- 15 August 2001
by Robin Gatto
Director Masato Harada has a unique place among Japanese film directors. Having lived, studied and worked in Europe and the US for many years, he is able to observe his home country and its society from a distance and recognize both its good and bad qualities. His films Kamikaze Taxi (1995) and Bounce Ko Gals (1997) were both strong statements of social criticism.
But Harada is also a devoted fantasy and sci-fi buff, as his early international production Gunhed (1988) proved. His most recent film Inugami is a return to the realm of the fantastique.
The very first time I discovered your work was in 1990 with a film called Gunhed [handing him a 1990 issue of the French fantasy film magazine L'Ecran Fantastique].
Where did you get that?! I remember the guy who interviewed me ten years ago. He borrowed all these photos, but never returned them to me, and then never sent me a copy of this magazine!
What kind of experience was Gunhed, and how did it affect your career?
Gunhed was a very interesting project. It was poorly received in Japan, but it got some kind of a cult following overseas, including James Cameron. He really liked the film and I was invited to Hollywood at one point to discuss certain projects with him. A buddy from his school days, Randy Frakes, was also very fond of the movie, and we started writing a screenplay together, talking about a lot of things. These were the positive things about Gunhed, but nothing happened in Hollywood. At one point, because of Gunhed, I was able to get a good agent, who represented me, and tried to push me into certain areas, but nothing came of it. So Gunhed quickly became a film of the past.
Are you a sci-fi fan, and is that why you wanted to make Gunhed?
I'm a big sci-fi fan and used to be a devoted sci-fi reader. Particularly, I like Isaac Asimov's works, and many sci-fi films. So I had been waiting for the opportunity to make a film like Gunhed. And then the first thing I said to the producers was: 'OK, in Japan, we have really poor post-production, and not such great sound quality. So I need the Lucasfilm people to work on the Gunhed sound effects.' They agreed with me, so we went to the Skywalker Ranch near San Francisco, and I had really nice discussions with the staff there. I had already designed all the different sound effects, like one hundred different tones, 10 different sounds for Gunhed alone.
And Greg from Skywalker really liked that. At the time he was only working on simple family films. So we talked about a lot of interesting scenes together. And then finally Toho, when we talked about the budgeting, just cut the post-production part. So although that was a basic condition between me and the producers, they just totally ignored it. And then I had to compromise with sound people in Japan. So certain things I was promised didn't show up, for example they said: 'You're not supposed to use any kind of extras, except in the opening.' My idea of the enemy robot was to try to show the inside of the enemy robot, it's so huge, so inside there's another robot working on several levels. Gunhed is operated by one man. The other robot should be operated by five or six other robots. So it should be a battle between one man-robot and five robots-robot (laughs)! Something like that... But the ideas were sort of thrown out.
At one point, I wanted to do a sort of remake of Sahara with Humphrey Bogart, and that kind of story was incorporated into the Gunhed story. One reference I kept was the airplane called Marianne like in Howard Hawks' movie Airforce. But I couldn't keep anything from the Sahara version. And it's a draft version which I really wanted to do, so I still keep that draft and in the future if I have enough budget, I might work on that, but I think I'll never make any other sci-fi movie in Japan again. I mean, I might be able to make nice samurai pics in Japan but not sci-fi.
So you'd say that on the whole Gunhed was a rather disappointing experience?
Oh yes, a frustrating experience. But through bits and pieces, I was able to do what I wanted to do. But if I had been able to do everything I wanted... There was a way of going not too far over budget, but they didn't allow me to and cheated me to a certain extent. There is an English dubbed version of Gunhed, it was supposed to be shown at a film market just once, so I came up with an English version, but it was badly dubbed in Hong Kong. And actually, they used this badly dubbed version for Germany and other countries. So for those versions, I refuse to use my own name. They even sold this badly dubbed version to the US market. That's why there's this Alan Smithee version of Gunhed. Originally, the dialogues of Gunhed are a combination of Japanese and English. And that's a much better version, I think. Overall, it was a very frustrating experience, though this film could have been a cult classic.
I heard the Toho studio even used the actual Gunhed prop as a promotional tool in the streets of Tokyo.
Oh, it was so ludicrous. I mean, a movie creation should remain a mystery and away from the audience. Particularly the Gunhed creation, if you see it in reality, and touch it, it looks so cheap, they just destroyed the myth by putting the vehicle at Shinjuku station!
Your latest film Inugami competes at Berlin this year, where Stanley Kubrick's 2001 is being screened in a remastered version. Are you a fan of 2001 or any other Kubrick film?
Yes, so I'm very much honoured to come over here and see 2001 as the closing film. I once worked for Stanley Kubrick, because he wanted me to do a Japanese dubbed version of Full Metal Jacket and work on the subtitles. So I talked with Stanley over the phone constantly, for something like one hour a day - altogether maybe more than 30 hours. And then when I directed the dubbed version, I even hired actor/director Go Riju to play the lead. Now Go Riju's film Chloe is also in competition at Berlin, so it's a kind of force of destiny that brings us here (laughs). All the players are coming together, even Kirk Douglas whom I directed in a Japanese commercial for instant coffee (laughs). So all those important people I knew in my life are gathering at this festival!
What are the aspects of 2001 that most appeal to you as a sci-fi fan?
It's that realistic approach to the future, and that logical way of putting things in a visual style. The first time I saw it, 33 years ago, I was so young and I couldn't understand that of course, but certain visual imageries stayed in my mind. Over the years, I must have seen it 5 or 6 times, and each time I see it, there are certain elements I can discover. One screening I remember, it was in London, and it was double-billed with Duck Soup by the Marx Brothers. That time, it made me realize even more things (laughs). Certain elements of the film came out and hit me directly! I remember that shocking feeling.
2001 is a film that should never be copied, it is really something beyond. It's like Seven Samurai, to copy that film is stupid. If you talk about perfection in film, 2001 is so perfect. You can't add or deduct anything, it's just there and should remain there forever in the original form. And no other films are like that, including Seven Samurai. Even though it is a classic, certain parts of it might be changed. Maybe Akira Kurosawa himself might have thought: "If I had to make Seven Samurai today, I would do this or that differently." But 2001 rejects that kind of thought. It is a film that breathes, you can hear it. I don't mean that 2001 is my favourite Kubrick film, I prefer Paths of Glory. But 2001 is so different from the rest of the films, and so it occupies a special position for me.
In Gunhed, there is also a computer that wants to rule humans. It's a kind of link with 2001 in a way.
Yes, although, talking about computers, I would rather compare that with the Colossus film by Joseph Sargent. So Gunhed's computer took more from Colossus. Or Alphaville.
Did you have to endure other major frustrations after Gunhed?
Overall, filmmaking is a process of frustrations and how to deal with that kind of stuff. So I experienced that before and after Gunhed, but afterwards I recovered. The last frustration was Painted Desert. I wrote the screenplay in English and then asked someone to join me to polish up the dialogues. It came off a beautiful screenplay and lots of American actors wanted to do the film. For example, Lou Gossett and Peter Falk wanted to play the leads, Robert Blake wanted to return from semi-retirement with that film. But I always wanted James Gammon to play the lead, so I rejected those. It wasn't a bad choice, because James Gammon gave a nice performance. But I made certain wrong choices, particularly when I said no to Samuel Jackson. He wanted to play a cameo in the movie. He was working on White Sands at the time, and I was supposed to meet him at one location, and I missed it, and he returned to New York the following day. And still, he wanted to do the part, and if my production people had guaranteed his traveling fee, he would have done that for a minimum of money. But I thought: "OK, if Samuel Jackson can't do it, I want to work with Vincent Schiavelli". That was a big mistake, and I should have pursued Samuel Jackson.
Once I started shooting that film in Nevada, I realised I had chosen the wrong director of photography. We started arguing constantly. I was able to communicate with him in the beginning, and he was able to share my point of view about the visual style. Whenever I worked with my DP in Japan, most of the time, I drew a kind of storyboard that featured various angles and then asked his opinion. If he had a better idea, I'd take it. Basically I worked that way. I mapped things out. I wanted my DP to remember, once I came up with the visual style, the continuity of it. And Japanese DPs are really good at that.
Now, this particular DP, quite established in the States, was good at concentrating on one scene, but didn't remember what happened before and after in terms of continuity. He easily forgot what I said before. Therefore, if I went from a wide cover shot to a close-up, he completely forgot about the actors' movement and surrounded them with a completely different lighting. It took time to remove all those lightings and change everything. So the production was constantly delayed I had eventually had to fire him after 10 days. It never happened to me before, and after that it never happened again. I mean, I became very careful about choosing my DPs. So that was one frustration I had to endure, and because of that delay, all the action sequences I put towards the end of the filming were shortened.
Another problem was, I didn't realize once you start working with team trucks, there are so many trucks and convoys that come by! It's a problem when you want to film improvisational shots on the spot! Normally, with a Japanese crew and cast, there are not so many people, and you can easily change the placement of the camera, and if there is an obstacle in the frame, you can easily remove it. But not ten trucks at the same time! So I had to compromise on the spot. Had it been well prepared, I could have warned these union truckers. In reality, I said that in most cases, but then the assistant director didn't work properly, he was a sort of has-been, and he was not focused. So the combination of those things caused a lot of problems. I had to give up so many set-ups and I compromised, so the action sequence towards the end became so... unlike me.
When I made Painted Desert, it was basically a Petrified Forest kind of situation, a one-room drama located in a roadside cafe, that combines with a gangster story. I used several other locations, but the main one was the roadside cafe owned by that Japanese-American lady. Then there are those Hemingway-like mobsters, with James Gammon, and there's some shoot-out that happens towards the end. So I wanted this shoot-out to be very realistic and interesting at the same time. But since all this time and money were gone, I couldn't do anything at all. But that kind of frustration taught me great lessons. I mean, this Painted Desert could have been my calling card to Hollywood or American filmmaking, and partially because of me, I ruined it. So I decided to go back to Japan so I could concentrate more on the crew and cast and make better Japanese films. And then eventually, if they discovered me, I thought I could come back.
So after that, I made Kamikaze Taxi, and I got myself back into a pretty good shape. But then I felt a frustration again with Rowing Through. That film was based on the book "The Amateurs" dealing with a 1984 Moscow Olympics amateur rowing team. I think it's a good film, but it wasn't released properly, and it didn't get US distribution. There are so many misfortunes about that film, but the quality of the film itself is very good. But then when it came to casting, again I made a mistake. On the list of young, sort of up-and-coming actors, there was a couple of names whom I knew from other films. So I said to my casting agent in Los Angeles: "I don't have to meet them. Just forget them." And he said: "Are you sure? These people will become very active in the near future, and they're from Harvard." And I said: "Oh, his size is not right, etc., let's forget him." And these names were Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (laughs). Things like that can happen, you know.
You're definitely the most Hollywood-profiled director in Japan I know. Where does that attraction for American cinema come from?
My style is a "Hollywood maverick" kind of style. It's not plain Hollywood, because I don't respect that kind of filmmaking. So, of course, unlike most Japanese directors, I use lots of coverage shots. But it's always a combination of a John Cassavetes-style of acting and a Ken Loach-style spontaneous, naturalistic type of performance, so using the term "Hollywood" alone would be totally wrong.
Does your view of filmmaking stem in part from your relationship with Howard Hawks?
Yes, Howard Hawks was my mentor. Originally, when I wanted to become a filmmaker at the age of 17 or 18, in the late sixties, early seventies, it was really difficult to become a filmmaker until you got hired by a major company and spent several years as an apprentice, an assistant director. So I opted to study film overseas, and in 1972 for that purpose I was studying English in London. And then I sort of rediscovered Howard Hawks by seeing one of his films made in 1939 called Only Angels Have Wings. I saw the film at the National Film Theater, and then I realized Cary Grant was a kind of image of the ideal film director. The film is a relationship drama of professional flyers traveling over the Andes, but the way Hawks showed his characters was like an extension of his relationship with his crew, and so he looked like a proper role model for me. So I wanted to become this kind of director, and for that I had to meet Howard Hawks.
And that year, I was lucky that among my classmates there was this up-and-coming film critic from Switzerland, called Walter. He and I had a lot in common, we saw films together, and then he said: 'If you're interested to go to a film festival in the summer, I can get you a press pass.' At that time the Berlin Film Festival took place in summer, in July, so we traveled together to Berlin. That was the year Pier Paolo Pasolini won the Golden Bear, and I participated in the closing party and everything. Peter Ustinov was very gentle to me. So I just fell in love with that festival atmosphere, and that's also why I wanted to put my film Inugami in the Berlin competition. During the festival, my friend Walter got this new information that Howard Hawks was invited to the San Sebastian film festival to be in the jury, and he got me another press pass.
So with his guidance I traveled to San Sebastian in Spain. I was really like the young film buff traveling from one festival to another. You know what I'm talking about since you're doing the same thing (laughs). And there, I met Howard Hawks for the first time, and our relation continued the following year. I moved to Los Angeles and visited him at his Palm Springs home where I interviewed him for 5 or 6 hours. I still keep that tape. And gradually I understood that to me, Howard Hawks was really like a father figure. And I just love his film Red River, that's the best film for me. If I had to pick up one film that influenced me most, it would be Red River because of the father/son relationship. The father and son become sort of partners at the end, and I think that's the ideal father/son relationship.
So, let's move on to Inugami. This is a very complex film with fantasy and horror elements. Why don't you start by telling us what the "inugami", which gives the film its title, is exactly about?
Inugami is a ghost story, and also a story about Japanese traditions. It's a term used for a certain kind of class discrimination. I thought it was just folklore, but it actually happened and there are still some local villagers in the western part of Japan and in the island of Shikoku who remember this kind of inugami prejudice. It's a term that the first settlers used for the second generation of settlers. People would say of new settlers: "They're rich because they're possessed by inugami. If you cross them, they'll release these inugami at you, attack you and you'll get killed." So that kind of discriminatory expression was used as recently as maybe 10, 20 years ago.
The literal translation of inugami is "wild dog god". "Inu" means dog. But as part of the word inugami it's a different kanji meaning wild dog. If you go into that kind of discussion, there are like 8 million gods or "kami" in Japan, and inugami is just one specific god. It's a kind of god-sent creature. [According to the legend, it's a dog-god that grew from the body of another god, a beast called Nue that had a monkey head, a snake tail and tiger legs - RG]
"Inu" is also a good charm to be associated with someting spiritual and adventurous. There are certain things as "Nanso Satomi Hakken-den", "8 dog swordsmen" [This is a very well known Edo tale by Takizawa Bakin that made it to the big screen in 1984 as Legend of Eight Samurai, directed by Kinji Fukasaku and starring Hiroyuki Sanada. It's also a 1993 anime by Takashi Anno - RG] So it's a very convenient word that goes from wild to adventurous and covers lots of areas, from spiritual to sword-fighting kinds of images. Inugami alone represents something very spooky, spiritual, and a savage force. There actually are many field studies of inugami, probing what religions used them, what these creatures - if there were any - looked like. Some 40, 50 years ago, one professor in this area wrote a book about these inugami, and he even showed sketches of inugami, and they looked like the screamers in Christian Duguay's sci-fi movie (laughs). It wasn't right for my movie, so I didn't use that. Of course, there are no creatures like the inugami, but many people believed in that, they even sketched it, and that's a point.
So it started in that simplistic way and later on it became ugly and taboo to talk about inugami at all. Talking about taboos in Japan, there are so many taboos associated with the dark side of Japanese traditions, so this movie deals with two different types of Japanese traditions. One is positive and the other is negative. For example, the heroine, Miki, has this legacy of papermaking, which is a positive side of Japanese traditions. So she studied and became a paper maker in the Japanese traditional way of washi papermaking. And in order to produce beautiful washi paper, you have to have beautiful forests, good trees, clean water. And there you have to talk about environmental things, and so that's a positive thing and it's got to be inherited by the younger generations.
Another thing is she is the inheritor of this prejudicial tradition. And that's where the spiritual story takes place in the movie. And then, like I said before, this negative side of Japanese traditions always deals with taboos. What we need in Japan right now, in every sense, is taboo breakers. And Miki becomes a taboo breaker by accident, by committing incest, which is a taboo for every society. And therefore she becomes capable of breaking heavier, bigger social taboos.
Japanese filmmakers still steer clear of certain themes. Once you tackle a taboo, you might easily get attacked or killed. Taboo is still taboo. Certain areas are still untouchable. By making this movie, if you're intelligent enough and know a little bit about Japanese history, I think you can guess what this movie is about. But I can't say specifically what right now (laughs).
Well, it's both a film about nature and its secrets, and the way it triggers the liberation of a woman's powers in the face of a society that exploits her and stifles her.
The theme of women's liberation power is obviously a dominant one in the film. Miki becomes liberated in the end because she becomes a taboo breaker, and that way she becomes a fighter against the old system. But I would say that's the exit of the film.
My original image of the film when I read the book by Masako Bando was "OK, I want to make this film, because if I pick up this material, 95% of the frames can carry something about wood." It's either forests, cedar forests, or the beautiful Japanese wood houses where I grew up. So I always wanted to make some kind of spiritual ghost story using these surroundings from my past. I had some difficult times finding all those interesting locations and forests, because it's diminishing in Japanese communities. But for this time there were some supporters from local areas, notably the fans of my films! When they knew I was going to make a film like this, they said: "We have this kind of houses available for your shooting!"
So I contacted them and actually there are three major locations with wood-structures in the film: one is used for the Bonomiya main house, that's a 400 year-old temple and adjacent house put together; normally, it's not available for shooting, but one of my fans from my hometown had his son's graveyard there and he convinced the owner of the house temple, so it was available to us. And then the branch house of the Bonomiya, again, is something like 200 years old. And it's totally in a secluded area, very close to where Akira Kurosawa lived. And a friend of mine, who is a devoted Akira Kurosawa fan, convinced the owner of the house, and for the first time a film crew was allowed to go inside and shoot a film. So we even stayed there for more than one week to shoot all the branch family episodes. And the third house is up in the Mino area, the mid section of the Japanese main highlands. Mino is a well-known place for papermaking, and we were able to find lots of interesting locations. This particular house is pretty good because it's almost ranked as a national treasure. The mayor of the city was very cooperative and we were able to use it. So this great combination of three wood structures, plus cedar forests from 6 or 7 different prefectures made this film look almost perfect compared to my original image.
Now, focusing on one particular scene, how did you shoot that spectacular love scene between Yuki Amami and Atsuro Watabe inside the tree?
You mean the climactic love scene when Miki and Akira talk about leaving Omine? That's another big set-up. To find a forest like that, with twisted cedars, I never imagined that. When I sent out my location scouts to basically all the important Japanese forests, they came up with beautiful shots of 500, 600 year-old twisted cedars. So we went there - it was maybe an eight-hour drive - and then immediately I felt like: 'OK, I have to use wire shots on top of the forest', so I could have this kind of emotional high. It's Akira and Miki, two lovers, they understand each other for the first time, and they decide to leave this old village, this old system, so it had to have these emotional camera movements. You know, like the old Russian films, they used realistic set-ups with sort of over-the-top emotional camera movements.
Mikhail Kalatozov was pretty good at this. And I was impressed by his film Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba, 1964). The first time I saw that, I was 13 or 14 years old, it was released in Japan, then I totally forgot about it until last year. When I met Martin Scorcese in New York, we started talking about several films, and he mentioned how beautiful Soy Cuba is. He said something like: "If you saw it now, you'd be even more impressed!" So I bought a video of Soy Cuba in the States and watched it and I thought it was just so fantastic. I mean, some English dialogue is stupid, but the visuals are so gorgeous, with these long takes using wire shots and lots of interesting cranes and things like that. It still stands out today, so I wanted to borrow a little bit from that kind of image and then I checked his previous films like The Cranes Are Flying. It was made in 1957 but again there is this emotional scene in which the heroine tries to commit suicide by throwing herself in front of the train that carries her lover. There's such gorgeous photography, interesting camera movements, and everything.
So I decided to do some kind of minimum wire work for this particular love scene, and when we went there we asked the help of local lumbermen, so we could choose which trees made a perfect combination for the wire shots. And then we went with the camera equipment and everything. So it's well rehearsed and well prepared. When I make movies, especially supernatural thrillers like this, or art house horror you might say, I always try to come up with interesting camerawork, and also the story requires a build-up towards the end. This build-up is not only done with the story but also by using one interesting visual image after another. I strongly believe in movie directing as baseball pitching. I am a kind of a start-up type, I have to throw from the first inning to the ninth inning. So I have to design what kind of pitching I go through from the first to the ninth inning. This wire-shot comes in at something like the seventh inning, and it works.
Now, let's talk about the cast of the film. The female cast is incredible. I mean, you have veteran actress Shiho Fujimura and Yuki Amami, maybe one of the greatest new Japanese actresses right now...
I always wanted to work with Shiho Fujimura. She represents the old Daiei studio, she was discovered by the people at Daiei and then worked in the late fifties, early sixties. She became friends with Raizo Ichikawa, who was one of the major stars of the Daiei studio along with Shintaro Katsu. He was the star of the Nemuri Kyoshiro series. I grew up with Toei and Daiei jidai geki, so I knew her from the beginning and she is still active. She's getting old but beautifully, she's elegant, she has this nice quality of challenging new things. I heard about her positive attitude from my fellow directors, so I contacted her with the screenplay. And she knew my films and wanted to work with me. So it was love at first sight (laughs).
Actually, Yuki Amami is pretty much an established actress. First of all, she was a superstar at the Takarazuka company, with all these female performers, music, dance shows, and things like that. She was a legendary star there up until maybe 9 years ago. And then she quit and made a couple of films, but she always worked with the wrong directors. She looked gorgeous but wasn't right for those parts. So I didn't pay much attention to her until I saw her in a stage play directed by Hideki Noda. And that was a sort of surrealistic comedy, she was gorgeous. I had never seen her on stage before, and she impressed me a great deal. That was about two years ago. So I talked about her with my production designer Kyoko, with whom I was working during Jubaku - Spellbound (1999) and she said: "Amami is a good friend of mine, and she wants to meet you actually, so why don't I set up a meeting?" So a few days later, we had a nice meeting and immediately I really liked her open personality. She is really funny, and nobody depicted her funny side on the big screen. So originally I wanted to make a comedy with her.
But then, when I read this book Inugami, I felt right away it was a role made for Yuki Amami. Because Inugami also deals with this kind of Hitchcockian heroine, in which an interesting-looking woman who has given up her sensuality transforms herself into a sensual, attractive woman in the end, as lots of people get killed or hurt. Amami's face is good for the ageing make-up too, because of her matured features, and also she looks gorgeous on the screen. Since she trusted me very well, I thought she was my natural choice from the beginning. Here she shines, I think for the first time on the big screen she plays that kind of commanding role. And also it's amazing that she needed such a limited amount of time to study papermaking. On her first lesson, on which she spent some 4 or 5 hours, she impressed her teacher. And then the next week, when she went back to the papermaking class, she had almost become a kind of beginner's expert. And she needed only one more lesson. Everything she does as a papermaker in the movie, she's doing it by herself. And she actually produced this beautiful washi paper.
We also got to see her playing piano in Rendan.
Yeah, but I don't want to see that film. I saw the trailer and I can feel how bad the film is.
Oh, you're wrong, I can assure you...
I think I'm right! She's funny but the film seems so bad.
Let's talk about the music of Inugami. For the soundtrack of Kamikaze Taxi, your composer Masahiro Kawasaki used Peruvian pipes. And for that of Inugami, you had Takatsugu Muramatsu play Verdi's La Forza del Destino with traditional Japanese instruments !
Since we dealt with this Peruvian-Japanese taxi driver in Kamikaze Taxi, it was a natural choice to use the Indian folklore. So I asked my composer Mr. Kawasaki to listen to those tapes of Peruvian music. I chose 4 or 5 different tunes and I asked him to come up with something similar to those.
Now, for this film, I couldn't get Mr. Kawasaki, so I had to work with a totally unknown, kind of first-time young composer. I liked him up to a certain level, because he's obviously talented and there is a record company backing him up. So we made a kind of deal: if I hired him as a composer, there'd be an interesting soundtrack album available and we wouldn't have to spend any production budget on it. The record company would pay for it. So we started talking and talking. The first pieces of music were not satisfactory at all, and I started to feel a little bit afraid. I wondered if he could come up with anything interesting or original.
So to protect myself I had to go back to my other sources, and the easier thing was Verdi music, because I'm a big fan of Verdi. I mean, I didn't need many musical scores for this movie, because it deals with forests, paper making, and those make really interesting sounds. So sounds come first, and then in between you need maybe only ten musical scores, 15 minutes or less of screen time. So I felt I had to use Verdi, and I also suggested my composer to come up with different versions of La Forza del Destino. And he came up interesting variations of this particular score. And from there he sort of realized the whole musical structure of the film and gradually, one by one, interesting scores came in and everything was put together. So the Verdi score was actually the starting point for the final score of the movie.
Now, I heard Inugami was not very successful in Japan.
It wasn't at all...
So what happened?
The success of this new cycle of horror features started with this double bill of Ring and Spiral. And Ring made more than 10 million dollars at the box office. These were followed by Shikoku, Ring 2 and a couple of others. And then there were cheaper productions, horrors, splatters put together as double bills, and they started to cancel each other out. So actually the whole double-billed horror feature cycle is gone. But I wanted to make Inugami, and I just had to go for it. I mean, Kadokawa only agreed with that sort of package thing. But I didn't care about that, there's no more win situation for double bills in Japan. For me, this film was for the overseas audience, to reach the Berlin Film Festival competition and maybe launch a more international career. So I didn't pay much attention to how they promoted the film in Japan, but I cared for overseas posters, every visual image, and even if it wasn't successful at the box office in Japan in the initial run, I thought if it was successful overseas then I could re-import it back to Japan as a newly discovered Japanese film in Europe. And I think this is going to happen in the future.
I think the most frustrating thing about Inugami was that it was rated R-15 because of the incestuous relationship in the movie. Normally, when incest is involved you get automatically X-rated. This time, the Eirin ratings board and the producers had a discussion and they sort of reduced it to R-15. But still, a film like Kitano's Brother is PG, even though it is a violent film. So on January the 27th, Kitano's Brother and Inugami opened, and we actually had these two Ginza theaters across from one another. A couple of families came to see Inugami, and when they discovered this was R-15, since they had children under 15, like 10 or 11 years-old, they chose to see Brother. I mean, to show that kind of violent films to children is acceptable for Japanese society, and they can't even see a film like Inugami which deals with incest, but it's Greek mythology! So that's a kind of weird situation in Japan right now. Once this film gets the reputation of a quality film in Europe, then I can go back to Japan and I can say what's wrong with the rating system. But right now, the combination of this rating and the decline of this double bill horror genre, plus the publicity that didn't emphasize any merit of the movie, all of those things killed it. In the future we are going to look for a right audience for this movie. But for that, I need Western help.
Doesn't this incessant to and fro between Japan and Western countries sometimes make you feel a little bit schizophrenic?
No, it's not difficult at all. If I have to stay in Japan all the time, then it's difficult for me to adjust to the way of life in Japan, and then again, if I had to stay in the USA for the rest of my life, I'd be frustrated too. So for me the ideal thing is like spending ten months in the States and two months in Japan and keep on going like that. But in the future, if I make films for an American production, I'm sure I'm gonna go back to Japan once in a while and make some Japanese films. Because there are so many projects I want to do in Japan and also some projects I want to do overseas. So I keep constantly moving from one place to another. In the past I mainly moved from the States to Japan and went back and forth, but now probably Korea, Honk Kong, Australia, and Europe could be involved in this kind of movement, so I'll become a world traveler and make films playing by geography.