Thursday, February 7, 2013

Back From The Dead...And Ready to Blog!

Well, I've totally let my blogging life go to pot, which when you get down to it isn't any great crime against humanity. For one thing, I make most of my income writing so it's hard to justify getting away from writing by doing more of it. Besides, what purpose does a vanity blog serve? Does anyone read this thing? Hello out there! 
(OK...Now that I've gotten my blog disclaimer out of the way, it's down to business!!)

The New Year came, but like most holidays, I didn't care all that much. It's odd how quiet New Year's is in Japan when compared to the party-like-it's-the-end-of-the-world style in my native America. I used to party hop relentlessly on NY's eve back when I lived in New York City, going from apartment to apartment until I couldn't take another step. Unless you're going to hang out in some gaijin club, this isn't the case in Japan. This year I joined a small group over at my friend Yoshiki's house where we watched "The Avengers" on his insanely large Blu-ray projector system. I brought a bottle of tequila along, which I sadly couldn't get anyone to join me in downing!

Work goes well. I've managed to keep up with my monthly deadlines for Eiga Hiho, writing slices of Times Square life back in the 1980s. As mentioned in the previous post as something I was going to do, I penned a full page about my love of the film "Howard the Duck" and the month before that I detailed my adoration for horror hostess Elvira and told the story of a funny encounter I had with her on Times Square around 1986.

This month is the big, end of the year "best / worst films of 2012" issue and as such my column is on a one month hiatus. But don't think I'm out of the picture. I contributed plenty of scathing thoughts on what I feel to be the past year's film merits and demerits. For this issue I also contributed a two-page, full-color story about what it was like working as staff photographer on DEAD SUSHI.

All in all, I think I'm pretty lucky to have a forum such as Eiga Hiho available to me. I can write whatever I want, say whatever I want, and best of all, curse as much as I want and with it reach tens of thousands of people around Japan each month. A guy can get saddled with worse jobs, you know.

Speaking of DEAD SUSHI, the movie opened in Japan recently. I went on opening night to some theater in Shinjuku (can't recall the name off hand) to take photos of director Iguchi and nearly everyone from the cast as they stood and talked to the audience before the show. After this all of us who worked on the film went to a nearby izakaya to celebrate.

I have to say, the people I worked with on DEAD SUSHI are some of the best I've met. Sure, everyone's a bit usual (like I'm not?), but they know the meaning of hard work and do what has to be done to get the job finished. So, not only do I like everyone, I respect everyone. Best of all, they know how to hold a party. Iguchi is insanely funny and always seems to know the right words to say in front of everyone. He's a great party host.

Rina Takeda, the lead actress in DEAD SUSHI, happens to be one of the most charming, down-to-Earth actresses I have ever met. Is it cliche to say how I love her? At one point during the night I spied her in a close huddle with co-star Shigeru Matsuzaki and nudged Yoshiki. "Check it out," I said. "Rina's about to cry." Sure enough, not thirty seconds later, tears of joy were running down her face. We all began chanting "Speech! Speech!" And sobbing non-stop, she stood and went on and on about how DEAD SUSHI was one of the best experiences of her life. Oddly, as she spoke, everyone began chanting "Norman! Norman!" As the set photographer, it seemed it was up to me to snap photos of Rina as she cried.

One thing I'm quite proud of is the DEAD SUSHI theater program book. I've always been a huge fan of Japanese movie program books and have a stack of them in my room. They are well designed and chock full of photos. For DEAD SUSHI's, other than the photos taken in a studio for the film's poster and PR and frame caps from the film, all the photos are ones I took on the set last year. I picked up a copy at the theater after the screening and excitedly thumbed through to see how my work was used. I honestly think it's an amazing looking program book and it is something I'll cherish until the day I die.

The subtitling gig goes well. I recently completed the film THE COMPLEX directed by Hideo Nakata of RING and DARK WATER fame. I've known Nakata for over a decade having done numerous interviews with him during the J-horror boom at the turn of the century. He even got me a job writing an essay for the theater program book of THE RING 2 back in 2005. when it came out in Japan. It was a real thrill to finally work on one of his films, and one that is his first, true horror film since DARK WATER.

THE COMPLEX opens in Japan in May, but will have its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival this month. The movie stars Atsuko Maeda, who was a lead singer in AKB48 until she "retired" – whatever that means – a half a year or so ago. We had a cast / staff screening last November and Nakata was kind enough to introduce me to Atsuko, who can now boost of surviving the full brunt of my inanity. Seriously, though, Atsuko was very nice and I enjoyed talking to her. She's also a good screamer, which is a must for horror film actresses.

In addition to the subtitles, I wrote the catch copy for the film as well as came up with the English title "THE COMPLEX". In case you're wondering, it's called "Kuroyuri-danchi" in Japanese, which translates to "The Black Lilly Apartments").

If you want to know more about the film, here's a story I did on it for the Fangoria website: 

Fangoria article on THE COMPLEX 

Also since the last entry, I went over to Toei Studios for a staff / cast screening of Shusuke Kaneko's "The Centenarian Clock". I have a small speaking part in this (really small) but I'm just glad to be a part of the film. I really loved it. Being an old softie, I must have cried five times during the screening. Kaneko's good at tugging the heartstrings. The film also has an appearance by Kumi Mizuno, who is my favorite Toho actress of all time (if only for her great performance in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS). While we don't do a scene together, at least I'm in a film with the goddess Kumi!

Afterward we had a small party at a restaurant near Toei. I had a totally great time talking about deviant behavior in the 60s and 70s with Mickey Curtis, the film's male lead. The film opens in Japan in a month or two. At some point I'm supposed to do subtitles. I also came up with the film's English title, the Japanese being "Hyakunen no tokei".

Another film I helped out on, MORATORIUM, had its premiere on November 10th at a "space" in Shibuya. As it is just a 30min film, the show was rounded out with some other shorts. Attending the screening was its director Takashi Hirose, a young guy with a lot of ambition. I have a very small scene as a zombie, which I wrote of in a previous blog entry.

Also making the scene were Asami (she starred in MORATORIUM) and directors Noboru Iguchi and Takashi Shimizu of THE GRUDGE fame. Before the screening there was some bizarre zombie performance piece that was quite fun, gory, and I got a lap dance from a decaying, bloody dancer. My kind of night.

My own filmmaking work goes well, and I've finished several "Behind the Scenes" films recently. One was for the Naoyuki Tomomatsu film "Lust of the Dead" parts 2 and 3, (shot simultaneously). I pieced together a 27min film from video I shot on the three days I spent on set (my tolerance limit for this kind of movie) that pretty much exposes the absurdity that goes on when Tomomatsu takes the helm. It should be on the film's DVD, unless the director feels I went too far, which to be fair, I think I may have done. Like I care...

In any case, despite the subject matter, I feel it to be the best "behind the scenes" I've done to date. I've been trying to develop a style where I don't rely on fluffy actor / staff comments, and let the material speak for itself. I use my experience on the set as my guide when editing, where I try to reconstruct the set feeling so that viewers can get emotional insight rather than, as with many "behind the scenes", some PR piece designed to impress viewers with the awesomeness of the filmmakers and the production. The photo here is of me and my friend Saya Kobayashi, one of the film's leads, at the wrap party in mid-October. Saya's an original and is insanely funny in my "Behind the Scenes" of LUST OF THE DEAD 2. I might shoot a film with her this year... 

The other three films I did were for the ABCs of DEATH. I had shot on-set stuff for the trio of Japanese shorts back at the end of 2011 and, as is typical in this business, was contacted suddenly and given an impossible deadline. But, as they only had to be between 6 and 10 minutes long, I was able to edit each into a shape that I quite like. I know that the one I did for Yoshihiro Nishimura's Z IS FOR ZETSUMETSU will be playing along side the film when it screens at Yubari film festival later this month, meaning that in the end I actually do have a film playing at Yubari this year. I'm not sure if the other two will be playing too. (The photo at the top of this blog entry is a shot I took on the set of Z IS FOR ZETSUMETSU.)

The ABCs film is now available via on-demand somewhere on the web. I'm told my "behind the scenes" films will be on the upcoming DVD / Blu-ray release. The photo here is one I took on the set of Yudai Yamaguchi's entry: J IS FOR JIDAI-GEKI.

Now here's something different from me: I had a 1/2 dozen lines in a WOWOW movie. WOWOW is a Japanese cable channel, sort of like HBO in the US. I was contacted by Mei Hanawa, the woman who did art direction on my new film, asking if I could play a foreigner talking about dying languages, or something like that. "Just send me my lines and give me an idea of what you want me to do and I'll figure it out on set," I said to her. 

Shooting was up in Gunma in a town called Kiryu, one of the most boring places I've been to in Japan. I finished shooting at 3pm on the first day and the only thing I could find to do in town was sit in a Denny's restaurant and watch old people slurp spaghetti as if they were chowing down on steaming ramen. Shooting was a lot of fun, and somehow I managed to make it through my Japanese lines without flubbing them. The most fun was that I got to share a few lines with actress Naomi Nishida. I had met Naomi on the set of GODZILLA 2000 in 1999 and took her over to Stage 9 at Toho to show her the special effects set and to take photos with her next to the Godzilla suit. So...13 years later and we're acting together. I like when life does stuff like this.

FINALLY! I'm in the process of putting the finishing touches on my film "New Neighbor". I'd like to write about the total enthusiasm I have for this and how great I think it's coming out, but I'll save that for when I get the thing done, which should be over the next month. The photo on the right is from when we did our last bit of shooting over at Yoshiki's at the end of November. Just a couple of time consuming yet important pick up shots. The film is now being scored and I'm working with soundman Kyuya Nakagawa on the mix. 

Well, this isn't the 1/2 of it, but I think this is enough to go on in one blog entry.

Until next time... Be cool.


  1. THE COMPLEX sounds great, thanks for the link. Really looking forward to his return to the genre. And you sound like the hardest working man in showbiz, exhausted just reading it all. You are living the life, Norman!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Robert. And thanks for making it through this long winded entry!

  3. And huge thank you from me Norman for all your help with the ABCs. The photos you took onset and the BTS you created were all excellent. I know it was a terrible deadline to work with and I apologise for that - we didn't even know if we were going to be able to put the material on the release at one stage. We haven't ever met but we have mutual friends. I'll make sure to send you some blurays once they've been manufactured - will try and get one of the special BOOK ones we're doing as well.

    One other thing - are your Times Square 80s articles in English anywhere?

    Take care

    1. Thanks so much for the comments, Ant. I've still only seen the 3 Japanese segments for ABCs (well, and T, of course) and am looking forward to seeing the entire film. Hellish schedules aside, all 3 Japanese ones were a lot of fun to work on; it was a great group of professional filmmakers. I hope my "behind the scenes" pieces give you and the audience a feel for what it was like to be on set of these 3 unique shorts. And, yeah, I'd love to get one of the special BOOKs!! Sounds like something really special. In any case, thanks so much for the opportunity! I hope the film does well and reaches a wide audience.

      My articles are just in Japanese... It's interesting, when I write for US publications such as Fangoria, they stress that I remove myself from the story, or if I do, refer to myself as "this writer". The Japanese are the opposite. I'm always asked to push myself to the front of my stories. Both styles have their merit, but the Japanese way is a bit more enjoyable to write. Man... I miss the sweltering summer streets of Times Square circa 1985!