New York Asian Film Fest Guests Yoshihiro Nishimura, Tak Sakaguchi, and Noboru Iguchi on the Subtle Differences Between American and Japanese Movie Sets

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Photo: Bilge Ebiri

Now in its eighth year, the New York Asian Film Festival has specialized in bringing some of the most artfully effed-up films in the world to the city’s eager audiences. This past weekend, we got to sit down with three of the festival’s honored guests, each of them an iconic figure in Japanese cult cinema. Yoshihiro Nishimura, a legendary director and effects artist who was premiering his latest film, the gore-drenched (and awesome-looking) Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl; Tak Sakaguchi, an action director and star who was premiering his directorial debut, Be a Man! Samurai School; and Noboru Iguchi, the director of such insane films as Machine Girl and RoboGeisha (we’re not being hyperbolic; check out the trailer for RoboGeisha here). They even brought props!

You’ve described Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl as “a splatter movie for beginners.” What did you mean by that?
Nishimura: Compared to Tokyo Gore Police, this film has a lot less splatter in it. It’s fundamentally a high-school romantic comedy. It’s a funny splatter movie — very light.

Is it harder to make a movie like this, where you’re mixing genres and trying to show the audience something totally new and original, as opposed to a straight drama or comedy or horror movie?
Nishimura: Since we work in independent low-budget films, we have to show people something that’s new and exciting. If we just made straight dramas or comedies or whatever, nobody would come see our films because they could just as easily go see a big-budget Hollywood film or TV show.

Where does the biggest chunk of your budget go? In the U.S., it would probably be toward actors.
Nishimura: Actors take a huge chunk of the budget in the Japanese film world as well. In what we do, however, we don’t allot a huge portion of our budget to actors. We can’t.

Sakaguchi: In Japan, people usually go see a movie because of who’s starring in it. But in the case of Nishimura-san and Iguchi-san, a lot of fans will go see a film because they worked on it. But that’s a pretty special thing.

You yourself just directed your first feature, Be a Man! Samurai School. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make in crossing over?
Sakaguchi: I had been working as an action director for many years, so I was used to working on set. As an action director, though, you’re ultimately supporting a director, so you can’t just come up with something that doesn’t fit that director’s style or what they’re trying to do. The action shouldn’t come from the action director, it should come from the director. Now I think it’ll be hard for me to watch and let other directors do their thing without really having to offer some input.

But I also got really worn out by directing. At one point, I was running a fever of 105 for four days. But I couldn’t stop — we were shooting in the mountains and we had little time. I didn’t even have time to go to the hospital and get checked out.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on one of your sets?
Iguchi: There was one actress who had a part in my film Sukeban Boy. Nobody — not even her manager — had told her what her part would be in the film. They just told her she’d be in a scene set at a hot spring. But she actually had to do a number of action scenes completely naked. So she turned up on set, and once she found out what the scene was, she said, “I don’t want to be a part of this” and started running away. We had to calm her down, capture her, and convince her to do the job.

“Capture her”?
Iguchi: We made it so she could not leave the set. I’m sure if we had the same legal system as America we would have been sued.

Nishimura: I haven’t had too many traumatic experiences like that on set, but I plan on doing crazier and crazier things in the coming years. I forget things very quickly.

Sakaguchi: Nishimura-san doesn’t sleep, he doesn’t stop. He’s actually the craziest thing on set. I saw him during the filming of Vampire Girl, where he had to hose down his actresses with fake blood. He was laughing as he was doing it. It gave me goosebumps, actually.

So, you brought some props with you to the screenings?
Nishimura: Yes. This is a blood-spurt weapon. In Vampire Girl, when a character turns into a vampire, he sees humans walking around, but he only sees their blood vessels.

Sakaguchi: Where did you come up with this childish idea? How does blood spurt become a weapon?

Nishimura: When people cut their wrists, the blood spurts out, then it hardens and becomes weaponized, so you can use it as a sword. There’s no budget, so I spent two weeks just on that effect.

Sakaguchi: Why are you so obsessed with wrist-cutters? It’s very unusual in Japan for someone to have such an interest. In America it’s taken as a serious problem.

Nishimura: I’ve been obsessed with them for a long time. A lot of people in Japan like to cut themselves. I know at least three people close to me who are into cutting. There’s a scene in my movie that’s inspired by this girl who works at my company who brought us chocolates one day. I bit into it, and it was filled with her blood. She was giving it to us like some kind of offering. I ate two of those.