Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to see the latest film from one of the most sought after special effects artists in the Japanese film industry with, as one interview put it, “talent to burn.” Yes, I could only be talking about the “Tom Savini of Japan,” Mr. Yoshihiro Nishimura. The director who in 2008 brought us the outrageous violence and social satire of Tokyo Gore Police, Mr. Nishimura has struck again, this time with his explosive attempt to create a Japanese zombie epic, Helldriver. Expect a full review soon, but for now I would like to discuss my experience at the premiere in Tokyo.
Helldriver had just been shown before a packed audience at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, and was set as the last film in the Tokyo International Zombie Film Festival 2011 (Feb. 26 ~ Mar. 4) held at the Human Trust Cinema in Shibuya. The festival itself featured many restored versions of classic zombie films by such legendary directors as George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead), Lucio Fulci (Zombi 2, The Beyond), and others. Mr. Nishimura’s work was the only Japanese film scheduled to be shown, and expectations were running high for his latest cinematic endeavor.
Arriving at the venue an hour in advance, I ran into model, actress, makeup artist, and frequent Nishimura collaborator Maki Mizui, who was setting up the goods booth to promote her latest film, Never Ending Blue. Just as I was about to strike up a conversation, who should appear, but the man himself! Yes indeed, it was my immense honor to meet the Japanese director and special makeup artist that has captivated the world with his unrelenting, blood-soaked visions. Ever since Tokyo Gore Police I had been waiting for the time when I would be able to meet him, and that time had come. There is even photographic evidence!
Meeting a visionary director like Mr. Nishimura was truly an extraordinary experience. Surprisingly unassuming and a perfect gentleman, it was readily apparent that he genuinely cares about his fans and wants to be sure that they enjoy the experience of seeing his films. His passion and enthusiasm are infectious, and his dry humor made the talks on stage before and after the screening even more memorable.
The guest talk before the film featured Mr. Nishimura and Sushi Typhoon founder Yoshinori Chiba, focusing on the director’s vision for the film. He discussed the dearth of any memorable Japanese zombie films in recent years, and lamented their half-hearted approaches to the genre. Citing Return of the Living Dead (Dan O’Bannon, 1985) as possibly his favorite zombie film, Mr. Nishimura expressed his wish to revivify the rotting corpse of the Japanese zombie genre with Helldriver. He also explained how difficult it was to plan for the extremely short two weeks spent on the film, telling the audience that he actually made over 6,500 drawings to plan each and every shot of the film. “I felt like I was working for Studio Ghibli or something,” said the director, adding that he wouldn’t recommend making a film in that way to anyone.
The discussion after the film brought out many of the film’s stars, including, from left, Ju-on director Takashi Shimizu (extra), Yoshihiro Nishimura (director, writer, editor, character designer), Kentaro Kishi (Kika’s uncle, in full zombie makeup), Yumiko Hara (Kika), Mizuki Kusumi (Nanashi), Kazuki Namioka (Kaito), Yuya Ishikawa (Kika’s father), Maki Mizui (spider zombie), Cay Izumi (zombie mother), Norman England (extra, also responsible for the English subtitles), and Marc Walkow (promoter for Sushi Typhoon). The cast gave anecdotes about the film, which was made for a budget of about $200,000, a tiny fraction of the amount spent on most Hollywood films. But, as they say, a little goes a long way, and the sincere efforts of the cast and staff came together to create something very unique and exciting. Look forward to my review of the film itself, coming up next!