Friday, June 8, 2012

The Merry ol' Month 'o' May...

The Sushi Bites Back!
A month plus since the last entry. 
Guess it's time to hit the ol' blog keys...

May turned out to be another "full calendar" month.  Deciding to branch out and hone new filmmaking skills, I worked two gigs as a soundman. It's a job that comes naturally enough for me, as I slaved away in an audio rental house in NYC for a decade back in the glory days of the 1980s. Mikes, booms, zeppelins, Nagra recorders, XLR, RCA, phantom power, etc etc... I know sound. I even set up the audio rental packages on cool films such as the original "Bad Lieutenant" and several Spike Lee films (Well...I'm sure if I tried, I could remember something cooler than a Spike Lee film). 

The first gig up was a short directed by Alex Paillé. I'm uncertain of the title, but I believe it will be CASTING COUCH, although Alex says this is probably going to change. It was a fun, one-day shoot over at the dojo of action director-actor-director Tak Sakaguchi right here in Shimokitazawa.

Actresses, actresses, actresses...
The film stars Tak as an arrogant action actor confronted by his bed-hopping ways. Rounding out the cast were several attractive actresses (one of them, Ami, played a small role in my new film) and some of stunt / action guys from Tak's group.

On hand for the shooting was director Sion Sono, who co-wrote the story with Alex. While I've met Sono before, this was the first time to be on-set with him and to get a taste for his directing style. Sono has an interesting, if somewhat crass, way of getting the cast motivated. I learned a lot watching Sono and was happy to add another director's film set under my belt.

Although holding a boom mike in the air for hours and hours, trying to get it as close to an actor's mouth while not getting in frame, is a pain in the rear, I enjoyed the day and doing the soundman role.  All in all, a good experience and I'm looking forward to the final product.

Tak and Sono wait for the action to begin.
I also put in a day of sound on a film directed by Risa (Lisa) Takeba. This one was tough because of a slow pace and an exorbitant amount of takes per shot. Ultimately, I think we averaged a piddling two cuts an hour.

Now, the slowest films I've ever worked on were Godzilla ones. But I'm talking about the FX stage, not the live-action set. On those you get two, maybe three shots in per day. This is because of things like the all-consuming art direction (everything is built up, even the landscape), the Godzilla suit (which has an entire staff taking care of it), the explosions, the lights, etc etc. It would take hours and hours just to make a single shot happen. Yet it didn't feel slow at all because things were always moving along at a good pace. My feeling is that on a low budget film with only a few cast and crew members in a single room you should get in a minimum of 4 shots an hour, and even then that's slow.

I only did one day on her film, and from what I hear, I went on what was probably the hardest, least organized day. Just my luck... But here too, I'm looking forward to the final result.

I hope her socks are clean.
In good news, I have officially finished work on Iguchi's DEAD SUSHI.

After eight months on that, I'm ready to move on...

We had a final sub session over at Pabaan on 18 May. After making changes here and there and adjusting the timing in various spots, I reviewed the film with director Iguchi, explaining what was (and wasn't) being represented in the subtitles, making him aware of what information is (and isn't) present in the subtitles, how this information is being conveyed (how I framed his gags), and how non-Japanese viewers will likely interpret the film. This is also Iguchi's chance to ask questions, makes suggestions, and make alterations if he so desires (he didn't).

Rice zombies?
A week before this was the cast / staff screening of DEAD SUSHI over at Imagica. That was a blast. In attendance were the entire cast and crew. As is usual of the people working on Iguchi films, there is a strong camaraderie, and everyone looked genuinely happy to be back together again, especially under nice conditions, not like those 20-hour plus work days during shooting last year!

After the screening we went out for dinner and drinks at a nearby Chinese restaurant where we engaged in the Japanese "mission accomplished" hand clap and then set in on "speech time". It seems just about everyone had to get up and say something. Personally, I find it unnecessary, but it's how people do things here. Once the speeches were over, Iguchi stood up, thanked everyone for coming and then called the evening at an end. One staffer yelled out, "Hey! We still have 40mins left on the clock." "Oh," exclaimed Iguchi. "That gives us time for more speeches!" Oddly, I was the only one who laughed at this. 

With Rina at the DS wrap party.
Now DEAD SUSHI moves to the PR stage. There is a piece up on TWITCH about the film, which can be found here, that features stills I took on the set. I swiped my favorite three off of the Twitch feed and dropped them in the blog (the one at top, and the two just above this writing).

DEAD SUSHI also has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. Join them!


Looking forward to working with Iguchi and crew again.

Another cool project I've been working on has finally been announced. This is the Blu-ray of George A. Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD. To be released by Nikkatsu, the disc is produced by Yoshinori Chiba, creator of the Sushi Typhoon label. As one of my favorite films, I was more than thrilled to take on the task of providing content for the Blu-ray's booklet and to locate content for the on-disc extras. (Not all, as some of the content will simply be ported over from the US release, but there is enough original content on it to make the claim that this release comes fully-loaded!)

To those about to rock...
The booklet features three original articles. One is by Gary Klar, the actor who played the tough-as-nails "Steel". Gary was kind enough to contribute a piece about his approach to the character and gives fascinating tidbits of information about the DAY shoot. The second one is by Taso Stavrakis, who played Torez, a minor soldier in the film. Taso was also stunt director and has a long association with Tom Savini. His article is a captivating, first hand look into the DAY production. The final piece I wrote, and details how I crashed the premiere staff / cast screening of DAY in NYC back in 1985. As one of the best days of my life, I'm happy to include the tale in an official release of the film.

Designing the disc and its booklet is Yoshiki Takahashi. As regular readers of my blog know, Yoshiki is a multi-talent who is highly capable in a variety of fields. One thing Yoshiki wanted to do for the DAY disc was to make it look unlike any other DAY release out there – and there are a lot out there! The typical cover is a holdover from the original VHS, Beta and LD release, the one featuring a sun-yellow background with the zombie Bub in the forefront. Abandoning this and the usual route of set photo manipulation or some original-yet-disappointing painting, Yoshiki commissioned makeup artist and sculptor Kakusei Fujiwara to make a full-sized Bub head.

Talk to the hand...
On 3 May we did the photo session with the Bub bust in a Shibuya photo studio. To complete the shot of Bub saluting (as seen at the end of the film) a real hand was needed. I'm happy to report that my right hand passed the audition! I can now add "hand model" to my list of accomplishments. The most awesome thing about this is that at the film's premiere 28 years earlier, Howard Sherman, the actor playing Bub, talked to me specifically about how Tom Savini did his hand makeup. I suppose I can say that I got my direction from the source itself.

The shoot took hours as Yoshiki and cameraman Ito and his staff set out to recreate the lighting in the original scene. During the session I noted that it probably took Romero and his crew no time at all to light, or no more time than usual. But trying to recreate the original lighting was a whole 'nother thing.

I'll have more info on the Blu-ray when it gets closer to the release date, which should be this September.

Here's a link to the disc and what's on it on Amazon (this is in Japanese):

AD Murakamai, myself, Kaneko
The other day I did a bit of acting in Shusuke Kaneko new film "Hyaku-nen no Tokei". In it, I play an art expert talking about the main character's background. Although I don't consider myself an actor (given the credits I've been amassing, I should probably rethink this) I'm always up to any filmmaking challenge.

Kaneko sent over a document with what he wanted me to say that I translated into English (as he wanted my character to be speaking in English). I didn't write specific dialog, but rather gathered the facts and then practiced an improvisation around them.

Birthday boy.
Going over the part several times at home, I was never able to make it through to the end without flubbing it. On the way over to the location, I must have had people on the train questioning my sanity, as I was basically standing and talking to myself as I went over the dialog again and again.

The location was in a small bar-like restaurant in Roppongi that, after the shoot, was the location of Kaneko's 57th birthday party. I should point out too that this was the very first day of the shooting of the film, which added a bit of pressure. After the first day of shooting Kaneko's Godzilla film GMK, we went out for drinks and he told me how much importance he places on the first day, and how it can set the tone for the rest of the shoot.

I'm pleased to report that I nailed it on the first take. Ironically, after we checked it on playback, Kaneko looked a little sad. "Oh," he said. "I guess we're done." With the extra time before the party, the two of us went out for beers where he admitted that he was looking forward to working on the scene with me, but as I did it so fast he didn't really have anything to do. We both just laughed at this.

The birthday party was a lot of fun, if a bit on the low-key side. The usual Kaneko regulars, family members, and some new faces to spark things up were there. All in all, a good time. Kaneko's been a good friend for almost 15 years now. I've learned a lot about filmmaking from him. I'm looking forward to working with him again and again.

And of course, my run of articles in Eiga Hiho continues with a piece on the 1986 film, "Maximum Overdrive". In the story I tell about why I think it's an amazing and totally outrageous bit of 80s exploitation and I talk about meeting King during the editing of the film back in 1985. 

I leave you with a shot of director Kaneko pouring over my article.

Until next time...