An Interview with YAKUZA WEAPON Co-Director, Yudai Yamaguchi

[Yakuza Weapon, the latest from Versus writer and Battlefield Baseball director Yudai Yamaguchi and Sushi Typhoon madman Tak Sakaguchi screened two weekends back as a part of Japan Cuts and NYAFF and just last night at Fantasia. We now present an interview with Yamaguchi courtesy of Diva Velez aka the Lady Miz Diva, which is being crossed published at The Diva Review. And tomorrow, keep your eyes peeled for an interview with Yamaguchi's partner-in-crime Sakaguchi.] 

The Lady Miz Diva:  I've just come from interviewing your good friend and co-director, Tak Sakaguchi.
 
Yudai Yamaguchi:  Was he an idiot?
 
LMD:  ... He was wonderful and smart!  He mentioned that you've known each other for fourteen years.
 
YY:  Yes, so I know he's an idiot! {Laughs}
 
LMD:  I'm afraid to ask how you met.
 
YY:  Yûji Shimomura is an action director; he's actually the action director for Yakuza Weapon and Gantz: Perfect Answer.  He and Tak were originally friends and they were making these jishu eiga, Japanese independent self-made films together.  Tak was really out of control; he was an idiot and out of control.  He was a real punk and so Shimomura thought, "Well, maybe you guys would get along better."  So he introduced us.
When I first met Tak he used to carry a bottle of acid so he could throw it in one of his fights, so that's how out of control he was.
 
LMD:  He's not gonna be able to get on the plane back to Japan when I print this interview. They're going to arrest him at customs!
 
YY:  This is in the past. In his youth.
 
LMD:  How am I going to put this in the article?
 
YY:  Yes, please, write it.
 
LMD:  When you make a film like Yakuza Weapon, is there such a thing as too far?
 
YY:  Have you seen Dead Ball?
 
LMD:  No, it hasn't screened in New York, yet.  It's the sequel to Battlefield Baseball, isn't it?
 
YY:  It's not technically a sequel.  It's an unrelated, unofficial sequel.  Dead Ball is going too far.  Yakuza Weapon is just an action movie.
 
LMD:  What's the difference?  What is "too far"?
 
YY:  Well, when I originally made Battlefield Baseball, there were a lot of things that I wanted to do in a film, but couldn't because of issues with ratings and such.  So there was a lot of stuff that I wanted to do that I couldn't actually do in that movie that had built up.  When it came time to make Dead Ball, because Sushi Typhoon gave me no boundaries, they said, "You can do whatever you want," so I was able to go all out and take it as far as I wanted to go.  That's why it's too far, too much.
Yakuza Weapon is based on an original manga written twenty years ago, by Ken Ishikawa, so there was the basic story and elements that made it possible for me to make a film with a little bit wider of an appeal range.  When I made Versus ten years ago, even though it's a film that has zombies and has some splatter elements, the depiction of gore is not that central to the film.  There's not that much of it, so it's ultimately an action film, so it could appeal to a wider audience and a lot of people who normally wouldn't be into in genre films were interested and came to see the movie.  So, I wanted to replicate that type of wider appeal of an action film with Yakuza Weapon.
By asking that question, does that mean you think it went too far?
 
LMD:  There was only one scene I thought was questionable.
 
YY:  Was it the naked weapon? The robot?
 
LMD:  No, I loved the robot.
 
YY:  You really liked the robot?  Wow, that's interesting.
 
LMD:  I thought the rape scene with Tetsuo's sister was hard to watch.  The robot was great cos she's not human, but during the rape she was.
 
YY:  In that scene it was really necessary as motivation for driving her big brother, Tetsuo over the edge.  To get him to that emotional state, that extremeness was necessary.
 
LMD:  That is exactly the same answer that Tak gave me.
 
YY: {Slams hand on desk} Shit!
 
LMD:  What was it like to co-direct a film with him?
 
YY:  Well, we wrote the screenplay together, so at that stage we'd already worked out details of how we wanted each scene to look and how we wanted each scene to ultimately be shot.  And when we got on set; it's confusing for staff if there are two directors, so once we were on set I was the director and Tak was as an actor.  But we have a really strong trust relationship and we have such a similar sensibility, so much so that we just gave the same answer to you about your question, so that I know that when I say the shot's good enough, he would feel the same way.  So it's a complete trust relationship.  If you were to ask me how different it is to directing alone, I would say not very much at all.
 
LMD:  How do you know when something's funny when you're writing and directing as invested in the film as you are?
 
YY:  That's a difficult question.  I think I get a sense that I get excited and I think it will make the audience have fun and they will enjoy it.
 
LMD:  Is it more of a challenge to direct serious action or comedic action?
 
YY:  I think comedic action is more challenging.
 
LMD:  Is it easier for you to direct something you've written or another writer's creation?
 
YY:  If someone else has written a screenplay, it's much easier for me to be objective about the material.  If I write the screenplay and I direct it, it's easy to get trapped into my own thinking.  With Yakuza Weapon, I co-wrote it with Tak so we could bounce ideas off of each other.  I try not to do it all just by myself.
 
LMD:  Now that you're here at the New York Asian Film Festival/Japan Cuts for the first time, you can see the enthusiastic fans of yours and Tak's films.  Does your following outside of Japan surprise you considering we don't really see your films in regular release?
 
YY:  In Japan, my films have a real niche audience; but Japanese fans, even when they're enjoying a film, they don't really put a lot of their emotional reactions on the outside.  Even if they're in a theatre, they're not going to cheer or they're not really going to show much of a reaction, so it's very quiet. In a place like Montreal or when I've been able to show films overseas, people's reactions where they are very vocal and expressive has been so fresh and wonderful for me.  We're going to get into the screening now, but I'm really excited to see what people's reactions are going to be.  These two films I made for Sushi Typhoon are films that I made because I wanted to have that kind of experience and give that kind of experience to the audience.
 
LMD:  Do you feel like you and Tak are creating your own genre?
 
YY:  I've never really thought about it like that.  It feels like it.
 
LMD:  You first came to prominence with Versus, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura.  Can you tell us what you learned from Kitamura that has helped you as a filmmaker today?
 
YY:  Kitamura-san is really like a big brother, the big bro.  A director on set is of course, always the boss, but Kitamura-san is always like that.  At that time I wasn't yet a director, and so I think I learned a lot about what it means to be a director as a human being, as a person.
 
LMD:  Tak mentioned a possible sequel coming up that you might be attached to that he couldn't name. Can you give us any more clues?
 
YY:  Well, I also don't know what you're talking about, but it's probably coming next year.
 
LMD:  What is the cinematic appeal of zombies?
 
YY:  You keep asking hard questions!  I think in mainstream, or the common, popular portrayal of zombies now is that they run - that they're fast.  And I think if they run at you, they don't have to be zombies to be scary.  I think zombies need to be slow moving because what's scary about zombies is that you know who it was before they became a zombie.  That you know them as a person and then they became a corpse and then they came back to life and they reanimated and they have no consciousness of who they were previously, and that's what I think is key to zombies.  So if I make a zombie movie, that's how I would want it to be portrayed.
 
~ The Lady Miz Diva
July 9th, 2011
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