Thursday, October 17, 2013

"New Neighbor" Does Uplink X

Earlier this month, from 5 October to 11 October, my film “New Neighbor” had a week run of screenings at Uplink X Cinema in Shibuya, Tokyo.

How’d it go?

In a word: fan-freakin’-tastic!

The film did good business, managing to get an average screening of 80% capacity, with 3 nights at capacity / near capacity levels. Sure, Uplink is not a huge place, but it is a legitimate theater that’s been around forever and has a large following of serious film goers. The people at Uplink were great too. They both liked and respected my film, giving it full support and attention from start to finish.

Because “New Neighbor” is a 40min film, Uplink and I decided early on that I should hold nightly “events” to expand the length of the show. It seemed like a good idea at the time – and it was – but, man, did those things wear me out!

Here’s the week it was and some afterthought notes:

October 5: Opening Night
Guests: Ayano, Asami, Takashi Nishina, Kentaro Kishi, Yohta Kawase, Tomoko Hayakawa

This was more traditional in that we all stood, passed a mike around, and said something about the film, its director, the shooting, and thanking people for coming. In Japanese this is called 舞台挨拶 (butai-aisatsu), which means “stage greeting”.

Of all the nights, this was the toughest for me because I was completely exhausted from all the preparations that by the time I got on stage I was ready to collapse. But it went well, especially since I had my wonderful cast there helping me out. The audience enjoyed both the film and the show and afterwards I got a lot of enthusiastic compliments.

October 6: Actress Night
Guests: Ayano

The night was advertised as “Asami vs. Ayano” as we planned a performance in which my two leads would reenact a scene from the film. Unfortunately, it was Asami’s last day of shooting a new film and, try though she did, she couldn’t make it. Instead, Ayano and I did Tuesday night’s plan, which was her and me on stage.

Although I didn’t think it would go well, the night went fantastically well. I guess I hadn’t really noticed before this, but the two of us have a good rapport, having been friends for years now. We are different kinds of people, but know each other well, strengths and weaknesses, and know how to play off the other. People in the audience were crying laughing as the two of us covered how the film was made. In hindsight, this might have been the best show of the week.

October 7: Directors Night
Guests: Shusuke Kaneko, Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura

I don’t know why, but I had the brilliant idea to invite three of my closest director friends to do a night. Director Iguchi has a small part in “New Neighbor” and Nishimura helped out with some prop creation. Kaneko didn’t have anything to do with the film, but the truth is, without Kaneko’s help I wouldn’t be in Tokyo and involved with film to begin with.

I knew it was going to be an “interesting” night when Nishimura showed up drunk and in a somewhat abusive frame of mind. But I know Nishimura like the back of my hand. This was as I expected, actually…as I hoped. And as hoped, what went on on stage after the screening was one for the record books.

Nishimura and Iguchi sat down and before I could introduce Kaneko they were into their well-honed on-stage mode of talk. “Norman’s movie was quite astonishing, don’t you think? Iguchi asked Nishimura. “I didn’t think he had it in him,” responded Nishimura. The audience laughed not at this, but at me as I was trying to get a word in edgewise so I could call Kaneko onto the stage.

Settling in, all three directors told of how they met and came to know and work with me. Nishimura went on about how in awe he was when we first met on the set of "Machine Girl", yet over the years as he’s gotten to know me I’ve diminished in stature in his eyes. As I figured, Nishimura was out to roast me, which is why I brought Kaneko along. The always sophisticated Kaneko brought a balance to the night. Like when Nishimura went, “Kaneko, tell me, what the hell do you see in this guy?” Kaneko looked at him and said, “I think Norman’s a really great and talented guy.”

At one point I tried to point out how fortunate I felt to have such interesting friends as these three and that on reflection I’m both grateful and happy for the life I lead in Japan. “Norman, it comes as great relief to me and everyone in the audience to hear that your life is okay,” responded Nishimura sarcastically. When the evening finally came to an end I was ready for a nice tall beer.

Being on stage with these three super talented film directors there to support my work says a lot, and despite Nishimura’s chiding, I am grateful to be doing what I am doing. As for the audience that evening, if out and out laughter is an indication of enjoyment, then it’s safe to say they had a blast.

October 8: Asami X Ayano
Guests: Asami, Ayano

This was the night I most looked forward to. I brought what props I had left over from the film and made a few on my time off. I’d had a prior meeting with Asami and Ayano and we worked out how to recreate the final scene in “New Neighbor”. As I expected, Asami went wild on stage. With Ayano hiding in the audience, Asami, dressed in a sexy black outfit, went from chair to chair in search of her, often sitting in the laps of audience members. “Have you seen my pink, vibrator?” “Would you happen to have a dildo in your handbag?” She asked the various people there for the show. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the insanity of it all. Finally, at a key point I sprang on stage. “Cut! Cut! Enough, enough! This is the worst bit of acting I have ever seen! We’re going to have to take it from the top, but this time put some feeling into it!”

After this, the three of us sat down and talked about our friendships both working and non-working, how they came to join the “New Neighbor” production, and we shared stories from the set, especially from the film’s final scene, which was shot in a real SM studio in Shinjuku basement.

I have to say, seeing Asami on stage reenacting the film’s final scene, well, I was pretty happy. I mean, there’s Asami giving her all for my film! It took years of labor on the film to reach this point, but in the end it worked out even better than I’d hoped. The next day Asami wrote me to say, “Team Norman is the best!!!”

October 9: Boys Night
Guests: Kentaro Kishi, Yohta Kawase, Takashi Nishina

By this night I was ready for a vacation. But the guys in my film came out and helped make this night another interesting one. Kawase is very talkative on stage and has a nice, outgoing approach to everything he does. Nishina, who I’ve know since Kaneko’s Godzilla film, is less “bright” than Kawase, but always has something interesting to say and is an utter on-stage pro. And Kishi was his usual kind self. Kishi mentioned during the talk that he had some concerns if I was going to really finish the film or not because there were six-months in-between his two days of shooting! Oh yeah...I guess there was a bit of a gap there...

The evening turned out to be quite lively, although I did miss having my actresses on stage with me.

October 10: Norman X Yoshiki
Guests: Yoshiki Takahashi

This night featured an English subtitled print of “New Neighbor”. Following the show I shared the stage with Yoshiki Takahashi, the man who translated the “New Neighbor” script and who did the fantastic poster for the film.

Yoshiki, despite being a super busy guy who works on a lot of big films, took the time to work on my film. It’s pretty humbling. More than just respecting Yoshiki, I like him a lot and he’s done much to make my life in Tokyo better. So, I was pretty excited to sit down and talk with him in front of an audience, especially since the two of us enjoy rather foulmouthed conversations. I was also a bit drunk when I went on, which I also wanted. I felt that it was my show and as such I can do whatever the hell it is I feel like doing, which is pretty much how I run my life anyway. Yeah, it was a lot of fun and Yoshiki and I really duked it out on stage!

October 11: Sayonara Night
Guests: Ayano, Asami, Demo Tanaka, Tomoko Hayakawa

The big joke following the show was that after a week Norman had finally acclimated to it. Better late than never, I guess.

This night, the final night of screenings, went super well. Again, Asami was 100% Asami, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Add to this Demo Tanaka, who is always good for a few outrageous statements, and you have one hell of a lineup. I should mention too that both Ayano and Tomoko, who are both very sophisticated women, added immensely to the success of the evening. This night, as with all of them, I went out for drinks with everyone. Good times may they never end!

So, there you have it. The film I worked so hard on for the past two years did a theater run in my adopted home city of Tokyo. It was a fantastic, memorable time both on stage and being the scenes. I want to thank everyone who helped out and thank all who came out to see "New Neighbor"!

Side note: This isn’t the end of the screening life of “New Neighbor” by any means. There is a show coming up in Australia next month and I’m talking to other people now about more screenings. Such news will be added once I have things confirmed and dates fixed.