At the age of 19 or 20, kimono salesman Akio Sakurai saw Led Zeppelin’s live tour for ‘The Song Remains the Same’ and immediately became completely obsessed, in particular with Jimmy Page. He spent thirty years meticulously recreating Led Zeppelin’s music in different periods in small Japanese clubs, consulting with instrument and amp technicians and costume designers to get every little detail as close to perfect as possible. Then one day in 2012, Jimmy Page walked into one of those shows, and his admiration for what Sakurai had accomplished along with the encouragement of Akio’s wife Junko inspired the obsessive to move to L.A. to continue his journey as “Mr. Jimmy.”
Laura's Review: B
Director/producer/editor Peter Michael Dowd is a Led Zeppelin fan who found his subject after a friend commented upon a tribute band. The filmmaker is almost as obsessive as his subject, making multiple trips to Japan and following his subject for 3 ½ years when his American odyssey took some unexpected turns. Matthew R. Blute and Ivan Kovac’s sharp cinematography features lovely composition, dreamlike in some passages but mainly treating its subject in the manner of a concert film, like he is always on stage.
It is an incredible story and one marvels at the level of detail Sakurai goes to, learning about the ‘texture’ solder in an amp gives to the music or how the wear on a pickup guard might influence things. This is a man who eschews studio recordings in favor of live performance, studying bootlegs relentlessly. In one sequence, we hear him play the same few bars of music, citing three different years within the 1970’s and we are amazed at the differences we hear, subtle, but distinguishable. In 2012, Page is astonished to recognize a particular arrangement from over thirty years prior.
The man whose attention to detail is noted as a Japanese trait (his costume designer tells us his devotion is contagious) finds a very different culture in the States. He joins Led Zepagain, bonding with his Robert Plant and John Paul Jones substitutes, who accept his notes, but the drummer, a 14 year veteran of the band, must be fired. But even these guys cannot keep up and when Mr. Jimmy comes up with his ‘The Fourth Night’ concept, an imagining of what the band would have sounded like had they played a fourth night at Madison Square Garden during their The Song Remains the Same tour, it proves too rigorous for them and American fans alike. Mr. Jimmy quits the band when they pivot to a more ‘fan friendly’ hits show and forms a new one to ‘revive’ the show Led Zeppelin performed fifty years earlier at the Whisky A Go-Go, but his months of preparation means he loses thousands on the gig and another band falls apart.
Dowd lets his film run on a little long, sequences such as Sakurai’s manager racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats of questionable relevance, and he never does explain what happens to Junko, instrumental to her husband’s musical career, when Jimmy leaves Japan. But he stuck with his subject long enough for a lovely surprise ending, a dream come true for “Mr. Jimmy.” The film rolls out on a touching grace note, honoring two lifelong Led Zeppelin fans, as it leaves us to wonder at the mystery of one man devoting his life to such an odd pursuit. ‘I want to be Jimmy Page,’ Akio says early on, later acknowledging he never will be.
Robin's Review: B
In snowbound northern Japan, teenaged Akio Sakurai immersed himself in the music of Led Zeppelin and, particularly, the guitar licks of leader Jimmy Page. For 35 years he honed his own chops, meticulously recreating Page’s work in tiny clubs in Tokyo. Then, the real Jimmy Page walks into the room and Akio’s life changed in “Mr. Jimmy.”
I do not know why, but as I watched Akio Sakurai’s chronicle of his homage to his idol, I kept thinking of the quirky 2006 music documentary, “Air Guitar Nation.” Do not ask me why, since the two movies could not be more far apart in concept. For one, “Mr. Jimmy” is actually about an accomplished rock guitarist, not posers playing invisible axes.
Akio Sakurai, AKA Mr. Jimmy, has idolized Led Zeppelin’s lead guitarist since about age 19 and has dedicated himself to mastering the music and style of his favorite guitarist in his favorite band. For over three decades he honed his Jimmy Page-style skills in small clubs in Tokyo.
His minor fame eventually led to the original Jimmy Page dropping in on one of his gigs. Page was impressed after his protégé played for two-hours. This visit changed Akio’s life and he took his act on the road beyond Tokyo and into his 15-minutes of fame.
The Page visit was the catalyst for Mr. Jimmy to break away from his tiny Tokyo tour and bring his act to the international stage as the revival of Led Zeppelin. That brought a bit more fame but not for long, forcing Akio to join “Led Zeppagain,” duplicating the famous band’s music. But, Mr. Jimmy being Mr. Jimmy, his “vision” of Zeppagain went against the grain of the rest of the band.
“Mr. Jimmy” is about one man’s obsession with the talent of another, making his duplication, note-for-note, of Page’s style and energy he highest form of flattery. It is all pretend done to an infinite degree – Akio had a costume designer exactly duplicate Page’s on-stage outfits and a sound engineer recreate the pickups Page used back in the day.
Such dedication to detail, however, is expensive and not everlasting and proved onerous for the wannabe Jimmy. One has to admire Sakurai’s unwavering homage to Page for so many years – but the one unanswered question I have is – why? Why give so much of one’s life to imitate rather than create? That question goes unanswered.
Abramorama releases “Mr. Jimmy” in select theaters on 9/1/23. Click here for play dates.