Sunday, August 09, 2009

Jasper Sharp's new website

Film writer and curator Jasper Sharp of Midnight Eye and "Behind the Pink Curtain" fame now has his own homepage: http://jaspersharp.com. He's also on Twitter too: http://twitter.com/jaspersharp. Adjust your bookmarks and RSS readers accordingly.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ishii Sogo pays tribute to Yamada Tatsuo

Yamada Tatsuo (centre), a prolific supporting actor who appeared in around 100 films including "The Sinking of Japan", "Ashura" and the upcoming "The Sun That Doesn't Set", and also attended high school in Toyama with future filmmaker Takita Yojiro who would later direct him in "When the Last Sword is Drawn" and "Departures", died of stomach cancer on July 26th at the age of 53.

To many people though, including myself, he will always be remembered for his 1980 screen debut as Jin, the indestructible protagonist of Ishii Sogo's Mad Max-inspired violent opus "Crazy Thunder Road". 13 years later, he reunited with Ishii to play an older, wearied but still rebellious version of the same character in "Street Noise", a short instalment in the director's 1993 omnibus "Tokyo Blood". This marked Ishii's return to filmmaking after a protracted absence, and Yamada's presence also represented a fond farewell of sorts to the style of frenzied, kinetic cinema he'd become associated with before exploring a new internalised, metaphysical approach.

Ishii remained silent on his close friend's death until August 3rd, when he posted this moving tribute on his website.

Encountering actors and crew members is a truly wondrous experience that feels like a gift from above.

For me, Tatsu was my eternal star.

He was generally known as a distinguished supporting actor, but Yamada Tatsuo was always the star in my films.

Ultimately we only worked on two films together, but we shared a rivalry between actor and a director in which neither of us would budge an inch. There was no such thing as an easy job when we worked together, and there was always an unspoken rule between us that there would be absolutely no possibility of working together if we weren't able to invest over 100% of our energies in a project.

Tatsu was also one of the few people who had a profound understanding of the essence of the kind of films I wanted to make, and it would have been unthinkable for me to accept an offer of a job that he didn't approve of.

When "Crazy Thunder Road" was screened at the Kanazawa Film Festival in September of 2007, he kindly came as a guest, and although he was a man of few words and very good at hiding his true feelings behind humour, for the first time ever he spoke with me earnestly and fondly about the time we made the film. Afterwards, he joined me for a drink even though he was obviously in a bad way, and our robust discussion about the kind of films we'd make together next eventually turned out to be the last time we'd ever talk.

I'll never forget the happy, melancholy, and relaxed look on Tatsu's face back then.
 
Just as everyone would imagine, Tatsu was a real man's man, while at the same time he was also a very sensitive soul.

Of the new scripts I've completed, a few were written with Tatsu in mind.

I am once again angered by my own pathetic inability to get a new film off the ground in time.

I'm sorry.

I am filled with regret. And sadness.
 
Yesterday's films no longer exist.
Tomorrow's films are yet to be known.
All we have now are the films of today.

In memory of Yamada Tatsuo.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

For new "Sasori" Mizuno Miki, Simon Yam's boots know no mercy

Japanese production company Artport and Hong Kong director Joe Ma's reboot of the classic "Female Prisoner Scorpion" series, Sasori, finally opens in Japan on August 8th. By all accounts, it's a rather odd reimagining rather than a remake that de-emphasises the original's central theme of an oppressed and defiled woman wreaking merciless revenge against male hegemony, in favour of more conventional yet confusingly-plotted wire-based action. Mizuno Miki gamely takes over the role synonymous with Kaji Meiko, and in this Eiga Hiho interview with vocalist for influential rock band Kinniku Shojotai and writer Otsuki Kenji, she's surprisingly upfront about the film's more idiosyncratic elements, as well as the contrasting action styles of her Hong Kong co-stars.

OK: This remake feels like a spliced-together montage of scenes from different TV series and films. It'll suddenly cut off in mid-scene, and jump to some other totally unrelated part.

MM: During the shoot, they'd only give me the parts of the script we were shooting that day, so I had no idea what it was like in its entirety. What's more, it kept on changing. It was as if the complete version existed only in the director's mind.

OK: Sasori is dumped in this place that's like a disposal site for dead bodies, and corpse collector Simon Yam picks her up thinking she's dead even though she's actually still alive, then he trains her... story developments like those made absolutely no sense when I was watching the film (laughs).

MM: They didn't to me either, so when I was on set I went and asked the director about the bits I didn't understand. But his answer was mostly “Logic's got nothing to do with it!” (laughs)

OK: “Don't think, feel!”, just like Bruce Lee! So what exactly was that place where the corpse collector finds Sasori?

MM: Um... I suppose the prison had a place where the police would dump all the corpses.

OK: Oh, how convenient! That's a pretty half-arsed premise! He's supposed to be there collecting bodies, then he's all “bloody hell, she's alive”, so he force-feeds you something like a roasted sweet potato and nurses you back to health. Feeding a roasted sweet potato to someone who's on the verge of dying – what kind of resuscitation technique is that?!

MM: It was just a sweet potato. Still, he did give me something to drink before he fed it to me.

OK: Oh right, potatoes contain no moisture so it'd get stuck in your throat... what the hell's that got to do with it?! (laughs)

MM: Simon's character was probably under the impression that someone who dies and is resurrected can become a powerful assassin, so he'd collect lots of corpses, constantly wondering if one would come back to life. While making a giant wooden martial arts dummy. Or something like that...

OK: Well... then doesn't the corpse collector's story sound a lot more interesting?! (laughs) Not “Departures” so much as “Dispatches”. Sometimes he dispatches bodies, sometimes he doesn't...

MM: Ha ha ha!

OK: I'd love to see a spin-off built around the corpse collector.

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OK: Also, there's that bit where Ishibashi Ryo is drinking in a bar and suddenly whacks another customer with a stick, and just as I'm thinking “What the hell was that?”, he's gone back to drinking again with a cool look on his face. That was a surprisingly surreal scene!

MM: I thought the same thing when I watched the film, but its power alone is amazing, and the story and the action is off the scale. The same goes for the way each action scene is choreographed.

OK: In one fight scene, a female opponent suddenly hangs in the air, spins around and around then delivers a flying kick. Without any run-up! That was amazing. A complete violation of the laws of gravity!

MM: That's right! I also get lifted up by my enemies, get spun around several times, suddenly jump incredibly high, and do a flying kick. We shot action scenes like that with the idea that their impact was more important than their reality. As I was acting I gradually became so numb to that idea that I came to think, “That's just the way it is” (laughs).

OK: There's a lot of freedom inside the prison too, with the inmates getting into fights and no-one trying to break them up!

MM: And on top of that the costumes were pretty out-there too. Miniskirts as part of the inmates' uniform... (laughs).

OK: Including bizarre things like that, how should I say, it felt like being transfixed by some strange dream (laughs). The catfight scene with Natsume Nana was awesome too!

MM: It was cold when we filmed that scene, and the floor was slippery, plus we were covered in mud, so it was incredibly tough.

OK: Nana lets out this fearsome beast-like growl (laughs). Like “ROOOAR!!!” I wondered, is she really like that? It was quite a surprise.

MM: She said the ADR sessions were tough too. I guess action movies really are more about entertainment than logic!

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OK: What was it like acting alongside Bruce Leung?

MM: It was a-mazing! His movement was incredibly quick even though he's in his sixties. Plus he was extremely intimidating and scary when he attacked, but if I broke stance even slightly he'd stop the action immediately. He pays proper attention to his opponent's movements, and if he senses danger he responds right away, so I felt completely safe acting with him.

OK: How was Simon Yam [pictured left]?

MM: He'd just come at you out of nowhere, it was so frightening! (laughs) He doesn't pull his punches at all, so when he hits you, he really hits you! When he kicks you, he really kicks you! That's what he was like. Plus he always wore these heavy boots that looked like they had steel plates in them. When he'd kick me, it'd be with such force that I'd think “If I take three more of these, my bones are breaking for sure...”

OK: For an actor, that's an... interesting approach (laughs).

MM: Sure enough, I took a hard kick in the ribs one time that rendered me motionless for a while. It was too much so I pleaded to the director with tears in my eyes, “Please make him stop doing that, it's scaring me” (laughs).

OK: There are a few people around who are that full-on...

MM: If they want to do full-contact hitting for real, they should probably do it in a ring!