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Hey boys and girls, we had a wild time with the talented Yudai Yamaguchi.  The writer of the seminal Japanese action smash, Versus is co-writer/director of Yakuza Weapon, making its New York premiere as part of the New York Asian Film festival and Japan Cuts.  Yamaguchi talks about creating a new film genre, learning from Ryuhei Kitamura, and makes it very difficult for friend and collaborator, Tak Sakaguchi to ever make it through customs again.

Dig it!

 

Yakuza Weapon

Yudai Yamaguchi

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Iíve just come from interviewing your good friend and co-director, Tak Sakaguchi.

Yudai Yamaguchi:  Was he an idiot?

 

LMD:  Ö He was wonderful and smart!  He mentioned that youíve known each other for fourteen years.

YY:  Yes, so I know heís an idiot! {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Iím afraid to ask how you met.

YY:  YŻji Shimomura is an action director; heís 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, ďWell, maybe you guys would get along better.Ē  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 thatís how out of control he was.

 

LMD:  Heís not gonna be able to get on the plane back to Japan when I print this interview. Theyíre 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.  Itís the sequel to Battlefield Baseball, isnít it?

YY:  Itís not technically a sequel.  Itís an unrelated, unofficial sequel.  Dead Ball is going too far.  Yakuza Weapon is just an action movie.

 

LMD:  Whatís the difference?  What is ďtoo farĒ?

YY:  Well, when I originally made Battlefield Baseball, there were a lot of things that I wanted to do in a film, but couldnít because of issues with ratings and such.  So there was a lot of stuff that I wanted to do that I couldnít 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, ďYou can do whatever you want,Ē so I was able to go all out and take it as far as I wanted to go.  Thatís why itís 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 itís a film that has zombies and has some splatter elements, the depiction of gore is not that central to the film.  Thereís not that much of it, so itís ultimately an action film, so it could appeal to a wider audience and a lot of people who normally wouldnít 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, thatís interesting.

 

LMD:  I thought the rape scene with Tetsuoís sister was hard to watch.  The robot was great cos sheís 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 weíd 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; itís 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 shotís good enough, he would feel the same way.  So itís 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 somethingís funny when youíre writing and directing as invested in the film as you are?

YY:  Thatís 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 easier for you to direct something youíve written or another writerís creation?

YY:  If someone else has written a screenplay, itís much easier for me to be objective about the material.  If I write the screenplay and I direct it, itís 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 youíre here at the New York Asian Film Festival/Japan Cuts for the first time, you can see the enthusiastic fans of yours and Takís films.  Does your following outside of Japan surprise you considering we donít really see your films in regular release?

YY:  In Japan, my films have a real niche audience; but Japanese fans, even when theyíre enjoying a film, they donít really put a lot of their emotional reactions on the outside.  Even if theyíre in a theatre, theyíre not going to cheer or theyíre not really going to show much of a reaction, so itís very quiet. In a place like Montreal or when Iíve been able to show films overseas, peopleís reactions where they are very vocal and expressive has been so fresh and wonderful for me.  Weíre going to get into the screening now, but Iím really excited to see what peopleís 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:  Iíve 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 wasnít 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 couldnít name. Can you give us any more clues?

YY:  Well, I also donít know what youíre talking about, but itís 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 theyíre fast.  And I think if they run at you, they donít have to be zombies to be scary.  I think zombies need to be slow moving because whatís 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 thatís what I think is key to zombies.  So if I make a zombie movie, thatís how I would want it to be portrayed.

 

LMD:  Would you please give a message to our readers about what to expect from Yudai Yamaguchi in the future?

YY:  As you mentioned earlier there is a unique genre that Tak and I might be making in films that I canít think of a name for just yet, but Iíd like for people to look at our work and think that thereís a film that only we can make.  Something only I can make is always something that Iím striving for.  And whatever that film is -- and it might not be action, or comedy, or splatter, even, it might be something completely different -- but whatever it is that I make, every time that I make a film I strive to make a film that only I can make.  And so, thatís my principle when it comes to filmmaking, so I hope our fans will be looking forward to more work like that.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 9th, 2011

 

Click here for our NYAFF/Japan Cuts 2011 interview with Yakuza Weapon star/co-writer-director, Tak Sakaguchi.

 Click here for our first interview with Tak Sakaguchi from the 2009 New York Asian Film Festival.

 

 

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Photos

Exclusive photos by LMD

(Stills courtesy of Sushi Typhoon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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