2011 was a horrible year for Japan, what with the tsunami and all the death and destruction it wrought – not to mention the radiation bleeding out from the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. Months after the tragedy, Aerosmith, putting fears for their own safety aside, touched down in the small island nation, ready to bring the soothing balm of blues-fired, rough-and-tumble rock ‘n’ roll evangelism to a wounded people in dire need of a good time.

Aerosmith was not able to raise the dead on their “Back on the Road” Japanese tour that fall, nor could they repair the massive damage and trauma Japan suffered. They are not superheroes. That doesn’t mean they were powerless to help out in their own small way. Doing what they do best, Aerosmith played a series of raucous, high-energy live sets that made it seem like 1977 – the first year they invaded Japan – was only yesterday, and their mission of mercy is detailed in a lively new documentary titled Rock for the Rising Sun that’s part life-affirming tour diary and part electrifying concert film.

The mood is celebratory and not at all subdued in barn-burning performances of rollicking classics like “Mama Kin,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Rats in the Cellar” and “Draw the Line.” Out front and as cheeky as ever, Steven Tyler struts and preens about like the screaming gypsy he’s always been, his voice full of swagger and hardly eroded by time, as Aerosmith confidently swings around “Monkey on My Back,” snarls like junkyard dogs on “Sweet Emotion” and takes a spirited, raunchy romp through “Walk This Way” as the thousands who braved the cold and snow of Sapporo to see the band roar in appreciation.

Joe Perry tears through them all with reckless abandon, giving fire-and-brimstone guitar sermons that could either save souls or send them straight to hell. His playing is inspired and passionate, flashy and mean but also full of substance and drive – see the captivating, almost hypnotic “Movin’ Out” for proof of his wicked powers. And then there’s Brad Whitford, unassuming as ever, working out deceptively tricky combinations of chords and notes in his own quiet, yet lethal, manner on a funky “Last Child,” as Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton keep the rhythmic pot on a rolling boil throughout.

Director Casey Patrick deftly captures all the action with fluid, flowing camera work and editing, compiling a warm, vivid love letter from Aerosmith to a Japan the band fervently admires. His shots are beautifully cropped, never too tight on the individual personalities of Aerosmith but always close enough to see how they handle their instruments. And he rarely, if ever, cuts away too quickly, preferring instead to let the camera drink it all in.

While the live footage is exhilarating and vibrant, with expansive, potent sound that ought to be tested for steroids, there is also a great deal of humor, heart and drama in Patrick’s film. A sobering visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial allows for moments of deep reflection. Tyler talks respectfully about how Japanese audiences “hang on every word and note” that Aerosmith dishes out and reveals how the song “Boogie Man” was created. And then there’s the moment where Hamilton and Tyler spar over whether to leave “Hangman Jury” in the set.

These behind-the-scenes vignettes offer a peek – and only a peek – behind the Aerosmith curtain, giving a taste of what life on tour in Japan is like for a band that isn’t getting any younger but still has an effervescent personality that draws people to them. Osaka, Kanazawa, Fukuoka, Sapporo – Aerosmith hit as many places as possible on this jaunt, and Rock for the Rising Sun follows them everywhere, including a knife shop with Joe Perry as he shops for collectible blades. It’s hard to shake the feeling, however, that the filmmakers left a mountain of compelling material, both onstage and off, on the cutting room floor in their zeal to tie the movie up in a neat, tidy package. A trickle of bonus video showing Aerosmith barreling through “Lick and a Promise” and “One Way Street” and a booklet of colorful concert photos and sparse liner notes do not alleviate these concerns.

Understandably, Aerosmith is not as raw as they used to be, but Tyler and the boys are still ballsy and exciting, even if their shows these days are more glitzy spectacle than down-and-dirty barroom bashes. What they did for Japan was a good thing, and Rock for the Rising Sun is a thrilling visual scrapbook of their visit.

Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment