Saturday, April 19, 2014

Back on the Nishimura set.

Well, that was intense…
I’m back from two weeks on the set of the latest Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Helldriver) film, and, boy, am I beat to hell…
Film sets are always tough, but director Nishimura seems to take special delight in depriving his staff of shuteye. For more than a few nights we were lucky if we got in 3 hours of sleep. The worst was when getting back to our rooms at 3am, utterly wasted from the day’s shoot that began at 6am, with the call for the next day just a scant 3 hours later, the buses leaving for location at 6am on the dot, no exceptions. Faced with that, it’s pointless to even get undressed. Just jump into bed, get up at 5:59, and get right back to it.
Don’t take this as a complaint. A lack of sleep and a little bit of physical discomfort is a small price to pay to be involved with a director as exciting as Nishimura. Besides, it’s not like I didn’t know this going in. I’ve worked with Nishimura before. I know what his sets are like. On the “Sushi Typhoon: Tokyo Invasion” video I made for the US DVD/ Blu-ray release of “Helldiver” he even states in it that his secret is “no sleep for the crew”.
The shoot went before the cameras at the end of March and the day following the set “Oharai.” This is a ceremony in which a couple of Shinto priests bless the production with incoherent chanting that is capped off with some awesome tasting sake. Following this, the cast / staff climbed into location buses for a grueling 8 hour road trip over to the city of Iga in Mie prefecture (grueling because the seats are so small on Japanese location buses that they make the economy seats of an airplane seem like first class). Iga’s claim to fame is as the birthplace of ninja, or if not their birthplace, then where ninja got their act together through training camps in the area.
While the cast got to stay at the most posh hotel in the city, the crew roughed it in a building within a communal town run by people Nishimura described to me as “the Amish of Japan”. Some kind of communal living experiment, the town was a closed community populated by people who contributed to it with skills they brought to town, carpentry, cooking, sewing, farming, etc. On the wall of the room I shared with 5 other staffers was a handwritten sign reading something like, “be kind to each other and share the road of education”. In fact, one night on the way to the local bathhouse, I passed one of the community centers and from within heard a large group of town folk happily singing the song “Beautiful Sunday”. If you didn’t know a Japanese version of this song exists then check it out:
If I were to make a film about a cult, I don’t think I could come up with a creepier tune than this to show the wacky kind of blissful happiness cults seem bent on bringing out of the followers. Still, the people in the town were cool and when we left 8 days later they gave us a huge barbecue sendoff with some of the best vegetables I’ve ever had and tons of Iga beef and pork. So, who am I to judge? I hope they enjoy the Kool-Aid to their heart’s content.
Much of the shooting took place at Ueno castle in Iga. We spent several long days working on the castle grounds. One particular morning saw about 100 extras on hand from the crack of dawn. The area was blanketed in a very thick, picturesque fog. Looking up at the castle peeking through the mist and all the extras dressed in outfits from a hundred years back, I felt as if I had been suddenly thrust into feudal Japan.
For the castle interiors we shot at the home of some long dead aristocrat that had been turned into a museum. All its rooms were fit with tatami mats and sliding wood doors that when opened overlooked wonderful Japanese style gardens, pretty much standard stuff when it comes to Japan, but nice all the same. I set up my camera gear in a room and had this awesome view for a couple of days.
Perhaps the hardest day was when we went to a strip mining facility. It had been raining from before day break and the roads had turned to mud. I’d gone prepared to the shoot with a proper rain cover for my Nikon D800, but this doesn’t make it any easier. I still had to struggle to keep the rain off the camera lens, and changing large, expensive lenses in a downpour with only two hands is quite challenging.
This being a ninja film (not sure if I mentioned that), we had dozens of ninja extras on this day. Everyone was outfit in traditional ninja black, which the rain managed to make blacker. When shooting black on black, detail tends to get lost in shadows. If I pumped up the aperture to where I was able to see it, then I blew out the rest of the frame. I, of course, shoot in full manual mode, and between the rain and trying to get the right exposure on a large group of men in black, I found myself pushed to my mental limits. Complicating this, the shoot was split into two groups so all the shooting could be completed on schedule, with one group shooting on a ridge high above the main shoot. I had to shuffle up and down the mountain side between the two. With that said, I got some terrific shots this day.
Despite what was the toughest day of the shoot, by its end, when the night had set in and the rain finally over, while the mad rush to pack up was on, I was slushing through the mud between the trucks with the horde of ninja extras returning to their tent, plastic baggies in my sneakers to keep my feet dry, and all I could think was, “what a completely cool day!”
Trying to describe a film set, in particular, a Japanese film set is not easy. Japanese filmmakers deal with each other in a way that is deeply entrenched in the culture. There are many things that irk me about Japan, but there are also a great many things about Japan that don’t irk me. One of the things I appreciate is that despite the difficulty of the shoot not once did I see anyone lose their temper. I think this would be close to impossible in the US. I mean, 50 people living together for two weeks moving from forest to mountains on no sleep and not one person yelling? Not a chance in hell! In fact, it seemed that the more exhausted people got, the more pleasant they got. Go figure…
The closest to anyone getting upset would be Nishimura himself, but most of that was just a director trying to get the shooting pace moving quicker, as if it could get any quicker. I still have echoes of his “Are we ready to shoot?” and his repetitive “Things set yet? Things set yet?” ringing in my ears. When he got this way, us on the crew had to hold in our snickering. Not out of disrespect but just because his delivery is so funny, it’s like he’s just finished downing a pot of coffee and has no idea how it’s affected him.
Basically, Nishimura’s a very funny man with a dynamic way of directing and working with people. Most directors deal with the actors and their performance only. Nishimura is hands on when it comes to camera and lighting and how he wants it shot, framed, and covered. He wants his films to have a particular look, the Nishimura look. He also knows how to get everyone laughing, and every day we’d have to halt the shoot because none of us could stop from busting up. 
Another thing worth mentioning about Nishimura is that he never compromises. I mean, never once did I see him compromise the quality of a shoot or the acting. Every director I have worked with has gotten to a point where they have to take into consideration things outside the frame when calling a take “OK”. Nishimura wouldn’t call a shot “OK” unless he felt it had reached its maximum potential, even when we were running hours over schedule. At those points, when I could hardly stand up anymore, my camera feeling like a brick, and I just wanted to crawl into bed, all I wanted to hear from Nishimura was “OK”. But, Nishimura stuck to his guns, which in hindsight, was the right way. I have a lot of respect for him. And, moreover, I like the guy. He’s been an important person in my life.
I guess it’s kind of unusual to find crew guys like myself who are not Japanese on Japanese sets. Almost all of the time non-Japanese are actors (if that’s what you call them). But the short of it is, it’s neither here nor there being a non-Japanese on a Nishimura set, which is as I want. Like everyone on the crew, I’m there to do a job, a job I was given because I’m good at it. This is a business and as such all that matters is the quality of your work, followed by your on-set disposition. Also, I’ve worked for Nishimura for years and years now and this counts for a lot. We both know each other, which makes for zero surprises during shooting. I also know the main staff very well, and from the first shot we are all in sync.
However, Nishimura does like to yell out during the shoot, “Hey, where’s that second-rate foreigner?” To which I’ll respond, “The superior foreigner is over here!” So, yeah, although tough skin is necessary, the Nishimura set is an awesome place to be and I’m grateful to have the chance to work and experience Japan in such an unusual way.
Unfortunately, during the shoot at Iga castle I managed to fall out of a tree when trying to get a shot and hurt my foot. This was made worse by the relentless schedule we were dealing with and the last few days of shooting saw me limping pretty badly. Nishimura jokingly attributed it to my age (I admit I am the oldest staffer on the set) but this is another example of how he is. And, honestly, his chiding doesn’t get to me. The truth is, everyday Nishimura checked on me out of a real concern for my physical condition. (After getting back to Tokyo I went to the hospital and was told I’ll be limping around for a month or so.)
Now that the long shoot is finally over, I am editing photos, which is another huge undertaking. I’ve had to get a new monitor too, as the one I had just wasn’t cutting it in the color correction department. So, that should speed things up. Production photos should be on-line soon. I’m working on the English PR release of the film now as well. I’ll link to that stuff once it's on-line somewhere.
In other news, I’ve finished subtitling Noboru Iguchi’s new film “Live” (which is “live” as in “live broadcast”) and an action flick for Nikkatsu called “High Kick Angles”. I’ve also been working on the newest Takashi Miike film, “Yakuza Apocalypse”, which just started shooting a few days ago. I’ll be on-set off and on until shooting is over. More on that in the future.
Well, I have to go soak my foot and get back to photo editing.
Until next entry… Be cool.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

New Year 2014: The pen scribes on, the lens sees all.

The new year has come and gone. Thank god. Other than it being some agreed upon break from normal routine, I’m not the biggest holiday fan. I don’t work a conventional job so it doesn’t affect my lifestyle too much. Besides, I work based on deadlines, so holiday or not, the work has to get done even if it is Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

Actually, my “holiday period” was one of great work pressure. I had to wade through thousands of set photos for the Shusuke Kaneko film “iDolls: Battle in the Parallel World” (which is what I’m calling it until the company decides upon an official title), and I had two big articles to write. One of which was the annual “best/worst” write up for Eiga Hiho magazine.

First, since director Kaneko put this shot up on his blog, I'm guessing it's OK for me to do the same. This is a shot I took during the shooting of “iDolls: Battle in the Parallel World”. Can't wait to write about that set. It was a lot of fun.

As for Eiga Hiho... Honestly, it’s always hard to find ten films from recent years that I like. Not that they aren’t out there, just that I don’t watch movies in the volume I once did. And as an old fuddy-duddy, it’s much easier to come up with “worst” than “best”. As un-luck would have it, the “best” list requires 10 titles and the “worst” a measly 3. Oh, well.

My best list was topped by “Pacific Rim” and the worst by “Man of Steel”. In fact, the overall polling by all the writers put “Pacific Rim” at #1 in the best category, with “Man of Steel” as second worst. The worst film of the year, according to the average tally, was “World War Z”. I would have put that down too if I didn’t hate “Evil Dead” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” more. As I said, I wish I had 10 worst to write about.

My favorite section to write for is one called "He Who Must Die". In this you pick one person in the movie business you would like to see "dead". My choice last year was Seth Rogen, who would be my choice again this year if people "died" more than once. So, I went with Zack Snyder. Not only for "Man of Steel" but for, well, everything he has ever made. In all fairness, I didn't hate "Watchmen" and quite liked its opening sequence and thought setting Doctor Manhattan's background story to  music from "Koyaanisqatsi" quite brilliant. But as for the rest of his work... This section is kind of a joke, and I do not in any way shape or form want Seth or Zack to suffer from a lack of life.

The other piece I labored over during the holidays was for a mook on kaiju. It was a fairly big piece and I didn't have as much time to do it in as I would have liked, which can probably be said about any writing job. Still, I got to say a lot of things I'd wanted to about how I perceive the state of kaiju fandom in Japan. Not all of what I wrote about Japanese fandom is very pretty. Hahahaha... Ugh, I hope I don't get lynched when I attend Wonderfest next month. Mostly the piece is about what it was like as an American growing up on kaju films, both Japanese and American, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Here's the link to the mook on Amazon Japan:

I'm back to subtitling films and finished two features this month. One is Iguchi's upcoming film, which I don't think has been announced so I'm not going to do it here. I'll say this, as always, I enjoy Iguchi's movies and although they seem a bit silly on the surface, there is always a decent life-philosophy running under the surface. I'm now working on the subs for an upcoming action film and once that's done and if I can remember, I'll post something here about it in the near future.
Speaking of director Iguchi, his new movie "Nuiguruma Z" opened in Japan yesterday. For this one I did the subtitles, naturally. I also have a small part in it as a priest. I guess it's a priest. They dressed me up in some religious garb that I'm sure means something to those into the Christian religion. In my scene I'm supposed to oversee the marriage ceremony between the film's bad guy and heroine. Shooting was way back in March of last year. As with all Iguchi sets, everyone was having a great time and just letting their hair down.

Best of all, I got to work with actress Rina Takeda again. We're even in a shot together! Rina is always fun to work with as she's totally down to Earth and a bundle of energy. In fact, she's one of the stars of Kaneko's “iDolls: Battle in the Parallel World,” so I got to work with her twice in one year!

As for "Nuiguruma Z", I made the set a couple of times and enjoyed taking photos and just hanging out, especially for the big zombie day. As a big chatter box, there are always lots of people to talk to, old friends and new ones. The latest issue of Eiga Hiho features a set report of mine on the film. 

Well, that's about it for this blog entry. I'm on my way to Akihabara tonight to see a friend I haven't seen in 15 years. Her daughter is singing at a club. I don't think I've ever seen anyone sing in Akihabara so this should be kind of interesting...

And finally... Here's a nice shot I took of Rina when the two of us snuck off set for a couple of minutes. "Nuiguruma Z" is an awesomely fun film. I hope everyone will have a chance to see it in the near future. And don't give me a hard time about my acting!!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shusuke Kaneko's New Film, Zombie TV, Still Photography, Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Gunkanjima and Ikejima. Need I Say More?

Two months between updates seems par for the blog course these days. Well, as I’m apt to say, social media should always take a backseat to  real life.

In any case, here I am and here’s “the rundown”...

First off, after over a decade of friendship, visiting dozens of his sets, and even appearing in several of his films, director Shusuke Kaneko got me the gig of still cameraman on his newest film, 『少女は異世界で戦った』or in romanized English, “Shojyo wa Isekai de Tatakatta”, which basically translates to “Young Girls Battle in the Parallel World”. The film wrapped two Mondays ago (12/9) – and not a moment too soon – I was near the edge of my energy reserves!

But I expected it to be tough. Due to budget limitations, Japanese films pack their shooting schedules tight. Mornings start at 6 and run until 10pm or later. Often, if it’s a two-week shoot like this one was, you’ll get but a single day off. You're also standing all the time. When shooting, it’s considered bad manners to sit unless you’re the director (or soundman). For this film, we spent half the shoot in woods around Mt. Fuji. While it wasn’t subzero weather, it was cold enough.

I wonder… Is it like this in the US film world too? I wouldn’t know since I’ve only ever been involved with Japanese films. I do remember that when visiting the set of “The Grudge” the non-Japanese staff and cast had it easier than their Japanese counterparts because of US union rules. Unions pretty much don't exist in Japan, and when they do, they have no influence.

Set still photography remains the challenge. Setups move at lightening pace, giving you mere seconds to get a money shot. In almost every case, the film camera (naturally) takes up the best camera position, meaning you have to find creative ways in which to fit your body into the gaps between the various crews in order to get the shot. Maybe you see a good spot only to be yelled at by the lighting director because your perfect view turns out to be between a light and an actor. Or you’re all set to snap away when the boom mike goes between the actor’s face and your lens.

I try to take shots during rehearsals, but this being a winter shoot, the actors were bundled up in jackets that they only took off during actual shooting, which meant I couldn't just shoot as the "click" of the shutter would be picked up by the boom mic, ruining the shot. Instead, it's the game of "shot just as the director calls "action" and then the moment he yells "cut". And of course, despite all the limitations, everyone is expecting you to take tons of exciting, action packed photos that will draw the audience into the theater. Ugh...

I feel like adding to this list of “challenges” that the sets I work on are in Japan. Everything is in Japanese and everything is gone about in accordance to Japanese culture. I can’t say I always agree with how things get done but I do know that the last thing anyone enjoys hearing is an arrogant foreigner saying, “Well, in my country, we do it this way…” I hated hearing foreigners tell me what was wrong with my country when I lived in New York City, so I can only imagine it's the same with Japanese. Really, it’s up to me to adapt, not the other way around. So yeah, given all that, working on film in Japan isn't any kind of a picnic. But, it’s the work I want to do so when you boil it down I have little to complain about. Actually, I kind of like being the stranger in a strange land...

By the way, my photos came out great! I think it's the most pro work I've done to date. I can't wait for them to be made public!

For now I’m not allowed to disclose too much information about the film, so I can’t upload any photos or write about the cast. I can say it’s a science fiction action film that deals with parallel Earths and a wormhole setup between the two. I can also say that it is directed by Shusuke Kaneko, who directed the '90s Gamera films and "Death Note" pt1 and pt 2, among many others. The film also stars four adorable young women, one of whom is my absolute favorite actress in Japan. This marks our third time to work together and I consider it one of my life joys to work with her and am entirely honored when she tells people that we're friends.

Oh, and since Kaneko put up a photo of the "iDolls" van, I guess it's OK for me too. Get a load of that thing. Right in the middle of the shoot I had to zip over to Kyoto to give a presentation before the Kyoto Film Commission and the next morning, upon arriving back to Gotemba, I was picked up in this thing by one of the assistant producers. That was a bit embarrassing. 

We had the wrap party last week. That was a lot of fun. Parties like this are always interesting because the permeating tension of the shoot is suddenly gone and everyone looks as light as a feather. Serious faces are now replaced by smiling ones. And the strictness of the set is replaced by a strong sense of camaraderie. It's also nice to finally be able to sit down and drink without worrying about the next day. During the shoot I would usually take a hot bath in my hotel room and down a beer after shooting, but then I'd pass out as soon as I could (after making sure I'd triple backed up my data for the day), as I had to get up at 5:30am. So, I wouldn't call that "drinking"...more like numbing myself so I can get to sleep.

Well, all in all, the shoot on Kaneko's new film went 100% smooth. No accidents. No weather issues. At worst, little things here and there, but overall it was smooth sailing from first to last day of shooting. And for me as well. I only dropped my camera once, with the worst accident being a scratch on the protective lens for my 70-200mm Nikon lens. I had to buy a new one, which cost me $50! Crap!

Well, I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this production in the coming months so check in later if you’re interested.

I’ve also been subtitling like mad. I just finished up the Yoshihiro Nishimura produced and co-directed “Zombie TV”. I was set photographer on this one as well. But as it was only a five-day shoot it was tolerable enough. I enjoy working for Nishimura despite the fact he seems to like nothing more than to tease the hell out of me.

An episodic piece, "Zombie TV" features three directors: Yoshiro Nishimura, Maelie Makuno and Naoya Tashiro. This kept me busy because at some points there were two shoots going on at the same time and I'd have to rush between locations to get shots. One thing I was happy about was that I was finally able to photograph Luchino Fujisaki. OK... So, 1/2 her face was covered in stage blood, but I still got to work one on one with her, and that was a lot of fun. 

When I was on the set, the esteemed Mark Schilling from The Japan Times came by and did an interview with me for a piece connected to the Japanese release of "Pacific Rim". While I'm 100% thrilled to be in the pages of The Japan Times - it meaning I've actually accomplished something newsworthy as a non-Japanese in Japan - it wasn't the best condition in which to do an interview. It seemed like every time Mark and I hit our stride Nishimura was yelling, "Norman, get your ass over to the set!" I was, after all, working, you know.

You can read the piece here:

Speaking of “Zombie TV”, it just had its world premiere at Monster Fest in Australia and played with my film “New Neighbor”. I have absolutely no idea how the screening went, although I did find one lukewarm review of my film on the web somewhere. Hahahaha.

Here's the cover to the "Zombie TV" DVD / Blu-ray, which goes on sale Dec 18, 2013. After the image was put up on the web I called up Nishimura.

Me: Nishimura! What the hell?
Nishimura: What do you mean?
Me: That cover... Bad taste all the way.
Nishimura: You think so?
Me: Yeah... It's great!
Nishimura: Hahahaha.

Actually, as a set photographer, I'm pretty happy with the cover as it's made up almost entirely of photos I took on set.

"Zombie TV" is pretty out there. It's intentionally offensive (a zombie vs an African cannibal in a wrestling match) and silly (an old man zombie out for a walk who is unable to keep his dentures in). I enjoyed working on it and despite its low budget, really like how it came out. I was also happy that during shooting I could enjoy being in the center of a "Nishimura Blood Shower". I think this was my third or fourth time to get wrapped up in plastic and get into the thick of Nishimura's overt love of stage blood.

In the “my life as a zombie” department, I just worked on two zombie projects. As a first generation Romero zombie aficionado, one who spent a major part of his youth tracking down all things zombie, it’s a rather nice spot to find myself in. I mean, getting paid to write about “Dawn of the Dead”? What can be better than that?

The first is the upcoming Blu-ray release of “Dawn of the Dead” in Japan. Basically, the releasing company gave me carte blanche to fill 16pgs of content for the program book. Looking to do something new for the Japanese DAWN audience, I contacted several of the people involved with the making of the film. I don’t mean director Romero and the four leads. While their voices are important, I thought that would be too obvious. I wanted to delve deeper into the film, to bring information heretofore unknown to the Japanese audience. Basically, I wanted to get the Japanese audience something mind boggling unexpected and blow their friggin' socks off.

To accomplish this, I contacted several of the people who played memorable zombies in the film as well as DAWN’s cinematographer. Between these reports, which I’m happy to report are delightful and insightful pieces detailing their work on the movie, and a few others, the booklet came out fantastic. Gone are the typical Japanese "essayists" going on and on like essayists tend to do. Probably the most meaningless piece is the introductory piece that I wrote, since it has the least amount of solid information. I mean, I had NOTHING at all to do with the DAWN production.

I have no doubt that Japanese fans who buy the set will be having their asses handing to themselves it's that impressive an accomplishment - and I say this without a hint of pride! All the translations were handled by Yoshiki Takahashi, who, as usual, did masterful work.

I also worked on a zombie “mook” (a type of publication that falls in between a magazine and a mook). While I didn’t write anything for it per se, I did oversee a few of its articles and, as with the thinking for the DAWN Blu-ray, I got an actor from each of Romero’s first four zombie films to write a piece about their association with the film. If I had been contacted a bit earlier by the publisher and if I had had more time I would have liked to have written something, but that's what it's like in the world of short deadlines.

While these past six months have been nothing but work filled, I did manage to take a few days off and used the time to travel over to Nagasaki for a trip to Hashima Island, popularly known as “Gunkanjima”.

Cause I’m too lazy to write one myself, here’s how Wiki sums up Gunkanjima:

“The island was populated from 1887 to 1974 as a coal mining facility. The island's most notable features are the abandoned and undisturbed concrete apartment buildings and the surrounding sea wall. The island has been administered as part of Nagasaki city since the merger of the former town of Takashima in 2005.”

Getting on the island is easy enough to do, but because of their frail state, getting into the buildings themselves is a different story. I joined a group that was headed by the artist Yuji Kaida and his wife Aya. Long time friends I met on the "Gamera 3" set back in 1998, they had arranged permission with the Nagasaki government and under its supervision we were able to enter into buildings, poke around abandoned rooms, and even go up onto the roofs. Let me tell you, it was quite the experience.

Maybe you're thinking, "what the hell, it's just a bunch of abandoned buildings." In a way, this isn't wrong. That is what Gunkanjima is. Everyone's been in an abandoned building at least once in their life. The thing is, it's the scale of Gunkanjima that boggles the mind. The entire island was from one end to the other under human supervision and then, one day, they were gone, leaving the whole place to ruin.  It is like no place I have ever been to in my life.

For starters, a very eerie atmosphere permeates what was once a thriving, workingman’s community, but one that stands today like a long forgotten tomb. Much of it looks as if everyone had just picked up and left at the same instant in time. TVs, phones, dishes, cups, shoes, toys…many items such as this are still in their rooms untouched for the past thirty plus years. It was so overwhelming at the time that the impact of it didn’t really set in until I was home going through my photos. And now, all I can think is, "How in the world do I get back on the island?!"

After this, I traveled by boat over to Ikeshima island, where I spent the night and then the next day touring an abandoned mine shaft and an abandoned apartment complex, one which used to house the hundreds of families that worked at the mine during its time.

That, too, was a total blast, and I got to wear a hardhat with a light on top, like the Quake character from Quake cereal… You know, Quisp and Quake? No? Guess you have to be over 50 to get the reference.

I also got to use some big ass hand drill that set my cavities rattling. The coolest was this weird drill head (see picture of me with it) that made me recall a scene in the film "Total Recall".

I have to add that I have now had my fill of boat riding. I rode more boats in those three days than I think I have in the past 25 years put together! The water was insanely rough too, causing the boat to go straight up at times and rock to the sides to the point that my window was at sea level. When I asked someone in our group where the life preservers were I was told, “Oh, you don’t need one.” I asked someone working on the crew of one of the ships and was met with a, "uh, in the back...I think." All I can say is: welcome to Japan, land of zero disaster preparation.

I also spent a day (the first day) exploring around the site of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb blast, going to the peace museum and hanging around the ground zero point. As I did at the impact spot in Hiroshima when I visited it with my brother back in the mid-90s, I got myself some sake and shared a cup with Miyako, trying to imagine that 60 years prior the very spot I was chilling out at was as hot as the surface of the sun.

All in all, between the two exploration days I must have gazed upon several thousand tons of abandoned steel and concrete. Actually, I played a little game in my mind. I imaged myself to be an alien explorer who had come to Earth years and years after the demise of the human race trying to figure out what these nut bag were all about.

Here’s a small selection of photos I took at Gunkanjima. I'm required to put up a notification about the trip and these photos as the tour was a special arrangement between the Nagasaki government and our group:

Gunkanjima photo shoot by permission of the City of Nagasaki.

Man… I have to get my ass back there. It was that great.

I think this is going to be my last blog update for the year. I have around 20,000 set photos to edit through, five magazine articles to write and a movie script to finish. So much for enjoying the holiday season...

I leave you with a photo from my awesome Halloween.

Until next time…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"New Neighbor" Does Uplink X

Earlier this month, from 5 October to 11 October, my film “New Neighbor” had a week run of screenings at Uplink X Cinema in Shibuya, Tokyo.

How’d it go?

In a word: fan-freakin’-tastic!

The film did good business, managing to get an average screening of 80% capacity, with 3 nights at capacity / near capacity levels. Sure, Uplink is not a huge place, but it is a legitimate theater that’s been around forever and has a large following of serious film goers. The people at Uplink were great too. They both liked and respected my film, giving it full support and attention from start to finish.

Because “New Neighbor” is a 40min film, Uplink and I decided early on that I should hold nightly “events” to expand the length of the show. It seemed like a good idea at the time – and it was – but, man, did those things wear me out!

Here’s the week it was and some afterthought notes:

October 5: Opening Night
Guests: Ayano, Asami, Takashi Nishina, Kentaro Kishi, Yohta Kawase, Tomoko Hayakawa

This was more traditional in that we all stood, passed a mike around, and said something about the film, its director, the shooting, and thanking people for coming. In Japanese this is called 舞台挨拶 (butai-aisatsu), which means “stage greeting”.

Of all the nights, this was the toughest for me because I was completely exhausted from all the preparations that by the time I got on stage I was ready to collapse. But it went well, especially since I had my wonderful cast there helping me out. The audience enjoyed both the film and the show and afterwards I got a lot of enthusiastic compliments.

October 6: Actress Night
Guests: Ayano

The night was advertised as “Asami vs. Ayano” as we planned a performance in which my two leads would reenact a scene from the film. Unfortunately, it was Asami’s last day of shooting a new film and, try though she did, she couldn’t make it. Instead, Ayano and I did Tuesday night’s plan, which was her and me on stage.

Although I didn’t think it would go well, the night went fantastically well. I guess I hadn’t really noticed before this, but the two of us have a good rapport, having been friends for years now. We are different kinds of people, but know each other well, strengths and weaknesses, and know how to play off the other. People in the audience were crying laughing as the two of us covered how the film was made. In hindsight, this might have been the best show of the week.

October 7: Directors Night
Guests: Shusuke Kaneko, Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura

I don’t know why, but I had the brilliant idea to invite three of my closest director friends to do a night. Director Iguchi has a small part in “New Neighbor” and Nishimura helped out with some prop creation. Kaneko didn’t have anything to do with the film, but the truth is, without Kaneko’s help I wouldn’t be in Tokyo and involved with film to begin with.

I knew it was going to be an “interesting” night when Nishimura showed up drunk and in a somewhat abusive frame of mind. But I know Nishimura like the back of my hand. This was as I expected, actually…as I hoped. And as hoped, what went on on stage after the screening was one for the record books.

Nishimura and Iguchi sat down and before I could introduce Kaneko they were into their well-honed on-stage mode of talk. “Norman’s movie was quite astonishing, don’t you think? Iguchi asked Nishimura. “I didn’t think he had it in him,” responded Nishimura. The audience laughed not at this, but at me as I was trying to get a word in edgewise so I could call Kaneko onto the stage.

Settling in, all three directors told of how they met and came to know and work with me. Nishimura went on about how in awe he was when we first met on the set of "Machine Girl", yet over the years as he’s gotten to know me I’ve diminished in stature in his eyes. As I figured, Nishimura was out to roast me, which is why I brought Kaneko along. The always sophisticated Kaneko brought a balance to the night. Like when Nishimura went, “Kaneko, tell me, what the hell do you see in this guy?” Kaneko looked at him and said, “I think Norman’s a really great and talented guy.”

At one point I tried to point out how fortunate I felt to have such interesting friends as these three and that on reflection I’m both grateful and happy for the life I lead in Japan. “Norman, it comes as great relief to me and everyone in the audience to hear that your life is okay,” responded Nishimura sarcastically. When the evening finally came to an end I was ready for a nice tall beer.

Being on stage with these three super talented film directors there to support my work says a lot, and despite Nishimura’s chiding, I am grateful to be doing what I am doing. As for the audience that evening, if out and out laughter is an indication of enjoyment, then it’s safe to say they had a blast.

October 8: Asami X Ayano
Guests: Asami, Ayano

This was the night I most looked forward to. I brought what props I had left over from the film and made a few on my time off. I’d had a prior meeting with Asami and Ayano and we worked out how to recreate the final scene in “New Neighbor”. As I expected, Asami went wild on stage. With Ayano hiding in the audience, Asami, dressed in a sexy black outfit, went from chair to chair in search of her, often sitting in the laps of audience members. “Have you seen my pink, vibrator?” “Would you happen to have a dildo in your handbag?” She asked the various people there for the show. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the insanity of it all. Finally, at a key point I sprang on stage. “Cut! Cut! Enough, enough! This is the worst bit of acting I have ever seen! We’re going to have to take it from the top, but this time put some feeling into it!”

After this, the three of us sat down and talked about our friendships both working and non-working, how they came to join the “New Neighbor” production, and we shared stories from the set, especially from the film’s final scene, which was shot in a real SM studio in Shinjuku basement.

I have to say, seeing Asami on stage reenacting the film’s final scene, well, I was pretty happy. I mean, there’s Asami giving her all for my film! It took years of labor on the film to reach this point, but in the end it worked out even better than I’d hoped. The next day Asami wrote me to say, “Team Norman is the best!!!”

October 9: Boys Night
Guests: Kentaro Kishi, Yohta Kawase, Takashi Nishina

By this night I was ready for a vacation. But the guys in my film came out and helped make this night another interesting one. Kawase is very talkative on stage and has a nice, outgoing approach to everything he does. Nishina, who I’ve know since Kaneko’s Godzilla film, is less “bright” than Kawase, but always has something interesting to say and is an utter on-stage pro. And Kishi was his usual kind self. Kishi mentioned during the talk that he had some concerns if I was going to really finish the film or not because there were six-months in-between his two days of shooting! Oh yeah...I guess there was a bit of a gap there...

The evening turned out to be quite lively, although I did miss having my actresses on stage with me.

October 10: Norman X Yoshiki
Guests: Yoshiki Takahashi

This night featured an English subtitled print of “New Neighbor”. Following the show I shared the stage with Yoshiki Takahashi, the man who translated the “New Neighbor” script and who did the fantastic poster for the film.

Yoshiki, despite being a super busy guy who works on a lot of big films, took the time to work on my film. It’s pretty humbling. More than just respecting Yoshiki, I like him a lot and he’s done much to make my life in Tokyo better. So, I was pretty excited to sit down and talk with him in front of an audience, especially since the two of us enjoy rather foulmouthed conversations. I was also a bit drunk when I went on, which I also wanted. I felt that it was my show and as such I can do whatever the hell it is I feel like doing, which is pretty much how I run my life anyway. Yeah, it was a lot of fun and Yoshiki and I really duked it out on stage!

October 11: Sayonara Night
Guests: Ayano, Asami, Demo Tanaka, Tomoko Hayakawa

The big joke following the show was that after a week Norman had finally acclimated to it. Better late than never, I guess.

This night, the final night of screenings, went super well. Again, Asami was 100% Asami, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Add to this Demo Tanaka, who is always good for a few outrageous statements, and you have one hell of a lineup. I should mention too that both Ayano and Tomoko, who are both very sophisticated women, added immensely to the success of the evening. This night, as with all of them, I went out for drinks with everyone. Good times may they never end!

So, there you have it. The film I worked so hard on for the past two years did a theater run in my adopted home city of Tokyo. It was a fantastic, memorable time both on stage and being the scenes. I want to thank everyone who helped out and thank all who came out to see "New Neighbor"!

Side note: This isn’t the end of the screening life of “New Neighbor” by any means. There is a show coming up in Australia next month and I’m talking to other people now about more screenings. Such news will be added once I have things confirmed and dates fixed.