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Rising to international fame in 2000 with his audacious, innovative zombie actioner, Versus, director Ryuhei Kitamura went on to create other fantasy epics like Alive, Azumi, Aragami and Godzilla: Final Wars.  Over the phone from Tokyo, Kitamura talked about No One Lives, his horror-tastic second US film after The Midnight Meat Train, as well as moviemaking in Hollywood vs Japan, more details about the long-awaited sequel to Versus, and whatís with Tak Sakaguchiís retirement, anyhow?

Dig it!

 

No One Lives

Ryuhei Kitamura

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  What brought you to this project?

Ryuhei Kitamura:  It was back in 2010, I think, the producer found me and he sent me the script Ė thatís what happens when youíre in Hollywood, right - they send you a script all the time - every week. Unfortunately, most of the scripts suck.  So, especially after I did this movie, The Midnight Meat Train, I wasnít interested in doing a hardcore, bloody movie.  Itís so easy to put the label on you in Hollywood.  Midnight Meat Train was the only horror movie I did, but the people donít know Ė like the executive producers donít know who I am; they didnít watch Versus, or Godzilla, or Azumi Ė if I do this bloody movie again I didnít want them to put them label on me that this was just a bloody, horror movie director Ö Which I believe Iím not! {Laughs}  I wasnít really interested.  Iím more interested in doing an action movie; something totally different.  But when I got the script and I started reading and after the first 15 pages I was telling my manager and agent, ďNo, no, no, Iím not going to do this torture porn movie.  Come on.Ē  This is exactly the same movie, right?  The couple in the wrong place at the wrong time and a group of bad people capture and torture them.  Iím not into that kind of movie very much.  Then, the movie shifted into something completely different.  I said, ďOh my god, this is not about the couple being tortured and trying to survive, this is completely different.Ē  After that, I finished the script and I called my manger and said ďI wanna do this.Ē  It was completely different from The Midnight Meat Train.  I felt like this is like a movie that I would be watching when I was growing up back in the 80s, when I was a teenager.  I felt like I had to do one movie like this.  These movies taught me a lot when I was a kid.  If this was a movie like Friday the 13th, or Halloween, or that kind of slasher movie, Iím not sure if I would want to become the director.

 

LMD:  What was your take on the script when you read it?  Itís so surreal, at times I wondered if the whole thing wasnít going on in Emmaís head?

RK:  Wow!  I never thought about it {Laughs}.  Thatís a very interesting theory, but I never thought about it.  In my mind, yes, it really happened.  But when you watch a movie like The Midnight Meat Train, that story was surreal; it was a story about two worlds, which most of the people donít know, and Bradley Cooperís character finds a gateway to get there and he ended up basically on a another world, and his whole fate and the world changed.  Even on Versus, it was a story about previous life and this life and the next life.  So, Iím very interested in the surreal tone of the movie.  Iím not really that much interested in doing a superrealistic movie, because superrealistic Ö thatís what Iím really living right now, right?  When I go to the movies, I feel like, ďCome on, show me something else.  Show me something that I canít experience in my life.í  So, of course most of the things that happen in the movies, you donít want to happen in real life.  But I totally agree with you, I really loved that if was just about killing tons of people and lots of guns I wouldnít have done it.  What grabbed me most from that script is I really felt itís a very twisted love story.  Iíve never read something like this.  Itís funny, the movie opened a couple of weeks ago in Japan, which is probably the reason Iím here.  Most of the guy fans, they were like, ďOh, that shot was unbelievable,Ē or, ďThis movie was great because of the hardcore violence.Ē But most of the female audience was telling me, ďOh, I felt like pure love.í  Thatís so funny.  Even though The Driver is crazy and is sick, what they shared was pure love.  Thatís what I felt when I read that script, is that this is totally fucked up.  Heís doing it all for love.

 

LMD:  Are you drawn to stories where you donít really know how to cheer for?  With Versus between the prisoner and yakuza, and now here with No One Lives; none of the characters are really good guys.

RK:  Itís very challenging.  Itís all about the balance because this movieís main character is a fucked up psycho, right?  There are not many movies like that, but like the first Terminator; the Terminator was killing everybody, but you couldnít stop loving him, right?  Or a movie like The Hitcher, the Rutger Hauer character, I donít know anything about this guy: Who the fuck is this guy?  But a very strange emotion was coming up to me when I was watching that movie - I think I was 15 - ĎThis guyís an evil person, but come on, heís so cool.í  So when I read the script, it was a rare opportunity for me to make this kind of character.  Itís not that easy to do it, of course, but I always like a challenge, so I just knew that this is a tough premise, but I want to make the audience cheer for this character.

 

LMD:  Now having made two films in Hollywood, what, if anything do you miss about making movies in Japan?

RK:  To me, it wasnít that hard to adjust to the Hollywood industry, because movie making after all is all about the communication. You have to have your crystal clear vision.  Then through the relationship with producers and the crew and the cast, all I need to do is tell, crystal clear, that ĎThis is my vision, this is what I wanna do, this is the direction weíre going.í  Then the rest of the job is my great crew and cast will work with me, so itís basically not that much different.  Whatever the fucked up finances Ö Iím pretty strange because Hollywood, Los Angeles, through the weather, traffic, whatever, nothing moves fast.  I believe that if Hollywood was in New York, it would be better.  I was shocked; everybodyís late like 30 minutes, and they donít even say sorry.  No, itís natural.  Nobody gets there on time!  Now I know why all the Hollywood projects take 100 times longer than the movie in Japan.  In Japan, we donít have a contract; we donít have lawyers, managers, agents.  If we say weíre going to do it, we do it!  There are not many sharks in the industry like in Hollywood.  Everybody makes you dream, then stabs you in the back.  They have all have Luke Evansí face and they make you love them, then, of course, theyíre gonna fuck you up.  That sort of superficial human relationship, thatís very different than making movies in Japan.  Thatís part of the things I miss about making movies in Japan, but still I love watching Hollywood movies, and when it comes to actual pre-production and production, there is not much difference.  Itís all about the communication and itís all about working hard and doing your best.  Itís been like 6 years since I moved to LA; it took me a while to figure out - cos Iím basically a nice guy, so I trust when someone tells you something - but then I found out that, no, no, no, no, donít trust anybody in this town.  99% of the industry people are liars.

 

LMD:  I had the pleasure of speaking to some protťgťs of yours back in 2011, Mr. Tak Sakaguchi and Mr. Yudai Yamaguchi.  They hinted at a Versus sequel in the works and youíve just recently confirmed it.  However, I wonder how youíll be able to make that movie when your main star is in retirement?

RK:  {Laughs} That retirement thing is fucking bullshit!  I was kind of pissed that I was the only one who was very vocal about that.  On the opening night of No One Lives, because of course, Sakaguchi was there, right?  They think that itís a retirement, but itís all about the fucking politics.  Those powerful agencies - those parasites and sharks - and poor Tak Sakaguchi, heís trapped in the middle and he was kind of like forced to retire.  Which he never had to do, anyway.  But itís a small world, anyway, and of course thatís why he retired, but I was like, ďWhat on earth made you?  You are the stubborn person.  Just fuck them all.Ē  But you know, Taku has his reasons.  He is like my son.  I donít call him my brother; he is like my son.  He calls me Daddy.  Because before Versus, he was just a street fighter, he was nobody.  Taku, heís a super loyal soldier to me.  He never betrayed me, he never ran away from me, and Iíve know that guy for like 14, 15 years.  I met him last week and every single time I meet him, heíd come top speed running with a big smile {Laughs}.  He is like a crazy guy who loves me too much.

 

LMD:  Well, it doesnít sound like his retirement is going to stick.

RK:  No, Iím going to bring him back.  Thatís the thing.  The only time he can retire is when I tell him to.

 

LMD:  I believe Versus is at least partly responsible for the zombie renaissance in film and television we see now.  When Versus came out it, wasnít like any other zombie movies before.  Now that zombies are everywhere, is it more of a challenge to make Versus 2 stand out from the current trend?

RK:  Uh-huh, whatever is happening the US, we all love zombies.  Every, like, five years, the Hollywood producers, they all love the zombie movies, right?  Zombieland, The Walking Dead kind of stuff.  Now everybody loves zombies, right?  Then everybody says, ĎUhh, too much zombies.Ē  So now they donít want to make zombie movies.  Itís so crazy right?  Itís not about what you wanna do; itís all about, ĎSomebodyís making money? All right, weíll do it.í Then, thereís too much, ďUhh, no, no, no, no, we donít do it.í

 

LMD:  So Versus is going to stay true to what we saw before?

RK:  Yes, of course, otherwise I wouldnít have done it.  I made that movie 13 years ago and everybody all over the world Ė I really appreciate the fans Ė theyíre telling me ďVersus 2, Versus 2, Versus 2,Ē but I never wanted to do it just for money.  I know that if I did Versus 2, Iím gonna get money.  Thatís not my motivation, so I always was thinking; Iíll do it when I come up with the right story.  Then when I was doing the preproduction of No One Lives, one day lightning strikes and all the pieces of the puzzles came together inside my brain.  So, I actually wrote the script when I was in Louisiana.  So now I have the script and now I feel like, okay, now I see what I wanna do.  Ultimately, itís the same script, but itís not gonna be the same.  Itís on a completely new, much, much bigger scale.  But the movie opens up from the exact moment the original Versus ended. Weíll do a story showing how that KSC2-303 character - Tak Sakaguchiís character - how heís fallen into the dark side. {Laughs} How he got a Darth Vader story.

 

LMD:  Will any of the other actors from the first film make an appearance?

RK:  I donít think so.  Taku will be there.  Taku is the only spirit of Versus.  Itís a sad thing, but people change, right?  Also, half of the actors, they disappeared.  They retired from the movies.  I made the movie with an all-nobody cast.  But, of course, 70% of the actors, I have no idea where they are or what theyíre doing.  Obviously, theyíre not in the scene.  Then a few survived, then they changed; they forget about what made them and some of them betrayed me.  But Iím the director of Versus; if you pick a fucking fight with me, I will fight you back.  Thatís exactly what the movie No One Lives is about right?  You picked the wrong guy.  I will kill you all!  Thatís exactly me; if I donít find myself in this project, I canít do it.  I can do it technically, but Iím not interested in doing it.  The Driver character, when I read the script, I was like, ĎOh, this is like me. Iím a nice guy, but if you pick a fight I will fucking fight you back.í  Thatís what I am.  I will do anything to protect somebody I love.  Takís somebody I love, and itís all connected in my work.

 

LMD:  Weíve been talking about Versus 2, but is there anything coming up for you before that?

RK:  Actually, right now Iím about to start the preproduction of my big comeback movie in Japan. Thatís why Iím here.  I cannot tell you what it is. {Laughs} Itís a completely different role than what Iíve done before.  Itís also not a bloody movie, not a horror movie.  Itís a big action movie.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 6th, 2013

 

 

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