps more ‘inspired by’ than directly adapted, Sado Tempest runs along the idea that everything from the beginning of The Tempest we’re familiar with went completely wrong. A storm was called forth but rather than bringing the principle participants needed to right an old wrong it wracks the island, the mage is defeated and loses his sovereignty. The thug in charge is our stand in for Caliban, only this time booze and tobacco are his desires rather than the bait used to trick an unsuspecting innocent. Really the tale is told from the perspective of our Ferdinand stand-in - the lead singer of the band whose been brought to the island for a specific purpose, though he doesn’t know what it is.
It’s surprising how easily the elements of both cultures fit together - of course, a lot of it’s to do with translation, but if you didn’t know it might be hard to see where the Noh lyrics end and Shakespeare’s begin. The primary song seems to be adapted from the Noh play Yamanba but Full Fathom Five (Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s Tempest) also makes an appearance part way through and although it’s context is entirely different still feels incredibly apt. The film was, it seems, part commissioned by the Sado Islanders and the place itself is integral to the film. The local folklore and ‘Onidaiko’ (literally ‘demon drumming’) tradition inspired the supernatural elements which take the place of Shakespeare’s ethereal machinery and the landscape of the island with its rocky bleakness (at the beginning at least, I’m sure it’s lovely in the summer) perfectly reflects this land of winter that claims not to exist.
In another contrast to Shakespeare we’re left with more of a straightforward happy ending where everything is set to rights again without the slightly sad epilogue where Prospero vows to renounce his magic, break his staff and drown his books before imploring the audience to release him from his ‘imprisonment’ on the stage. There’s a real sense that everything is as it should be and that music was what made it so here. It is quite literally a song which saves the world. The band in the film are, I believe, a real band by the name of Jitterbug (who also had a song featured in Crows Zero II) whose music can be heard throughout the film. Even if it occasionally takes on the feeling of a ‘band film’ or veers off into brief episodes that feel much more like a music video than anything else, the music is one of the most interesting things about the film. I really hope that if the film goes on to be successful the soundtrack will become available in some way; hearing the classic songs reinterpreted in a modern style is indeed something rich and strange.
According the post show question and answer session with the director (who’s Welsh by the way), Sado Tempest will hopefully be returning to the UK sometime next year with a small arthouse cinema run, possibly at the ICA. So, if you didn’t manage to catch it at Raindance, keep an eye out early next year for its possible return - it's not every day you get to see The Tempest retold as a Japanese sci-fi/fantasy rock musical - at least, not one that works as well as this.
Sado Tempest (Arashi) screened as part of this year's Raindance Festival in London on 28th September and 1st of October.