Coffy and Funk

In a flash, the purple suited lead singer of Osaka Monaurail streaked down the side aisle of  the Yokogawa Cinema and hunched over in front of  his 9 piece band. Like a conductor on a fist-full of uppers, he waved his hands and the show began.

In a way, watching a movie is like a really long elevator ride with a lot of strangers. So said Ryo Nakata, lead singer of Osaka Monaurail as he took a time out two songs into his band’s post film performance at Yokogawa Cinema October 29.

In his heavy Osaka accent, he explained that it has always struck him as such a wasted opportunity that people can sit behind or beside each other for 2 hours, laugh and cry through a great movie and then just get up and go their own way when the credits roll and the lights come on. So four years ago, he came up with the idea to stage a concert in the theatre after a screening of a personal favourite – the 70’s black action flick Coffy.

And then Sunday, after playing in Okayama the previous night and Fukuyama that afternoon, Osaka Monaurail rolled into Yokogawa Cinema, Hiroshima.

Director Jack Hill’s 1973 action film Coffy is quite a spectacle. A chesty young Pam Grier (of Jackie Brown fame) plays a vigilante out to get the pimps and pushers who’ve taken advantage of her sister – and her fellow sisters. At the turning point of the film, Coffy goes under cover in a floor length evening gown to take on an entire brothel of prostitutes and set herself up for a crack at the baddest pusher of them all.

The costumes and the action in the film are fast and furious, but Osaka Monaurail didn’t miss a beat with their follow up concert. After a short intermission, they picked up right where Coffy, Omar and swingin’ King George left off and the crowd loved it.

Right from the start, the sold out crowd was on its feet and dancing down in front. Osaka Monaurail covered numbers from the 70’s funk soundtracks of Coffy and other black action films of the era, and they also charmed the audience with an original number inspired by a Roy Ayers tune.

With his military haircut and slightly whacko grin, Nakata is reminiscent of the seriously sadistic character played by Ryuichi Sakamoto in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. But whatever his personal fetishes may be, there’s no doubt he’s a true showman and a genuine character… and he’s got that James Brown impression bit nailed to the wall.

Adding another unique twist to the evening, Nakata punctuated his band’s performance with some wry monologues. He mused on the feminism of Coffy – all the men in the film die and in the end only Coffy herself is left to walk into the sunset – and recounted the roadblocks he encountered when trying to get his event off the ground – like the manager of the Shibuya movie theatre who justified refusing to show Coffy by saying “but there are no black people in Japan.”

Nakata’s stories gave a bit of intimacy to the event. After all, his stated aim was to keep movie going from being as depersonalized an experience as riding in a packed elevator with a group of mutes.

Osaka Monaurail play regularly in Kansai and hope to be back in Hiroshima celebrating 70’s funk culture again in the new year.

Paul Walsh

Paul arrived in Hiroshima "for a few months" back in 1996. He is the co-founder of GetHiroshima.com and loves running in the mountains.

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