South By Southwest 2019 Interview – MR. JIMMY director Peter Michael Dowd

“Everyone has a teenage obsession. Maybe it was goth or punk or the boy/girl next door? Everyone goes to a phase, and 99% of people eventually grow out o that phase. Well what if you never did. What if instead for the remainder of your life, you held onto that same fever pitch level of passion as the first moment you discovered your obsession. Well, meet Akio Sakurai of Tokamachi, Japan. For the past 35 years he has relentlessly dedicated his existence to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. But he’s not merely a fan, he doesn’t want to simple adore Jimmy Page, he wants to BECOME Jimmy Page. Meaning for 3 plus decades he has re-created historic Led Zeppelin concerts note-for-note, with the same guitars, amplifiers, clothing, body weight, every detail you can imagine to match that of his hero, Jimmy Page. The film chronicles his journey moving from Tokamachi to Tokyo where he performed as “Mr. Jimmy” for 3 decades until the “real” Jimmy Page stopped by one night, and Akio’s life changed forever. Inspired by Mr. Page’s ovation, Akio quits his “salary man” job, leaving behind his family to move to Los Angeles and join “Led Zepagain.” Soon cultures clash, and Akio’s idyllic vision of America meets with reality.  The movie is sort of a Japanese valentine to Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, and a chronicle of Akio’s obsession and his own fish out of water odyssey to honor his hero. It’s a music film and remarkably in-depth in terms of Akio’s musical quest, but it’s also a film that anyone with a deep passion for something or memories of their own teenage dreams can connect with. I think that’s what’s so heartwarming and compelling about Akio, is that his passion is so pure. We all can recall hearing our favorite record for the first time, and wish we could hold onto that magical feeling of discovery and wonder forever, and somehow Akio has done just that.” Director Peter Michael Dowd on MR. JIMMY which screens at the 2019 edition of South By Southwest Film.

Congratulations on your film playing in at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Yes, I’m excited for SXSW, and I’ll be at all the screenings.

So how did you get into this movie-making business?

When I was about 19 I was living in Cambridge, and wound up getting an amazing internship for Errol Morris. I came from a working class family so movie making, while always being a dream of mine, seemed far-fetched. Being able to walk down the street and see someone making original, intelligent, provocative films was truly a life changing experience.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

It all started with a text. A friend sent me a message saying they had just seen a Led Zeppelin tribute band that “wasn’t totally shitty.” They were messaging me because I’m known for being a Zephead in my circle of friends. Now the band wasn’t Mr. Jimmy, but it got my mind going about tribute bands. What an interesting world. Grown men/women artists who dress up like other artists and perform their work. It reminded me of art forgery on the person was sort of forging the painter themselves as well as the painting. Anyhow, I went down a rabbit hole of youtube looking at hundreds of tribute bands. I found them really entertaining and sometimes perhaps unintentionally hilarious. But eventually I felt that maybe this was a bad idea. I love quirky and goofy documentaries but I don’t want to make a film myself unless I actually love the subject, and I didn’t want to sort of make a film essentially laughing at someone. Then all of a sudden I came across a clip from a Tokyo bar of a man performing Led Zeppelin wearing a blue button down shirt and khaki pants and loafers with a yellow guitar strap. I instantly recognized that as the rather quotidian costume that Mr. Page wore at Zeppelin’s historic 1979 Knebworth costumes. I thought, “now what have we here?!” What kind of maniac would track down that particular outfit. Again there are a million Zeppelin tribute bands out there and so many have the Dragon suits and the most well known Page costumes, but this was so deeply specialized. But more importantly when I listened to him play, I was completely blown away. It was SPOT ON. I mean not only was he playing beautifully, but beautifully as Jimmy Page would in 1979, matching the arrangement of that particular moment in time. Zeppelin’s arrangements were always evolving — even night to night — and here was someone putting the level of care into their tribute show to match that evolution. Anyhow I recognized Mr. Jimmy’s extraordinary commitment and musical skills and likewise I recognized that I was sitting there recognizing the blue shirt and the yellow strap and the ’79 arrangement, and I realized that we would be a wonderful match as filmmaker and subject. And the rest is history.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Oh the love of the music. I have been madly in love with Led Zeppelin since I was 14 years old. I can still recall the first time I heard “Whole Lotta Love” on cassette riding in a car to high school with a senior who said, “Check this out.” I mean it’s just an honor to have learned so much about the singularity of their music, and likewise to sort of appreciate how pure Akio’s love for Mr. Page is. Throughout our mantra on our small crew was to always match that. Always match that level of respect and to realize that we had to record the music properly and film things from a place of love and great care.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Oh maybe selling my car! Ha. Yeah that was a tough one.  I went to Japan four times, and I think the third time I was particularly broke, so I sold the old Honda. I think ultimately it was a positive though. Definitely clears up the dating pool in Los Angeles. Seriously though I think perhaps filming so much in Japanese and dealing with that onset and certainly in the edit. That was tough but obviously the only way to go. Also committing to multi tracking all the shows, even in these tiny Tokyo clubs. Fortunately our sound engineer Jeff Jousan is equally mad and would go to any lengths to get great sound. Most rewarding…I think that’s still to come. I just want people to see what Akio has done. The really pure place it comes from. And to understand likewise the singularity of this music.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

We shot on slightly older glass. You’re filming a 1959 Les Paul going into a vintage Echoplex and marshall you shouldn’t be using brand new canon super sharp lenses. So we used older glass. We basically wanted things to be organic and naturally beautiful. Every thing Akio does comes from a thoughtful place so we wanted to likewise do things artfully. In Japan Ivan Kovac was my director of photography and he brought a wonderful sense of movement to things. And we treated objects, even individual items like capacitors in the guitar like true fetish objects, which they sort of are.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I think the crowd rocking out. This is a rock and roll movie and I know this crowd will be into it. And I think they’ll get all backstories of how the music is made. All the details. But most of all I know Austin will be ready to rock.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

We’ve got some things cooking but until SXSW is over, mum’s the word.

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

Hmmm. I would love to show it in Akio’s home town in Tokamachi. It’s hard to describe how far away from “rock and roll” and certainly London or New York or LA or even Tokyo this place is. In the winter time they regularly get 10 feet of snow, so for him to have escaped that nearly Arctic land and made it to Tokyo and now around the world is wild. I would love to celebrate that with Tokamachi.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

I would say make like a tree and get the heck outta here.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Step one: become a crazy person. Step two: don’t stop.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

Oh so many. I will go with L’INTRUS by Claire Denis at TIFF. That film has had such a lingering power with me. She is beyond a genius.

This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to!

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