An Interview With YAKUZA WEAPON Star And Co-director, Tak Sakaguchi

[And as promised, Diva Velez's interview with YAKUZA WEAPON star/co-writer/co-director, Tak Sakaguchi, which is being cross-published at The Diva Review.]

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Welcome back to the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts. You're returning with the film, Yakuza Weapon, which is an outrageous action and comedy.  I wondered if you preferred comedic to serious action?
 
Tak Sakaguchi:  I think I'm better at comedy and that's more my specialty, but more people come to me for serious action work.
 
LMD:  Why is that?
 
TS:  I think probably as a basic rule, films in Japan where there's violence and punching and kicking people tend to be more serious films.
 
LMD:  Which is more challenging for you?
 
TS:  Neither is too difficult.
 
LMD:  Shozo, your character in Yakuza Weapon is hilarious.  How did you create him?
 
TS:  Shozo is really a character who goes at everything full force.  He doesn't know the meaning of running away.  He's very similar to me compared to my character; I'm pretty much the same way.  So that's where my starting point was, but there's a lot of places where I overlap with that character, so in a way it was a pretty easy character to portray.
 
LMD:  I love the fight scene with the guys in the grey sweatshirts.
 
TS:  Are you talking about where it's four and half minutes, no cuts, just one single shot?
 
LMD: That's the one.  How long did that take to set up?
 
TS:  That length of single-shot action scene is pretty standard thing in action films.  Tony Jaa in Tom Yum Goong does a four minute action scene with no cuts.  They practiced for four months to do that.  As far as Yakuza Weapon goes, we practiced for one hour and then we went into the shoot. {In English} We were very, very tired.
 
LMD:  In Yakuza Weapon, you not only star and design the action sequences, but you co-directed and co-wrote the film, as well.  How easy is it for you to judge what is funny in a film when you're that closely involved?
 
TS:  As a basic rule, I believe the stuff I do myself is funny and interesting, and so that the people at large will find it funny and interesting.
 
LMD:  Do you worry that people might not get the humour and take it too far or there might be controversy with the over-the-top violence?
 
TS:  Definitely yes.  That's definitely the case and particularly in the case of this film.  It just happens at the end in the movie, it ends with an atomic bomb exploding and Japan just happened to suffer a nuclear accident because of the tsunami, so that was something we were concerned about.
 
LMD:  It's funny because I thought the robot girl weapon was hilarious, but I had a hard time watching the girl earlier on being raped and sodomized by the yakuza in exchange for her brother's life.  Do you care about what is tasteful in a film like this?
 
TS:  We tried to make sure we didn't go too far into that and make it tasteless.  But in the example that you bring up of the female weapon, we thought that the more sadness to her brother, to the depths of his despair, we thought that added more meaning to his fight scene with Shozo later, that's why we added it in.
 
LMD:  What is the benefit of co-directing with Yudai Yamaguchi?
 
TS:  We had only twelve days to shoot the entire film, which for me then to film on this scale, on that kind of time frame really seemed a pretty impossible task for me to direct on my own.  So it became necessary to bring in another director, and so the first person that came to mind is the person I really trust the most.  We've known each other for over fourteen years, even back when we were doing jishu eiga.
 
LMD:  In Yakuza Weapon, we see guns, hand-to-hand combat, swords and all sorts of action.  Which is your favourite type of fight to design?
 
TS:  Number one, swords!  For me, sword-fighting, especially period sword-fighting is my number one and what I'm definitely the best at.  And I think when they say you're the best in Japan, that's pretty much the same as being the best in the world. 
This year or next year, I'm going to be making a film that is the ultimate in katana sword-fight films, so I hope everyone's looking forward to that film.
 
LMD:  Yes, I remember in our conversation when you were here in 2009, you said you wanted to create the ultimate samurai film.
 
TS:  It's finally coming to fruition.  I'm doing the screenplay and also directing.  There are actually two projects; one really huge one and one medium-sized one.  The huge one has taken five years.  The medium-sized project I'm working on with my best friend, Sion Sono and we hope to get into it this year.  It's a very realistic samurai story; a hero that goes beyond... a dark hero, where basically he just murders human beings.
 
LMD:  Do you worry how your fans will take your playing such a dark character?  Does this project have a name or release date?
 
TS:  Yes, but to hold a katana means that you're going to take people's lives.  It's not play. The theme is about that and about people's lives and so it's necessary that it's serious.  We're planning on shooting it this year, as for the title I don't think I'm allowed to say that yet.
I've been really busy this year and there's a possible issue of this project overlapping with another project.  It's a movie I can't really talk about, but it's a movie I'm sure you've seen that I've done before, a sequel.  That one's already set to go and so I'm hoping they don't overlap.
 
LMD:  I would love to ask about your stunt team Zeros, they've become quite famous for their work and I wonder how they've grown over the years?  Most importantly, I want to know how I can join Zero's.
 
TS:  {Laughs} I think the reason why Zero's has grown to be so big is because we do perform by far the most dangerous, most risky stunts in all of Japan.  However -- and it's a huge point of pride for us -- we've never had anyone get injured on a shoot - ever! So we do the most dangerous stunts, but we've never had any injuries, so I think that has led to people really trusting us and allowed us to grow.  And as for how you can join Zero's, we do now have a training program, so you can join through there.
 
LMD:  You are writing, directing, producing, choreographing action and acting, is there anything else in the film world you wish to do and haven't yet?
 
TS:  I think as a director to use myself as an actor as a strict monster of a director, until I, as an actor get to the breaking point in action.  As a director, I look at the actor, Tak Sakaguchi and think 'I'm never gonna let this guy die as an old man in bed.  I'm gonna work him 'til he collapses.'
 
LMD:  Can you picture a day when Tak Sakaguchi will give up action and only do comedy or drama films?
 
TS:  To be honest with you, my parents keep saying, "We don't like that you're in all these movies where you're hitting people all the time.  We want you to be in movies where you're really loving towards people."  So maybe one day.  Can't help but love your parents and want to make them happy.
 
LMD:  You mentioned the Sono project, but what else can we look forward to?
 
TS:  In Montreal, we will be showing Dead Ball, which is kind of Battlefield Baseball Part 2.
 
LMD:  If it's based on Battlefield Baseball, will there be singing?
 
TS:  {In English} Yes!  Big yes!
 
LMD:  Last time we spoke, you mentioned wanting to make films based on manga; are there any you have in mind to adapt?
 
TS:  It's not really a manga, but as an adaptation of another story I'd love to do a biopic of Musashi Miyamoto.  He's really famous for having this image of being really strong, really tough, and he was really strong, but besides that he was also above all else, more than anyone else, he was also conniving and cruel.  For example, when you're about to go into a match with him, everybody bows to each other and when the other person is bowing down to him, he would go and hit the other person on the back of the head. That sort of thing he did all the time.  In the life of a samurai though, the most important thing is that you survive and that you live, and dead men tell no tales.  So even if you pull a move like that, if they're dead, they're not gonna tell anybody.
 
~ The Lady Miz Diva
July 9th, 2011
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