Friday, March 27, 2015

Another One...

Here’s another “Torakage Ninja” photo I shot that has finally made it through the intricate approval process of Japanese actor management and distribution companies. Hoorah! 

On the day this photo was shoot - the first day back to shooting after the 10 days in Iga - we went out near Mt Fuji to work. The ground was a complete swamp of dry, yellowed grass stalks and mud. Actor Takumi Saito had the no fun job of running back and forth while being followed by the camera crew in a truck. As there wasn’t room in the truck for me, I pretty much just stood on the sidelines hoping to get something usable with my zoom lens. Didn’t though… But when we repositioned ourselves elsewhere I was able to get this shoot, which I’m pretty happy with. A little less hair in his face would have been better but it's fine, I feel. Actually, I hate perfectly posed shots of actors...although Japanese production companies love those staged looked photos.

Oh, and the trailer for the film was just released. 

In other "happy" news, I wrote a teaser article for director Miike's "Yakuza Apocalypse" that was upped to the Fangoria site about 2 weeks ago. I'm penning a longer piece now for Fangoria (and one for Eiga Hiho) but am unsure when and where it will appear (on-line or in the magazine). 

Here's the link. 

Oh, and I'm not so thrilled with these Miike set photos. I've got better ones on their way. I had to get them approved ASAP. I guess they're OK... Fuck it.

I also just finished writing a screenplay that will be shooting in the Philippines from next week. Not my story, but I had to write all the English dialogue. I finalized the script with the director and producers yesterday in a grueling 7 hour script meeting. Actually, it was a lot of fun and it's nice to work with people who don't micro-manage you. That is, sometimes you work for people (i.e. piece of shit creeps) who need to put their dumb-ass fingerprints over everything simply because they want to say "I did that". 

So, yeah, it's nice working with professionals who understand the nature of cooperative creation, which is what filmmaking is, and don't do juvie shit. Jesus, even director Miike let me do what I wanted on the set of his film when it was my turn up at bat (so to speak). 

I digress...

Until next time.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On The Subject Of Set Photography...

Small update to share three photos I took on the "Torakage" set. These were put up by a film festival screening the movie so I guess it’s OK for me to run them on my blog.

I’m pleased with how my photos turned out on the film and hope the distribution company will place more on-line in the near future.

As for when the film will be given a wider release, I haven’t the foggiest clue. My job was set stills and English subs. 

This one was a lot of fun to shoot. I'm a big fan of "heroes assembling for the final showdown and walking calmly to meet the enemy" shots taken with a long lens. For this one I snapped my 200mm onto my D800 and set the depth of field as shallow as I could. Then I got as far back as I could without bumping into DP Shu G. Momose, as he was going for the same effect. After the shot was complete, the two of us got a kind of sappy, happy look going and we could tell we were both on the same wavelength over this one. Although actress Nana Seino is loads cute and I always want to show her face, I choose this shot because I felt it diversified the picture by showing her struggling to get over the ridge. It also shows off that cool ass weapon on her right hand.

This was kind of a tough one to get and out of the hundred or so I took for this scene it's the only usable one. This is because all the actors were running at the film camera, making it hard to get the right focus, or else lead actress Eihi Shiina was blocking actress Miyuki Tori, or else the actresses had odd expressions on their faces as will happen when people are screaming like banshees and running wildly. After I sent this shot to Eihi for her collection, she wrote back to say she thinks this is the best photo of her ever taken and that I captured "the Shiina look". Yeah, I was happy to hear that.

This was an extremely difficult shot to get as the actress was standing on a platform, had a blanket wrapped around her waist to stay warm, and the crew was massed around her. Basically I had to hold my camera over my head and pray. I guess the gods headed my plea as it came out fantastic.

I guess it's obvious that I truly love taking set stills. Give me a mike and I'll talk till the end of time on the subject. 

Until next time...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Long Time No Whatever

It’s been months since I did any sort of an update on el blog-o (bet you didn’t know I speak Spanish!). That last blog entry about Buck Rogers probably doesn't even count too. (Come to think of it, I should make that a separate blog/webpage.)

Thing is, I make a living writing and a blog doesn’t generate the kind of monetary return that keeps my landlord from kicking in my door and throwing me out onto the spit stained streets of Shimokitazawa. However, as someone who suffers from chronic something-always-on-the-brain, a blog is a good way to calm my nerves when normal writing work offers no solace.

Like now… I did a script translation for a studio in Japan over the New Year and thought that was that. They contacted me two weeks ago and asked for a re-write because the Japanese script had been re-done.

“When do you need it?” asks I.
“This month,” says studio.
“No, this month, February.”
“But it’s the 26th!”

Somehow I managed to make all the changes AND go to the Setagaya Museum of Art with my friend Ed to catch their Toho exhibit. It was a pretty comprehensive show detailing the history of the studio. Of course, given the vast amount of films Toho has made it would be impossible to cover everything, but I felt it did a good job showing the Herculean efforts the generations of Toho staffers have put in over the many decades. It was also interesting to see the various stylistic changes as they developed over the years. 

Interesting too, however, is how Toho considers its two crowning achievements to be 7 Samurai and Godzilla ('54). Of course they are both great films, but they also happen to be the two films most embraced by the west. I wish Japanese could see the value in their own work and not be swayed by their desire to be accepted by the west. I know...I shouldn't wish for the impossible.

Well, much of my time over the past several months has been spent working on a selection of films. Mostly subtitling. I did a still job on a low budget film that played at Yubari Film Fest last month, but that production was nothing to write home about. OK, it wasn’t Tomomatsu disorganized, but… Most of the staff and cast were people I’ve worked with on bigger productions and that made the several days I put in on the shoot tolerable enough. However, every single day I showed up to the location it was a “where the fuck is everyone?” situation.

A call to an AD was always met with a, “Oh, we decided to move to XXX location at the last minute.” The worst was dragging all my camera gear to a location one early morning only to find no one there and calling to learn the shoot was pushed back 5 hours. When I got to the set that afternoon, the first thing the cinematographer said to me was, “So, did anyone bother to call you to tell you about the change?” Cue one eye roll from me and lots of hahahahas from the staff.

Honestly, after years of this, I’m thinking it best to divorce myself from low-rent productions. I’ll work on professional productions no problem. But I’m pulling down the fadeout lever on my participation with so-called indie films. It's just not worth it.

I went to Ikebukuro to see a screening of the Shusuke Kaneko film “Danger Dolls”. They had a big display that featured the girls’ outfits and a large selection of my set photos. It was fun to watch people taking photos of my photos with their phones. Even Rina Takeda was taking photos of them.

“Uh, Rina… I gave you copies of most of these.”
“I know, but I want to take photos of them on the wall!”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t so happy with the selection. The shots used were ones that focused on the girls behind the scenes. You know, stuff to appeal to otaku fans. I would have preferred shots from within the world of the film, god knows I took enough good ones to fill a couple of photobooks. This is really up to the people promoting a film, so all I can do is provide them with various kind of set photos and let them use them in the way they feel is right. Still, it was fun to see my work so prominently displayed and right next to Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" display. (No behind the scenes of smiling actresses on that one, 'natch.)

Well, I finally finished my work on the Takashi Miike directed “Yakuza Apocalypse”. It took 3 passes to work the subtitles into a form I liked. The movie has a lot of yakuza posturing and it was a real effort to make their very unique culture accessible to those in the audience unfamiliar with the yakuza way. All of us who worked on the film went the extra mile, so I’m indebted to the wonderful Nikkatsu staff. All in all, it was a highly satisfying film to work on.

And as a film, it’s probably the best movie I’ve ever worked on. No matter how many times I watch it I find something new, or I just enjoy its great performances and bizarre situations. It was also a very good set, and I have a ton of wonderful memories associated with it.

I was over at Imagica the other day and finally got to see the film on a big screen. It looked even better. The movie has a film-ish quality to its look, giving it a kind of '70s sheen. I went with Tei, who plays one of the bad guys in the film. Tei's dialog was all in English (I wrote his lines and did on-set dialect coaching for him and Yayan). He was nervous before hand, but his lines came out great. All that relentless drilling during shooting really made the difference. Sure, he doesn't sound like he's from Brooklyn or anything, but he is understandable and the native nuances are there. All told, Tei was happy with his performance and it was satisfying for me to see him satisfied. “Yakuza Apocalypse” is a fantastic film and I highly recommend it. 

I’ve worked on a couple of other films too, but I don’t want to talk about them as they mostly sucked. *sigh*

I went to Wonderfest too. What can I say about that? It’s always the same thing. I think I’ll take a break next year unless any foreign friends come out for the show. However, I did bump into a lot of Godzilla staffers and got to shoot the breeze with them. Most notably, Makoto Kamiya, who I don't think I've seen in 5 years or so. I really owe Kamiya a lot for putting up with me near daily on the GMK set. I think he's sick of hearing me thank him, actually.

Check out the weird ass English on that sign. When I see stuff like this I feel good knowing I'll always have a job in Japan.

One super fun thing I did was to see Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time in a theater since 1977. My buddy Yoshiki is a big guy in Rocky Horror fandom here in Japan and even translated the film and its lyrics for more recent stage performances. In fact, before the screening there was a large band (at least 10 piece) and a live cast that performed about 8 pieces from the film. The sold-out screening was a blast, and Yoshiki and me were probably the most vocal. I surprised myself with how much I recalled of the audience participation stuff.

After the screening, a bunch of us climbed on stage and joined in for a couple of raucous numbers. It was actually a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be.

Speaking of Yoshiki, the night Leonard Nimoy died we went out for dinner (with his genius artist partner Yuko a.k.a. Utomaru) to remember Trek and just talk about how completely awesome Nimoy was. Our mantra for the night was, “I don’t want to live in a world without Spock!” For the next issue of Eiga Hiho I was planning to write about The Blob, but have since changed that to Leonard Nimoy. It truly is saddening to think he’s just not in this world of ours. I always admired his mind, his dedication to his craft, and his overall maturity. He was truly a good and honest human being. 

I was interviewed by the rock magazine Rock Jet about being a Kiss fan in the 70s. The article came out great. It's pretty long too, 7 pages in total. It was fun to recall all those years of taking hell for liking Kiss in the mid to late 70s. 

Oh, and a Greek website did an interview with me, in case anyone at this point hasn't had enough of my  ceaseless chatter. It's in Greek at the top and English at the bottom.

Well… until whenever I find the time to write something.