- 11 May 2005
by Nicholas Rucka
The group of talented alumni of Osaka's Arts University that includes such luminaries as Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku) and Nobuhiro Yamashita (Linda, Linda, Linda) also gave us the uncompromising visions of Go Shibata. After the apocalyptic NN-891102 in 1999 a long silence followed, but he returned in late 2004 with Late Bloomer, a characteristically overwhelming and daring tale of a handicapped killer.
Can you talk a little about the creation of Late Bloomer, from the initial conception through shooting?
When I first met the star of the movie, Sumida-san, one of the first things we talked about was how society has a certain image of handicapped people. The typical film would show a crippled person overcoming great odds. We thought, "wouldn't it be interesting to see a film about a handicapped killer?" It was an incredibly vague idea at the time, but it was something that we'd come up with together and it was enough to find a financial sponsor for the film.
Actually the sponsors were from the Minose-Jinja Shrine: Mr. Kanishi and Mr. Terouchi. All together, the three of us - plus the guy who plays the helper in the movie, Naka-san - we comprised the base of this film. Together we decided to do a film about a handicapped man who becomes a killer.
That's pretty scary
[laughs] Yeah, the four of us came up with the concept of a handicapped "Taxi Driver." [laughs] Or even a handicapped version of Battles Without Honor and Humanity, with the killing of the boss and the like In fact, that was all we had to go on when we started filming this movie.
In actuality, there really is a larger theme and idea that we are attacking in this film, but there wasn't a standard script, so to speak. Well, that's not entirely true. I had written a script, but I didn't use it. Sumida-san can't perform like a normal person; for example, a non-handicapped person could open a door in a second. But for Sumida-san it would take five to ten seconds. That's something that my script didn't account for. In fact, I had to go through and change all of the action in the script and because of this, my original script lost its meaning. It became necessary for myself, the crew, and even Sumida-san to reapproach the film.
So, in reality, you didn't really have a script?
Yeah, that's basically true. I mean we had a script, but we ended up ignoring it.
It was more interesting to use Sumida-san's natural action rather than anything scripted.
Exactly. From there we were able to figure out the entire story. If he did something interesting we'd film it. If not, we'd move on. It caused us to pay close attention to what we were talking about.
How long would you say that you researched Sumida-san's actions and whatnot for the film?
For this film, we were filming as we were researching. That's why the filming took up the first year and a half. But the problem was, we ran out of money right after that and for two years we couldn't do anything. However, during this time I thought a lot about what we'd shot, the story, and what we needed.
You'd watch the raw footage over and over?
Yeah. From this I'd understand more about Sumida-san. You know, when we first started filming there was a large amount of distance between Sumida-san and me. But during the year and a half that we were shooting, the distance became less and less, and even though we didn't have a script, we could talk about the story, work stuff out, and even add whatever was happening on set, whether it was tension or the like, to the film.
In fact, if I had to say what one of the themes of this movie is, it would be the distance between Sumida-san and myself.
Speaking of themes, could you talk about what some of the other themes are in the film? Distance and ?
Distance and Well the first theme, at least the one I was thinking of before we started shooting this film, was violence and pity. But after I started shooting the film, I noticed that the theme of distance was far more appropriate to the film.
I noticed that there are some thematic similarities between your first feature film NN-891102 and Late Bloomer; specifically, the fact that the main character in both films is fighting his inner demons.
When I make a film, I don't necessarily have a specific theme that makes me want to make that film. But what you're saying confirms something I always do. Basically, I don't make films because I want work. I could do anything else, any other job, and be happy doing it. I also am not interested in making films in the "independent film way." I make films because, as you say, I am trying to get out my inner demons. This must seep over into the films
This is somewhat related, but why do you gravitate towards darker themes and topics? NN-891102 is about the psychological impact of the atomic bomb on a man's life. And of course, Late Bloomer is about murder and isolation.
Maybe I'm into necrophilia? [laughs] Or is it a kind of neurosis? I don't know. [laughs]
So what are your plans for your next film? Is there going to be an "inner demons trilogy?"
Actually, it looks like that might be the case. I have a script standing by which was written by an ex-schoolmate from the Osaka Art University. This guy, Matsunaga-san, was a year below me and is now actually studying to be a Buddhist monk
Did he get sick of art and just decide to become a monk?
No. His parents asked him to do this. His father's a monk. Anyway, we met a month ago and he gave a script that he'd finished up about a year ago. But this time, it's a little lighter than NN-891102 and Late Bloomer. I think I am becoming progressively more positive with my films This time it's a life journey. The main character leaves a small town and we follow him through his experiences: fights, love, etc., and finally he returns home a grown-up.
That sounds like something a Buddhist monk would write!
You're right! But actually, Matsunaga-san adapted it from someone's story. The problem is, we haven't optioned it yet
You better do it right away!
I know. Actually, I'll be speaking with my producer right when I get back to Japan about doing so. But, you know, this kind of story is such an old human story. Like boys having to go on a journey and pass all of these tests in order to become a man. This time the theme would be initiation.
Why did you shoot on DV? And why was the film converted to black and white?
We had to shoot DV because of the way Sumida-san moved. You could shoot a lot and it costs very little. But if you shoot film - 16mm for example - you have to change magazines constantly and lighting is necessary.
So you wanted something more documentary-style?
Yeah. We had three cameras. There was no need for special lighting and we could shoot "live," so to speak. As for why we converted to black and white, it was because I wanted the audience to focus only on Sumida-san: on his body and his movements. I didn't want the audience to get distracted by random color. I wanted them to focus only on him. But these are the technical reasons for why I did this.
Were you thinking of Hitchcock's "Psycho" while making this film? You have a 'bathroom' scene
That's interesting. It's the first time I've heard that.
All in all, how long did it take you to make this film?
Five years. But, I don't want to admit that. But I wasn't working on the film fulltime during that time. There were two years when I was basically like Lupin III; fundamentally homeless and trying to scratch out a survival. Also, during that time I basically became an alcoholic and my thinking got messed up.
Would you then say that another theme of this film is about discovering -
One's self? Yes [laughs] Well, for me, I've finally found myself.
In both NN-891102 and Late Bloomer music is very important, why is that? And who did the music?
I think music is so important in films because movies are not just comprised of only the story, actors, and the like; it's the feeling that's most important. Music is a part of this. For example, when I was a kid I would record the sound of movies off of the TV with my tape recorder. Films like Delta Force [laughs], The Goonies, even Cyndi Lauper videos. Perhaps everyone around our age did the same sort of thing?
It's like we wanted to make the movies our own.
Exactly. Because of this, I got used to the music in films and so when I started making films, music was naturally incredibly important to me.
Who did the music?
For NN-891102 we started working on the music as soon as we knew that we were going to be making this movie. Noeru Nakanishi [also an Osaka Art University student - NR] did the music for the film. So we made sure that the feeling of the music and the script were in line so that it really worked for the ending of the film where it's most important. So we made the band just for the film.
This time, for Late Bloomer, DJ Shiro the Goodman introduced me to a whole bunch of electronic music. Because he's well known as a DJ, event organizer, and owner of the ROMZ record label it was easy for him to do this. In fact, I've known him since I lived in Osaka and he'd seen NN-891102, so when I told him that I was making Late Bloomer he suggested that I'd love this electronic musician World's End Girlfriend. I'd just wrapped shooting on Late Bloomer but hadn't started cutting it yet - also, at this time, I was just becoming like 'Lupin' and didn't have a place to stay so I joined DJ Shiro and World's End Girlfriend on their tour and traveled around with them in their car. At that time, World's End Girlfriend and I talk about Late Bloomer and he was intrigued. We'd just hit it off and the timing was perfect. So he agreed immediately. "Let's do it!"
So Three years later [laughs] I finally finished the film. I'd just gotten the money to finish the film from Shima Films and finally do a blow-up from DV to 35mm. Right away I called up World's End Girlfriend and said "I finished the film!" He replied, "Great! It only took you three years! Congratulations!".