Monday, August 1, 2011

Let's Sushi Typhoon!

Summer 2011 continues to spear ahead like a javelin at a track and field match - and the amount of work and just plain cool things being tossed my way is making this summer my busiest ever in Japan.

Although I appreciate the concern, more and more I'm glad I didn't take any of my friends and family member's offer to bail on Japan when the earthquake and subsequent, on-going, nuclear crisis struck. This in no way means I look down on those who did, as the emerging information shows the government in Japan was / is doing everything in its power to downplay the situation, which is still grave. How this is going to play out is anyone's guess...

One of the first things I involved myself with following my last blog entry was an appearance in a HELLDRIVER "spinoff."

Spinoffs are not merely new ways to fill the airwaves with the same Happy Days characters ad infinitum, they are, as used by directors Iguchi and Nishimura, short hops back into the universe created within their films. Among others, Iguchi made a nifty one for his RoboGeisha movie that was quite the typical, insane Iguchi romp, and one I very much enjoyed. This time around, Nishimura has three spinoffs taking place in the world of HELLDRIVER.

The one I appear in is number two of three and was directed by Hiroshi Ota, who is Nishimura's lighting director since TOKYO GORE POLICE. In typical grueling Japanese filmmaking style, the shoot was limited to a day. And when I say a day, I mean ONE day! When getting on set at 7am they were already shooting and when I was lucky enough to creep out of there at 11pm, Ota and crew were still shooting.

This spinoff stars two very attractive women, Momoko Kato (who sometimes appears under the name Yumemi) and Shijimi. Momoko I've known since the VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL shoot, but Shijimi I first met at a screening of HELLDRIVER earlier this year. Shijimi plays a prominent zombie at the end of HELLDRIVER who bites the tongue off of the Japanese prime minister. This spinoff is her zombie's back-story.

One duty on the set was still photography, a job I absolutely love doing. I was also tapped to play a zombie. As I was getting made up it dawned on me that although I've been in several zombie films, I've only played a zombie once before (ZOMBIE SELF-DEFENSE FORCE). I realized this because, as I was getting made up, I remembered just how much I dislike getting made-up in this way. The zombies in HELLDRIVER get a lot of their "color" applied by airbrush, and I find the strong, focused blow of the airbrush insufferably ticklish!

My biggest concern was what to do about my glasses. Taiga, head of Hige Megane, the special makeup division within the Pabaan offices, insisted I wear them. "Zombie with glasses are the shit," he said while applying my facial wounds. As Taiga is one of the most awesomely talented special makeup guys I've ever met, I could only shake my head in agreement. Besides, I wasn't in the mood to stumble around an insect infested field unable to see.

After makeup I thought it would be a nice gesture to get ice cream for everyone working on the film. I went to a nearby 7-11 and despite being in totally ass-kicking zombie makeup replete with a cool, inexplicable wishbone-like antler protruding from my forehead, no one at the store paid me any notice. Even when selling me the ice cream, the girl at the register droned through the standard Japanese phrases that might as well come from a recording behind the counter. The only reaction I got was from some customers getting out of their cars who took slight note of me as I stumbled out of the store in high, living dead fashion. During the shoot, however, I am happy to report that I did spook some local kids on their way home from school.

After a few shots of my zombie partner and I lurching around we were ready to chow down on Yumemi, who I admit is always quite tasty looking. Although no prosthetics were involved, I was subject to one of those typical Nishimura blood showers, which is basically just a hose run into a garbage pail filled with stage blood. Held off screen, the hose sprays "blood" mercilessly into the air. I was totally covered in the red, getting it in my eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Later that night I played a "hyper police," HELLDRIVER law enforcers who wear large crescent shaped headgear and black gi like outfits. This, too, was entirely uncomfortable as the helmet kept pressing down on my head making it impossible to wear my glasses. I am convinced that only Japanese can properly wear a gi. The one I wore kept coming undone no matter how tight the director made it.

HELLDRIVER is a part of Nikkatsu Studio's Sushi Typhoon label, which saw its domestic launch in Japan on July 23, 2011. Of course having worked on HELLDRIVER as well as having done countless things for the awesome Sushi Typhoon people, there was no way I was going to miss the opening.

Playing at the Ginza Pantheon in Ginza, four Sushi Typhoon films ran in what producer Chiba dubbed a cinema matsuri. The day started off with the cast and director of ALIEN VS. NINJA on stage talking about the film. Other movies included YAKUZA WEAPON, DEAD BALL and finally, HELLDRIVER. All films were attended by cast and crew, who made themselves available to fans outside the theater to sign autographs and answer questions. Hell, I even signed a few!

One of the most fun things was director Iguchi, the host of the stage shows, donning an outfit in the style of each film. The day saw him transform from ninja, yakuza, baseball player and finally into a zombie.

A partial list of guests includes Sushi Typhoon producer/creator Yoshinori Chiba, directors, Noboru (Karate-Robo Zaborgar) Iguchi, Yoshihiro (Helldriver) Nishimura, Yudai (Dead Ball, Yakuza Weapon) Yamaguchi, Tak (Dead Ball, Yakuza Weapon) Sakaguchi and Seiji (Alien vs. Ninja) Chiba. Actors include Eihi Shiina, Hara Yumiko, Ken Kishi, Takashi Nishina, Demo Tanaka, Kentaro Shimazu, Honoka, Asami, Hiji Mika, Masanori Mimoto, Akihiko Sai, and Arata Yamanaka. And last but certainly not least, designer, writer, director (and Satanist) Yoshiki Takahashi was on the prowl for foreigners to offend with his carefully worded t-shirt.

It's always fun to hang with the HELLDRIVER cast. From the inexplicable Eihi Shiina to the somewhat dizzy Yumiko Hara, they are a mishmash of some of the most unusual actors I've ever met in Japan. Probably my two favorites are Kishi Ken and Demo Tanaka. Demo I've known since the MACHINE GIRL shoot. He's an interesting guy with an unusual flair for keeping the mood going. He's also the best zombie actor this side of the Pacific. Kishi Ken, although he can play total cinema bad assess, is one of the sweetest guys anywhere, and of all the Nishimura / Iguchi regulars, is probably the most accomplished actor. I have never seen a guy get so lost in a part like I have with Ken.

After the show Nishimura led a bunch of us over to a ritzy joint in Ginza for some cold beer and food where I made myself at home at a table with Demo, Asami, Mimoto, Yoshiki, Alex, Marc and Tomoko. Possibly the most fun moment was when Yoshiki stood up and instigated a highly animated call / response session:

Yoshiki: Sushi!
Us: Typhoon!
Yoshiki: Alien vs!
Us: Ninja!
Yoshiki: Yakuza
Us: Weapon!
Yoshiki: Dead!
Us: Ball!
Yoshiki: Za!
Us: Borgar!
Yoshiki: Hell!
Us: Driver!
Yoshiki: Cold!
Us: Fish!
Yoshiki: Sushi!
Us: Typhooooooon!

Yeah, man... Let the good times roll!