This documentary focuses on the efforts of organizers and players in February 2020 to put on a performance featuring predominantly female taiko drummers from Asia and the US. Taiko, which are barrel-shaped drums of various sizes, are also a style of performance that involves ensembles playing overlapping or contrapuntal rhythms, often accompanied by singers, dancers, and other traditional Japanese instruments. Historically, professional taiko performers were exclusively male and often performed with minimal clothing to showcase their physical strength. However, in recent years, this traditional style has become more inclusive and has gained popularity in the US, not only among Japanese immigrants but also within wider Asian-American communities.
Introducing Jennifer Weir, the CEO of TaikoArts Midwest and one of the producers of the film. She is a woman of Korean descent who was adopted by Americans. Along with her wife Megan Chao-Smith, who is also a drummer, they come up with a plan to host a showcase featuring some of the top female taiko players they can gather, including renowned names like Chieko Kojima and Kaoly Asano from Japan, as well as Sacramento-native Tiffany Tamaribuchi. The documentary follows their journey as they face challenges and triumphs while bringing the company together, navigating language barriers during rehearsals, securing a suitable venue for their large group, and ultimately putting on a successful show called HERbeat.
Once the music finally begins, which is showcased in satisfyingly substantial segments during the final act, the enchantment commences. The other theatrics leading up to this – including endless shots of stressed individuals having intense conversations about whether to include male performers in the show or keep it exclusively female – are rather uninteresting. Directors Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett do not delve into thought-provoking questions, resulting in some aspects feeling overly complimentary. It would have been intriguing to gain insight into taiko from a musician’s perspective, such as how they score pieces and incorporate choreography. However, it is likely that a documentary solely featuring the HERbeat performance would have been more challenging to market, but personally, that is what I would have preferred to watch.