Sunday, September 18, 2011

Flat Out!

Here it is, the middle of September and I haven't gotten in my monthly blog update. It's not from lack of want. My workload has hit a peak and I've been racing completely flat out, trying to reach the finish line without missing a deadline (well, not missing a deadline too badly...).

Not sure where to start, and I feel this entry is going to be a bit of a ramble (as stated at the top of the blog: You have been warned!) Might as well begin with the most recent since it's freshest in my mind. This was a subtitle gig I did for the upcoming Noboru Iguchi film, "Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead."

Nice title, no?

I visited the set several months back to take photos (if you look at a previous entry you can see a shot from the shoot, although it's just one of Iguchi roaring with laughter), get a feel for the set and to meet the actors I didn't know already. Iguchi, feeling the zombie genre tapped out yet still desirous of doing something in the genre, came up with a story / film that manages to send up the genre while resting outside of the genre at the same time. With a title like that, I think it comes as no spoiler that the film is rampant with toilet humor. Normally not one into such comedy, I was surprised at how much I liked the film. And as a job, it was not only a challenge to come up with a bunch of silly fart jokes, it was a lot of fun.

Working at Pabaan, the company run by directors Nishimura and Iguchi (seen on right with Nishimura choking Iguchi with one of the Zombie Ass parasites), VFX artist Kazuno and special makeup wiz Taiga, I spent two days overseeing their staff editors as they laid in the English script, checking on timing and making last minute corrections.

I enjoy working at Pabaan. The place is full of cool movie props and everyone is always in the midst of some new project that usually involves interesting, off-the-wall creatures. The people, too, are some of the coolest and most fun I've ever met. Movie making is tough, and tempers do flare due to the pressure, but not 15 minutes goes by when I don't hear heartfelt laughter erupting from somewhere in the Pabaan building.

When hearing this, I'm reminded how lucky I am not to be working in some "legitimate" business, like a bank or an office, where people are expected to dress and behave in "proper" fashion. At Pabaan people dress and behave pretty much as they like.

As much as I love living in Japan, one of the things that annoys me is the pretense that permeates the so-called top ranks of society. In the case of the film business you find it at all the major film companies, the ones enamored with themselves, the ones making "important movies" that audiences are expected to like yet never do because the films are often overly sentimental, meandering, and / or kissing the ass of the government who subsidize films that promote the social values they approve.

I was recently talking with friends who work at some of Japan's universities.  Tales of arrogant professors and their feverish stake in the status quo, their childish drive for personal recognition, and their fuddy-duddy approach to the students, makes me all the more grateful for not being a part of so-called normal society. These friends tell me they have to hide their affinity for genre films and the like, as such interest is frowned upon. Furthermore, I'm told, it's not unusual for professors to criticize everything and everyone, telling them what they should or should not be doing with their lives. I have friends with parents in this same profession and in positions of social standing who have been made insane from the pressure put on them by their parents to do some imagined "right thing," their parents stance being that their social position of "respect" gives them the license to preach.

OK... so what does this ramble have to do with what I was previously writing? Getting back to Pabaan, here is a place where people are united in their love of genre filmmaking and their desire to make genre films in an open, non-judgmental environment. Staffers dress how they want, speak how they want, and create the kind of things they want. They don't tell each other how to behave, how to talk, what to enjoy or not to enjoy, what to eat, what to drink. They don't tell each other how to live their lives. Not once have I ever heard Nishimura or Iguchi give out life advice simply because they are in the position to dish out such drivel. If I may, I want to state for the record that I hate people who feel they can tell others how to live their lives if for no other reason than 10 out of 10 times these hypocrites are unable to take their own advice.

In the case of Pabaan and the films they make, all I can say is, to hell with those who think this stuff is tripe and lowbrow. I would rather be working here writing fart jokes for zombie movies than at company where there is no freedom of expression and everyone is secretly unhappy. So, say what you will about the Pabaan people, call them outsiders if you must, but if that is the outside, then I want inside!

Working off my sense of Pabaan and their contributions to the Sushi Typhoon film line from Nikkatsu Studio, I recently completed a short film that can be considered a crash course in the people behind Sushi Typhoon, which I believe to be the most interesting film movement going on in Japan today.

As detailed in my last blog entry, Sushi Typhoon recently had what it dubbed a "matsuri," which translates to "festival" in English, with four films playing for a month at a theater in Ginza. Titles included: "Alien vs. Ninja," "Helldriver," "Yakuza Weapon," and "Deadball."

Taking the initiative, I secured use of a decent video camera and working with Tomoko Hayakawa, a lovely actress friend of mine, we hit the opening night of the show and conducted impromptu interviews with everyone involved with the films. Following this, I spent several weeks editing the footage into interview / montage segments. The results were met with positive reactions by Nikkatsu and they asked me to expand it with scenes from the matsuri's closing night. The film, which I call "Sushi Typhoon: Tokyo Invasion!" is now set to be included in the upcoming releases of Sushi Typhoon films in the US. I don't have specific details at the moment, but when I do, I'll post them here.

Another gig I enjoyed since last entry was working as still photographer on BAILOUT!, the third and final HELLDRIVER spin-off.

BAILOUT! was directed by Yoshiki Takahashi, the creative genius behind all the great Sushi Typhoon posters and co-author of the Sion Sono hit COLD FISH, to name but two of the many things he has done. (Yoshiki designed the Zombie Ass poster seen at the start of this entry.) 

BAILOUT! was a two-day shoot with the first being a day of location on the waterfront in Shin-Kiba; the final day being in a studio over in Hatsudai.

Both days were a blast. The first, unfortunately, was outdoors on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. The scene was actors Takashi Nishina and Yohta Kawase making their way through a devastated part of Japan as they attempt to get over "the wall."

Following this we traveled not too far to a spot where a highway was under construction for more shots of Nishina and Kawase lumbering about in post apocalyptic Japan.

Doing special makeup on BAILOUT! was Kakusei Fujiwara, a makeup artist I've known since the '99 film "Godzilla 2000." I will always be grateful to Kakusei for building the 4-armed alien in my movie THE iDOL.

Yoshiki proved to be a highly competent director and kept things moving forward at a decent, constant speed. Better yet, under his direction, the staff had a strong sense of vision and destination. A good director is the backbone of a production. Without this spine, the body will collapse into a quivering mass of shapeless jelly.

The second day was, thankfully, indoors. Joining the cast were actresses Showko Nakahara and Riri Kouda. Showko I've known from the scene and Riri I met a few weeks earlier on another set (which I talk about below). Part of the short film's story involves the men stumbling onto the women's hideout and a gruesome discovery they make.

Although one of the more enjoyable sets I've been to, the very end of the shoot was a bit much to take. Taking place in what I called "the gore room," the scene featured horror filled screams that were tough to listen to. At times I felt my spine tingle in terror, a feeling I haven't had on a set since the shooting of "Ju-on 2".

Speaking of Yoshiki, I neglected to announce that I recently wrote a piece on him for Fangoria. You can find the article here: Yoshiki Takahashi Fangoria article.

Lastly, I recently completed a "behind the scenes" video for a direct-to-DVD film called "Rape Zombie." All I can say in my defense is, I don't name 'em, I just report 'em.

From the bizarre imagination of Naoyuki Tomomatsu, a director / writer with a resume that includes "Stacy" and "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl," RZ is one of the many quickies he is well known for in Japan. Under budgeted, his films are usually shot in a day (days that last more than 24 nonstop hours). However, the shoot of RZ went on and on and the main day lasted nearly 40 straight hours. I got off easy. I was only there for 34 of those hours.

The first day was on a Sunday in Shinjuku in front of the Keio Plaza Hotel. This is where I met Riri, who went on to co-star in Yoshiki's BAILOUT! It had been a number of years since I worked with Tomomatsu and even though I think he's out of his mind, I was kind of glad to see him.

With pants down around their ankles, zombie men began chasing hapless living women around trying to have their way with them. I can't say which was odder, the sight of a dozen zombies with their pants and belts flapping in the wind running after screaming women as they tired to (and in some cases did) rip the womens' clothes off, pulling the females down onto the street, or the Sunday morning shoppers walking past this bizarre scene, ignoring it as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

The following weekend was the main day of shooting, and I traveled with the zombie extras from Shibuya to Gotemba where there is a location often used in Tomomatsu's films. It is, interestingly enough, a 400-year-old temple that appears to no longer have any real religious affiliation and is rented out by the city.

The main reasons I joined the set of RZ (besides Tomomatsu's begging me to do set photography and just be on hand) was because actress friend Asami was the film's star. I always enjoy working with Asami. She is lively, funny and very easy on the eyes. The other actresses, too, were equally lovely, and as is typical with Tomomatsu films, all were tapped from the Japanese porn industry.

Although this might sound odd, I enjoy working with porn actresses if for no reason other than they are easygoing. Unlike "normal" women, Japanese porn actresses don't have huge, protective mental walls built around themselves, that barrier having no doubt been smashed to pieces long ago. I am not saying I condone working in porn, but I am saying that I find it refreshing to be around women who are not inherently fearful of men from the get-go.

Much of my time on set was spent with actress Yui Aikawa, who was not only super fun but, as it turned out, a fan of mine. When Tomomatsu introduced her to me, she responded with an excited, "Wow! Norman from 'Stacy'! I love that movie!" "Stacy" is a film Tomomatsu made ten years ago.

The RZ shoot itself was a bit unbearable, not only lasting into the morning, but going through until 4pm the next afternoon. I attempted to be a zombie in the film (I am happy to report I kept my pants on) but the masks were uncomfortable and the humidity unbearable. I couldn't take it for more than an hour. The zombie extras proved to be more dedicated than I, and some lasted in makeup for 18 hours.

The shoot ended in a small tunnel in Tokyo just as a thunder storm broke. Yui, who had just been "used" by a group of zombies and who was covered in blood, ran out into the street to squirm about (she was prone to impromptu outbursts of "sexy" poses every 30mins or so) letting the downpour of rain wash the blood off her body and high school uniform.

While on set, I shot video footage and two-weeks after the shoot was over got a call from Tomomatsu asking if I wouldn't mind turning it into a "behind the scenes" piece for the films' DVD extras. As much as I find the film questionable, it was enjoyable to edit the footage and put together a 14min pieces that sums up that long, dirty day.

Well, this is by far the longest entry I've made to my blog, and I'll be surprised if anyone actually made it through to the end. Kudos to those who did!

I have a lot of projects in the works the mention of which will have to wait until my next entry.

Until then!


  1. I'm commenting to say I read the entire thing from start to finish! Great entry!

  2. highly interesting to read such "inside/on set" article, especially in english! i am quite a fan of tomomatsu, nishimura, iguchi so i am really looking forward the new movies,..release dates ?i wonder if nishimura can be contaced somehow? Asami i tried to contact thru twitter but she rarely uses it... :( Iguchi stated in a interview in Rue Morgue that his "inspiration" include scat-videos(!)...i thought he was joking about this ?! but considering the title of his new movie...