After a brief chuckle over a humorous cameo in the final scene, one could almost perceive a collective sigh (of satisfaction) as the room brightened and the Helldriver launch came officially to a close. Slowly filing out of the theater, some audience members lingered in the lobby to examine the grotesque film props, observe the ongoing UStream talks, and donate money to the Tohoku Earthquake relief efforts for a chance to vote on their favorite Sushi Typhoon feature of the day. I’m pleased to say that Helldriver seemed to be winning by a landslide! My date for the evening, a lovely young lady by the name of Jessica, shared with me her impressions of the film as we stepped outside into the slightly cooler night air.
As is tradition at these events, the cast and crew members were standing outside of the theater doors with cheerful smiles on their faces, patiently taking the time to sign autographs and shake hands with their devoted fans. I felt honored when lead actress Yumiko Hara thanked me for coming both this time and back in March for the Tokyo premiere, saying that she remembered seeing me there even though we hadn’t been able to speak with each other. Receiving a firm handshake from Director Nishimura, I was congratulating him again on creating such a unique and “gutsy” film when, much to my surprise, he said, “Hey, let’s go drinking!” Almost before I knew it, Jessica and I were caught up with my friend Norman England and the Sushi Typhoon crew as we hit the streets of Ginza in search of a watering hole that could accommodate our sizable group – no easy task on a Saturday night in Japan’s largest city. After wandering about the streets like a disorganized flock of thirsty sheep and a few instances of jaywalking, we finally settled into a pleasant little izakaya (Japanese-style pub) with two large tables to seat everyone in our party.
I’m 15 years old. The film in my DVD player is called Audition, directed by Takashi Miike and featuring a beautiful young starlet by the name of Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki. Having stumbled upon the film in my local rental shop’s woefully impoverished Foreign Film section, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It started off so innocently, like some kind of drama or romantic comedy…
Stepping into the room, Jessica and I were called over by Mr. Nishimura, and we found ourselves seated with him and director Noboru Iguchi (who told me a little about his upcoming film, presumably entitled Toilet of the Dead [EDIT: The official title has now been announced as Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead]). A toast is made to the success of the Sushi Typhoon film launches, and the good times begin.
I have to force myself to look at the screen. How did things end up like this? What I thought to be, at worst, a scathing dramatic critique of Japanese gender relations, has somehow become a nightmarish buildup of tension, ultimately reaching a conclusion that even I find difficult to watch. The director has built up the suspense masterfully, adding another turn of the screw with each new development. Eihi Shiina’s performance as Asami Yamazaki is terrifying, yet entrancingly beautiful. I can’t look away. My God…this is genius.
8 years later, I find a poster and trailer online for an “outrageous” new film. Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura…hmm…never heard of him. The theatrical poster draws me in with its simplicity though…a leggy Japanese heroine with raven-black hair stands proudly in a rather provocative police uniform against what looks to be a post-apocalyptic landscape. The bold capitalized letters of the title seem to tell me everything I need to know about this film: TOKYO GORE POLICE. But wait a minute…this woman looks familiar…
Flash forward to 2011…
Asami Yamazaki is sitting next to me. I can hardly believe it, but the lovely Eihi Shiina, who scarred my teenage mind (in the best way possible) with her portrayal of a vengeance-crazed sadist in Audition, and impressed me with her solid performance as engineer hunter Ruka in Tokyo Gore Police, is elegantly sipping her drink in the seat directly beside me! Having played a key role in Helldriver, Ms. Shiina is also present for the after-party!
Working up my courage, I manage to blurt out an introduction and explain how I was first exposed to her work, and she responds with a warm smile and a gentle handshake. When I complement her role in the film as Helldriver’s demented Rikka, mentioning that it was certainly a very different character from the calm and collected Ruka in TGP, she informs me with a wry smile that Mr. Nishimura told her to “act like Asami at the end of Audition…only for the whole movie.” In fact, fans of Audition may notice a subtle (and somewhat humorous) nod to the film’s final moments in the end of Helldriver. Throughout the evening I discover that Ms. Shiina is an extremely pleasant conversationalist, discussing her roles, the films of Messrs. Nishimura and Iguchi and their reception domestically and abroad, and her recently hatched plans to become the vocalist of her own band! Not only that, but it turns out that Ms. Shiina is a huge Neon Genesis Evangelion fan, and as the night wears on and the alcohol continues to flow, we discuss the finer points of the story and its implications, along with our opinions of the latest theatrical releases of the series. Our interests in anime run even deeper still, sharing a special fondness for director Mamoru Oshii’s early work Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. Perhaps I’ve found a kindred spirit?
Spending most of her time in her home prefecture of Fukuoka, Ms. Shiina tells me that she truly values such opportunities to exchange thoughts and opinions in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. While her work as both a model (originally for Benetton) and actress have gained her international recognition, I can only hope to see more of her performances in the future, in film and on stage. Ms. Shiina is an elegant, thoughtful, well-spoken, and intelligent lady, and I feel truly honored to have been able to meet her under such circumstances.
As the seats empty and the floor space starts to become increasingly consumed by sleeping cast members exhausted from a long day of film launches, I realize that it is time to leave this unique look into the world of Helldriver. And so, this concludes my three-part look at the Helldriver launch. Look forward to information on the upcoming DVD release of the film, and in the meantime, check out Shiina Eihi’s personal web site here: Eihi Shiina Instrumentality Project ~To Tabris With Love~ She also has a report on the Helldriver launch and after-party in her most recent blog entries (Japanese)! Until next time, stay out of the sunlight!