Friday, November 28, 2008

Rikyu, part 1

This trip's Tokyo interview, part 3, was with legendary film actor Rentaro Mikuni. Mikuni started his career in the early 50's and has appeared in hundreds of Japanese films and TV programs, including titles like Kinji Fukasaku's amazing Wolves, Pigs and Men (1964), Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp (1956) and Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri (1962) and Kwaidan (1964). We interviewed this living legend, one of the few remaining Japanese actors from the Golden Age (I can't think of many more outside Mikuni and Tatsuya Nakadai), for the upcoming BCI Eclipse DVD release of Hiroshi Teshigahara's historical epic, Rikyu (1989), due out on DVD sometime mid-next year along with its semi-sequel (also by Teshigahara, and also co-starring Mikuni), Basara: The Princess Goh.

Rikyu tells the story of the feud between 16th century Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi and his Buddhist tea master, Sen no Rikyu. Rikyu was responsible for creating the modern tea ceremony and emphasizing simplicity over ostentatiousness. Mikuni-san was kind enough to grant us an hour or so, and we were fortunate enough to film the interview at Teshigahara's foundation / school / museum, the legendary Sogetsu Kaikan in Tokyo. This building is jaw-droppingly impressive, housing original artworks from Teshigahara and his father, Sofu, as well as administrating the gigantic Sogetsu School of ikebana and other arts (that's a toko-no-ma scroll painting of an owl by Sofu behind Mikuni-san in the photo above). The entire place smells like fresh flowers - truly. Joining us at the interview (behind the scenes) were several friends from Shochiku, who originally produced the movie, including some of the film's original producers and the producer currently working with director Yoji Yamada. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we're grateful to everyone for all their help—it was truly a humbling experience.

Look for the DVD some time next year in a fully-remastered edition that will blow all those low-quality bootlegs out of the water. Further supplemental interview information to come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dispatches from another blog

I've been meaning to write something about the recent BCI Eclipses of Sabu's Unlucky Monkey and George Iida's Battle Heater, but haven't had any time to do so. So I'll direct readers to Torontonian-in-Tokyo Jason Gray's fantastic weblog here, where he speaks a bit about the former disc and his involvement with it. In a completely unrelated incident, I saw director Sabu at a Tokyo Filmex party tonight (complete with his adorable Sabu-zoku) and he asked how Jason was feeling: Jason, genki?

Big day tomorrow, with a midday interview with a major Japanese actor and star of one of the BCI titles I'm working on. At some point I will get to a bigger post about the first BCI discs to receive the Outcast treatment, and some of their pesky little problems. But before that, more updates about current work in Tokyo.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Still in Tokyo. Paid a visit last week to the new workshop of Tokyo Gore Police director, makeup effects designer and friend Yoshihiro Nishimura's company, Nishimura Eizo (西村映造), out past Ueno in the quiet neighborhood of Iriya. I wonder if his neighbors know what bizarre things are being constructed in the otherwise normal-looking storefront?

Below are some random photos of ongoing effects design and construction. There are at least three different films represented here, including the directorial debuts of both actor Keisuke Horibe (he's the police officer dad whose head is blown off in the opening minutes of TGP) and TV comedian Itsuji Isao (who plays Keyman in the film), plus veteran director Yudai Yamaguchi's upcoming bizarro comedy for Toei, Elite Yankee Saburo.

Check for your daily project updates at Nishimura's blog. He's the guy in the NYPD stocking cap below.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kitano gundan

In Tokyo for a couple of weeks, with a few sessions of interviews going on for future DVDs. Today was a visit to Office Kitano and a pair of interviews with actors whose careers started with Takeshi's first couple of films as a director, but who have remained close to Kitano since them, while forging careers outside of the world of Office K.

First up was Makoto Ashikawa, who started on some of Takeshi's TV shows in the late 80s and graduated to a breakthrough role in Violent Cop, playing Kikuchi, the newbie partner of Takeshi's unstable titular character, Azuma. Ashikawa talked a lot about Kitano's directorial process, how he was cast as the character, and told some funny stories about the shoot. In addition to this film, he also appears in Kitano's Boiling Point, Kids Return, Hana-bi, Zatoichi and Takeshis', all of which (except Zatoichi) will be released by BCI Eclipse at some point in the future.

Second in line, but only chronologically, was Yurei Yanagi, who also became a regular on Takeshi's TV shows—and a well-regarded member of Beat's comedy team, called the "Takeshi Gundan"—before gaining his debut as an actor with the lead role in Boiling Point, playing Masaki, the clueless amateur baseball player and gas station attendant whose thoughtless punch at a yakuza brings unforeseen consequences to him and his friends. Yanagi also talked about how he got to work for Kitano, as well as his strange performance in the film, how the movie, and others shortly thereafter, changed his career, and what it was like to work with directors ranging from Hideo Nakata (in both Ring films, among others) to Shinji Aoyama. Yanagi is actually a pretty familiar face to foreign viewers, having appeared in things like Sabu's Dangan Runner and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on V-cinema movies, as well as three other films by Kitano (Getting Any?, Hana-bi and his latest, Achilles and the Tortoise).

Many more interviews are planned with Office Kitano for future DVD releases, as well, and if they all go as smoothly and as well as these two, I'll be a happy man.

Next week brings some interviews related to the final two films by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Watch this space for more updates.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hooray for HAUSU!

Many other blogs have already reported it, but great news for fans of semi-obscure but phantasmagoric Japanese cinema is to be had in IFC TV's upcoming presentation of one of the great undiscovered (in the US) treasures of the genre: Nobuhiko Obayashi's jaw-dropping 1977 horror comedy HOUSE (aka HAUSU). If you think you've seen it all, and you're searching for something to recapture the feeling of watching your first anime, or J-horror, or chanbara flick, look no further. It encompasses just about every genre known to man, and features sequences that are still ahead of their time in terms of sheer visual imagination (check out the above clip for proof).

I've been curious about Obayashi and his vast career for some time. He's still working as a mainstream director, and recently turned out a remake of one of his own films, the kids-switch-bodies Exchange Students (aka Tenkosei). But HOUSE was his first feature film, and it's a doozy. Prior to the feature, Obayashi had a curious career, and one pretty unprecedented in the world of Japanese cinema, even up to this day. Obi had started out acting as an assistant on a bunch of foreign productions shooting in Japan, starring the likes of Kirk Douglas. He also was a significant figure in the world of 8mm and 16mm experimental filmmaking (if you search for it, you can find a double-disc of these works on a Japanese DVD label). Then he drifted into commercial filmmaking, where he was one of the first directors, if not the first, to use foreign talent to hawk Japanese products. Ever seen those Charles Bronson "Mandom" ads on YouTube? Yep, that was Obi.

I wish I knew more about how HOUSE came about as a feature film, and how Obayashi's career drifted between all these disparate poles - one of my great wishes these days is to interview him for a DVD of the film. I do know that Obayashi's teenage daughter wrote the original story for the film, and that screenwriter Chiho Katsura is credited with the script. (We interviewed Katsura for Criterion's DVD of Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku way back when - he was a good friend of the director.)

Maybe that's in the future for us, but I can say this: if you watch the film and like it, make your opinion know. Send an email to IFC or call them, and tell them how you dug the movie and wish they'd show more stuff like it. Then send an email to Criterion and ask them to (finally) release the movie on DVD. As far as we know, no plans are afoot to do so...yet. Janus Films has owned the rights to the title for quite a number of years, but has been sitting on a nice HD master for all this time. How do we know this? Because I was the one who recommended they buy it, and it gives me a great feeling to know that a bunch of other people are finally going to get to experience the electric charge I felt when I first watched the film.

HOUSE shows on IFC early in the morning on Saturday, November 22nd. First show is at midnight (Friday night/Saturday morning), followed by a repeat at 3:00 am.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


We're hitting that point of the year here where things get really, really busy before the holidays. Trying to pack in as much work before the end of the year, combined with "festival season," really hits the stress centers hard.

So let this serve as the briefest of updates, promising in the near future both a look at some of the Asian titles I saw at the American Film Market in LA last week, plus a peek at the work I'll be doing in Tokyo over the next couple of weeks. More interviews to come, involving Kitano titles and Teshigahara films. Tokyo Filmex. And some photos.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Off to LA

Heading out today to Los Angeles, both for the American Film Market—a good opportunity to catch up with recent and not-yet-released Asian films that are good candidates for NYAFF next year, as well as to reconnect with company reps from Asian distributors—and for some supplement work. Specifically we'll be recording two audio commentaries, one for Synapse Films' upcoming DVD of Wandering Ginza Butterfly, the first of a pair of female gambler films Meiko Kaji starred in after moving from Nikkatsu to Toei in the early 1970s, and one for BCI Eclipse's disc of Takeshi Kitano's second film as a director, Boiling Point. Both are with a known, LA-based film programmer and writer, and very knowledgeable guy about Japanese genre cinema. The Synapse disc is due next spring, along with its sequel, and though the Kitano's date hasn't been set yet, I'd guess that it'll be out around the same time, along with Violent Cop.

After LA, we're back home for a few days before heading back to Tokyo again for some more interviews and for the Tokyo Filmex festival. Then December will be occupied by editing some of the interview footage we shot on our last Tokyo trip, as well as planning work for 2009. It never ends!