July 9th, 2009 12:47:00
FANTASIA WELCOMES CULT PRODUCER YOSHINORI CHIBA!
In 1997, Fantasia premiered a film by a little-known Japanese filmmaker named Takashi Miike. This film, FUDOH, would mark the first time a Miike film would screen in North America, and the aftershock would ripple across the country to spark screenings of his work in Toronto and Vancouver and from there, across the globe. Having completed an unfathomable 80+ films in less than two decades, Miike films are much-anticipated festival staples, and his name is associated with the most extreme and innovative aspects of Japanese cinema.
But Miike is not the only talent responsible for his North American breakthrough. At the time of FUDOHís release, producer Yoshinori Chiba was an experienced ad man and already a fixture on the Japanese fantastic cinema scene, having produced or participated on the productions of such cult fare as ZERAM (1991), ZERO WOMAN(1995), EKO EKO AZARAK (1995) and many more. He approached Miike with the idea of making an unconventional Yakuza film, based on the popular Manga FUDOH, and decided to make a 35mm print of what was meant to be a straight-to-video movie Ė thus allowing FUDOH the festival exposure that would propel Miike to stardom.
Since then he has remained loyal to genre cinema, having produced BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL (2003), NEIGHBOUR NO. 13 (2005), DEATH TRANCE (2005), MACHINE GIRL (2008), and last yearís maniacally bloody TOKYO GORE POLICE, which played to a packed house at Fantasia 2008. Most recently he re-teamed with Takashi Miike for an absurdly kinetic, colourful and over-the-top adaptation of the 70s television anime YATTERMAN, which we proudly offer as the opening film at Fantasia 2009 on Thursday July 9th at 6:30pm in the Hall Theatre. Chiba will appear in person to host the screening, but we couldnít resist asking him a few questions in advance, which will hopefully operate as a teaser to what is sure to be a great Q&A after the screening. (Thanks to Serina Nishioka for the translation!)
Film details, trailer, images, tickets are available on the YATTERMAN film page HERE
You also produced Takashi Miikeís FUDOH, which was not only the first Miike film that ever played at FanTasia, but it was also the first Miike film that played in North America. What was it about FUDOH that you think enabled it to be his North American ďbreakout filmĒ?
It was a very violent film, unlike anything people in North America had ever seen before. It was very provocative. Children killed people, there were all these young criminals; I think it was very exciting and shocking to people. In Japan it was seen as too violent, so the people on the juries became very angry when they saw the film. The people on the juries are all those who have retired from careers in the film industry, so they are all quite old, and they said they had never seen such a bad film - ever! So thatís probably why it did so well! Also, all of Miikeís films up to that point were direct to ĎV-Cinemaí and this was the first one available in 35mm. Actually, FUDOH was also made for V-Cinema, but I thought it was really amazing, so I kind of Ďtrickedí the company into making a 35mm film print. So there was only one print with subtitles, and I sent it to other festivals in foreign countries - and because really big and won all kinds of awards, when the print got back to Japan it was completely worn out!
The audienceís perception of Miike is that he is manic genius Ė constantly working on one wildly inventive film after another Ė but as a producer are you ever worried about what heís going to come up with next? Or does his track record make it easy to believe in him, no matter how crazy his ideas are?
We have always a script but Miike never uses it. He works while heís shooting, makes the storyboards as we go along, so he adds many things that were not originally in the script. But there are many unexpected things added that stimulate the crew working with him. And because they really like it, itís very productive and so in the end you can make a better film. He lets the actors play freely, he doesnít control them too much and that makes for a good atmosphere on set. He has a good relationship with all the actors.
With all the Asian films being re-made in North America, itís interesting that no one has attempted to remake one of Miikeís films. This just goes to show how hard it would be to recreate his style and energy!
As I said before, his films are not really calculated or planned, they are really spontaneous. So I think itís a completely different style from American filmmaking. There are many different elements and itís not very organized or planned. I think it would be very difficult to find a director as crazy as Miike in America! Maybe it would be possible if Miike himself would make a remake using North American actors. In fact, they are now talking with him about doing that - not precisely a remake, but something with a similar sensibility to what heís done before.
Is a Takashi Miike film for kids an idea that is hard to sell given his previous work? Is YATTERMAN playing as a family movie in Japan?
YATTERMAN the anime was on TV 30 years ago, and we first came up with the idea to adapt it three years ago. There is a new version of YATTERMAN now on TV, but three years ago when we started talking about it, our plan was to make a film of the original version, for the adults who watched YATTERMAN as a kid. But now we have the new version on Mondays at 7pm, and as a result, children are big fans of YATTERMAN again. So itís supposed to be for adults, but because of the new version, a lot of kids come to the film. So itís OK, but probably not appropriate for the kids! I imagine that maybe Miike also thought this film could be for kids in a way, itís a little bit erotic for children but maybe they can enjoy it too. Before, we used to see a lot of eroticism in cinema or TV as kids, but nowadays itís more censored. So it was not really supposed to be a family movie, but a lot of families are coming to see it.
You have been involved as a a producer on many of the more outlandish Japanese films since the early 1990s. What attracted you to these types of films, and what continues to attract you to them?
I had been working a lot for V-Cinema, and when I started working with Miike he was still a rookie and I really found it interesting to work with a new filmmaker. In Japan at the moment, the film industry has become more conservative and a lot of the popular films are now made by TV production companies, and it becomes more and more difficult to make violent films like I want to make. Itís really difficult to make the kinds of genre films that play at Fantasia in Japan nowadays. But at Fantasia the audience loves it, and last year I came with TOKYO GORE POLICE and people were really enthusiastic about it, and so I have reassurance that there is an audience for these films. I might be the last one in Japan making them - so I am going to carry on doing them.
Have you ever had to deal with any censorship problems due to the graphic nature of many of the films you have produced? Do you have any anecdotes about people having a negative reaction to the violence or sex in the films?
With FUDOH it was really difficult, we were told off and everything, but we were kind of happy about it. I was kind of proud of myself that a jury of 70 year olds were saying they had never seen a worse film! For us, we want to do what we want to do, but if we do everything we want to do, we might limit ourselves and might not be able to play at the cinema. Itís a frustration for us. If I think about just making a film for the market in Japan, we really canít do a lot, but if I think about making it for foreign markets we can do more. So for TOKYO GORE POLICE and MACHINE GIRL, I was thinking more about playing them at foreign festivals, so that we could really go crazy. If the producer understands his market and talks about it with the director and plans appropriately, we can make a good film to entertain a lot of people. So it was a good experience for me.
You have said that you really prefer working with first-time directors - can you explain what they have that a more veteran director lacks? Would you ever consider working with a non-Japanese first-time director?
I donít feel like working with veteran directors because they have their style already fixed and itís not fun Ė except Miike! So new directors are open-minded and ambitious; they want to try new things, and thatís my style too, so we can talk as equals and we have the same goals. And also, I donít want to work with people who are difficult, or have a bad character. Once I worked with a veteran director and had a really bad argument, it was a traumatic experience for me. I told him I thought his film was boring.
I would like to try working with a new non-Japanese director if there was an opportunity to do so. Even a student! Itís fun for me to find new talent, new filmmakers. Also when the film is finished, what I do as a producer is not really appreciated, itís always the director who is appreciated anyway - so I would rather work with nice directors and just have a good time making the film.
- Kier-La Janisse
YATTERMAN is the official opening film of the festival, and celebrates its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia on Thursday July 9th in the Hall Theatre! (a second screening takes place on July 14th at 3:00pm, also in the Hall Theatre) Film details, trailer, images, tickets are available on the YATTERMAN film page HERE