Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ninja Film

Went to Toho of that ninja film I worked on last year.

The real shocker was to learn that the rating board in Japan has issued it “ a “G” rating. This means viewers of all ages will be able see it.  As for the fate of the film, it seems it will start making the rounds early next year, but don’t quote me on that. But until I get the subs done it’s not going anywhere… I’m working on it! I’m working on it!

In the audience for the screening was Ju-on director Takashi Shimizu. Afterward I noticed he was walking around clutching a copy of my book “Zombie Maniacs.” I asked what he thought of it and Shimizu was beside himself with praise. Honestly, I was quite surprised. Shimizu always plays things cool, often going so far as to hide behind silly observations and jokes. Uncharacteristically, he was full of compliments and said he was grateful to finally have this kind of information on Romero’s zombie films in Japanese. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was the first time in the 14 years I’ve know him that he gave ME fannish eyes!

Once the screening was done, I went to the studio next door and crashed the “Attack on Titan” wrap party. Some of the ninja staff and cast were also involved with it, and of course since it’s basically a tokusatsu film I already know many of the staff. So, the first thing I did was get several ice-cold beers, a couple of slices of pieces, and a bunch of sushi down into my belly to start the night off right.

“Norman, I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t use you in the film,” director Higuchi said upon seeing me wandering around. “I mean, you are the first foreigner in any of my films. In fact, you are the first actor in any of my films!” Honestly, I was just hoping for some kind of post-production work. “It’s cool,” I said. “I don’t care about that. What I was wondering was if…” Higuchi cut me off. “I knew it. You are curious why I didn’t use you in the film, I mean, after all, you were the first…” etc etc. “No,” I insisted. “What I am hoping is…” This went on back and forth until it was clear we were both drunk and now was not the time to talk about anything serious.

Well, for various reasons, this year has seen me making the most trips to Toho since the Godzilla film “Tokyo SOS.” This is, of course, good. My years on the Godzilla set are an important part of my life and I want to have a good relationship with Toho.

In this vein, and to wrap this blog entry up, I was invited to an intimate Godzilla staffer get-together recently over in Ginza by one of my biggest supporters over at Toho. Put on by long-time Godzilla producer Shogo Tomiyama, the party had 3 Godzilla directors, a few assistant directors, an art director, a suit maker, marketing staffer, and one of my favorite scripters in the business, etc. Honestly, I was a bit embarrassed to be there. After all, all I did was hang out on the Godzilla sets. (Well, this isn’t necessarily true…) 

Oh yeah, and after the "Attack on Titan" party I caught up with some of the ninja movie staffers who were drinking by Seijo Station. Both Shu G (camera) and Ota (lighting) worked on my last film "New Neighbor". Two pals who are great at what they do and an inspiration to watch when on set.

Well, until next entry...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Will Never Stop Writing About Dawn of the Dead! A Personal Declaration by Norman England.

What kind of an oddball title is that for a blog entry?

Well, another "focused" update, meaning I have something to plug.
This time around I have a new "mook" out in Japan on George Romero zombie movies. Released by Tokuma Shoten, a Japanese publishing firm, it hit the stands on 8/4/2014, a little under two weeks ago.

Going by the somewhat idiotic sounding name of "Zombie Maniacs," the mook is a detailed look at all of the Romero directed zombie films (though a few of his others are mentioned too). Unlike the zombie mook I worked on last year that tried to appeal to non-zombie fans, this one makes no apologies and goes right for the jugular of Romero zombie fandom. This make-no-apologies approach seems to have paid off and the mook has been selling briskly and currently enjoys two 5 star reviews on Amazon Japan (the only two reviews up so far), and the comments on Twitter have been calling it a must buy. Oh, and cool too is that it has been fluctuating between the 1st and 3rd place in its category on Amazon Japan.
The book features several writers prominent in the zombie field in Japan: Yoshikazu Itoh, Jun Edoki, Takeshi Uechi, myself, etc. Each of us picked a Romero zombie film and took reasonability for covering it. Of course I selected "Dawn of the Dead", which turned out to be the main feature of the mook. I mean, look at the cover (see above). It's only images from "Dawn of the Dead"! It also happens to be editor Shinya Jiromaru's favorite film. While I feel a bit guilty about this - screw it - I love it!

My writing volume makes me the heaviest contributor to the book and as such I was generously given top billing. The truth is, this is something I wanted to make 18 years ago. At the time I put in a proposal to Gaga Communications (the company holding the Japanese rights to the film) and they expressed zero interest in the idea. So, this was a long time coming. Well, as they say, all's well that ends well.

Another thing that made this a dream job was editor Jiromaru letting me do whatever the hell it was I wanted. He had a few requests (the production of DAWN, something on Goblin), but his approach was, "Let Norman do his thing." It comes with great relief then that it's been selling so well because if it hadn't I would have begun to doubt the validity of my sensibility. (Now if only Toho would let me do my thing with Godzilla and not interfere with their screwball demands that actually hurt the integrity of my work in that field.)

What follows are my sections in the book:

Zombies by Romero - A piece on why Romero zombies are the best zombies around. Utilizing photos, I chose my favorite zombies from his first 3 zombie films and went into detail as to why they rule.

On Location - A visit to locations used in the first three Romero zombie films.

Dawn of the Dead: The Only Movie That Matters - A long essay on why DAWN is the be-all, end-all of filmmaking (to me, anyway). I had a blast with this one, and tried to convey what it was like growing up with zombies from the late 60s on.

Goblin & De Wolfe: The Music of DOTD - I wrote the section on Goblin and Christian Stavrakis wrote the section on DAWN's stock music.

The Making of Dawn of the Dead - An in-depth telling of how DAWN came to be and a look at the production of the film.

Monroeville and its Mall - Here's where it gets weird. I was originally going to do a piece just on the history of the Monroeville Mall, but as I got into it I realized that to do this I needed to tell the entire story of the town of Monroeville. So, Japanese zombie fans have just received a history lesson on the steel and coal mines of 19th century Pennsylvania. Hahahaha.

American Zombie Mania! - This is a piece about zombie cons and how Americans mingle with the actors and staff that turn out to them across the US, which is entirely different from how the Japanese do similar things. As I have been in the Japan for the past 21 years, I turned the article over to Lee Karr, who has just written a book on the Making of Day of the Dead. Lee's written for me before and always comes through with something interesting to say. I wrote an intro to the piece and a couple of notes here and there to make it easier for Japanese to understand.

The Varied Versions of Dawn of the Dead - A look into the various versions that exist of Dawn of the Dead. This one I handed over to Christian Stavrakis because I felt he was the best qualified to write on this subject, and I was tied up with the other sections.

Introduction - For this, I asked Taso Stavrakis to write something as I wanted to have at least one person from the Romero zombie world connected. Taso, as you may know, is the sledgehammer biker in DAWN and was stunt director and a soldier in DAY.

In addition, I supplied hundreds of photos to the book, many of which I received from pals Matt Blazi, Lawrence DeVincentz, and 'Spooky' Daz Sargeant. As I don't write in Japanese, all my translations were handled by Yoshiki Takahashi and Michika Kojima.

And there you have it!

All in all, I think it took me about two weeks to write. I spent my days sitting at a new Starbucks in Shimokitazawa listening to Goblin and typing on my (relatively new) Surface Two computer. Sure beats driving a cab (no offense intended towards cabbies).

(The photo on the left is something I took when in Kinokuniya last week of mags / mooks currently selling that contain my work.)

For anyone who might be interested, here's the link to it on Amazon Japan. Even if you don't speak or read Japanese, the book is filled with hundreds of photos, both color and black and white and has been lovingly designed by the staff at Tokuma Shoten.