When directors Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein first decided to make the documentary that became Mad Tiger, they conceived it as a much shorter, less emotionally complicated rock & roll film. Yi had previously made music videos for Peelander-Z, a Japanese punk group formed in New York City that’s known for its bonkers live shows influenced by pro wrestling, Kaiju monster movies, science fiction, acrobatics, and the Japanese idol pop music industry. The band’s four members’ were publicly only known by the color they wore: Red, Yellow, Green, and Pink
Initially Mad Tiger was just going to follow the days surrounding Red’s last show after spending twelve years in the band. Yi and Haertlein realized there might be something bigger happening besides a bassist moving on when they watched the YouTube video announcing his departure. “We could see something in Red’s eyes that looked very serious, even though what he was saying was very silly,” says Haertlein. “We knew there was a story to tell.”
Looking at the early footage, editor Hisayo Kushida encouraged the directors to keep filming after the show and focus on Yellow, Peelander-Z’s guitarist who didn’t seem to be handling Red’s departure well. The two found that beneath a band that was always outwardly fun and outlandish, was a leader who needed complete control and obedience from the others. Even when they weren’t performing, Yellow maintained a culture within the group where members had to stay in character. “When Michael and I first started filming, it was very, very positive at all times. It’s because we were guests,” says Yi. “We were not really in the inner circle, because the inner circle is only the band. It took a few weeks, if not over a month, for them to drop all the pretending for the cameras. It took me my first year of knowing them to even know their full real names.”
Members Green and Red had never been permitted to do interviews before the making of the documentary. In their first sessions, it can feel like watching hostages who have just been released by their captor. “It’s almost like you’re brainwashed,” says Yi. “You can’t say certain things, you can’t do certain things,”
In the months following Red’s departure, Yellow begins to emotionally spiral, as his feelings of anger, jealousy, and frustration begin to derail the band. Yi and Haertlein were able to capture this crumbling through intimate access to the formerly unknowable band. “It’s just me and Michael with cameras, so it just becomes more sparse and honest and behind the scenes,” says Yi. “We were just waiting and knowing that all this inner turmoil is going on, and just trying to capture that story as best we could.”
Mad Tiger begins a two-week run in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent on April 8. It will then continue screenings throughout the U.S. in May, including a week at the IFC Center in New York City starting on May 6.