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Speed kills. So too does power. Ryuhei Kitamura's Godzilla has both. APA went toe-to-toe with Japan's most celebrated filmmaker as he explains his roots, the perils of CGI and how a little disobedience can go a long way...
Being Japan's most acclaimed filmmaker isn't all that it's cracked up to be. That is, unless you are Japan's most acclaimed filmmaker, 35-year-young Ryuhei Kitamura, who has cast a dizzying seven-year spell on his audience, conjuring up shocks, laughs and chills at an alarming rate. Hungry to prove himself after entering the School of Visual Arts at age 17, he found instant accolades with Exit, the first of many short films he would go on to create. After returning to Japan, he began work on the crackerjack action yarn Down to Hell. Filmed in 10 days with only six crew members and a meager budget (at least by Hollywood standards) of 300,000 yen, it nevertheless scored the elusive grand prix prize at Indie's Movie Festival. Not one to rest on his laurels, Kitamura then took his first crack at film noir with the theater production Heat After Dark.
Having notched several shorts under his belt, Kitamura began work on his worldwide masterpiece, the full-length knockout Versus. He has since feasted on a steady diet of shorts and features, most notably the 110-minute thriller Alive and messenger--requiem for the lost souls, his standout contribution to a seven-director omnibus. He has also collaborated with fellow auteur (and cinema giant) Yukihiko Tsutsumi for the samurai flick Aragami and drawn upon comic book legend Yu Koyama as inspiration for Azumi. Godzilla: Final Wars is his latest, most ambitious work yet, and one which may very well propel him to stateside ubiquity. -- Chi Tung
Interview with Ryuhei Kitamura
November 28, 2004
Interviewed by Carl Wakamoto
Transcription by Chi Tung and Brian Yang
Also broadcast on JATV KSCI Channel 18 January 1, 2005.
APA: I understand that after completing the movie Azumi, you were planning to move to the United States, then Toho wanted you again, this time for Godzilla: Final Wars. What are your current plans regarding your move to the United States?
Ryuhei Kitamura: Well, Iíve just finished making this movie, so, you know...next, Iíll be doing nothing in Japan. I announced that so...I donít know, you tell me, you know --where should I live and I will start looking for a house here in L.A. So I have my friends and the producers here and Iíll be talking to studios so...I donít know, I havenít decided,
RK: Öwhat I am to going to do next year but Iíve just started talking this morning. I was so stuck doing this...this was a huge project for me, so I didnít have much time for less than one and a half year.
Johnny Grant: Please welcome our honored guest, Godzilla.
APA: Which one of your feature films first gave you recognition outside of Japan? And tell us why it became a hit with foreign audiences?
RK: I think it was Versus, which was my first feature film. But for a long time, Japanese producers and film studios, they thought that they never can make action movie in Japan, because they donít have much money, they donít have much time. So every time I met producers in Japan, they kept telling me: "No, no, we donít make action movie here, thatís what Hollywood do. Thatís what Hong Kong do. We donít have much money, we donít have much time, so we just canít make an action movie yet." Thatís what they keep telling me, so I was angry about that, you know. Theyíll lose it before they even start the fight. So there was no producer in Japan who would let me do the action movie. So I decided to do it on my own.
RK: So I earned money from my friends and it was a very low budget movie. I did everything extreme with Versus: extreme fight, extreme blood, and you know --- so funny, gun-funny, kung-fu funny. I just put everything I wanted to do in my movie Versus. I justÖ I donít know if I had 100% confidence that even Japanese studios know the movie. I believed that foreign countries, American producers--they will be excited about that.
APA: Do you think with the confidence you had with Versus, I noticed thereís a lot of Chanbara or sword play in this as well. And is there an element of, letís say, the Samurai spirit in this?
RK: Yes. Samurai spirit is theÖIn every movie I make, thereís a Samurai spirit in it. Because I believe that, you know, back in the time of Samurai--it was hundreds of years agoóJapanese was, you know, more cool than what we are now.
RK: Because Japan now is...I donít like it. They just follow what the United States do. They donítÖMost of the Japanese donít say their words on their own. They donít have responsibility, they donít have judgment and back in the time of Samurai, they had their own philosophy of themselves. So, I like the way of Samurai, way of living, way of dying, kind of "Bushido."
RK: Thatís what we called Bushido--no doubt, Samurai spirit. So when I make my movies and my characters in my movies, they all have that kind of a Samurai spirit. Thatís the way I live.
Don Frye: Ryuhei. He likes the swords in all his movies, you know. And I was lucky enough to get a katana in this movie. And we worked really hard teach me the proper technique on it.
APA: So youíre actually using the sword in the movie.
DF: Oh ya. Ya, and it was fun. It was very exciting. That was probably the best part of the movie is, you know --- I grew up fascinated with swords. And when he presented me the opportunity to work with the katana, I jumped on it.
APA: Did you feel like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai?
DF: I wasnít that good. Tom Cruise is a --- he is a great actor, he can speak the language and he can move the sword good.
APA: How do you feel about Hollywoodís portrayal of the Samurai in The Last Samurai?
RK: That was a good movie.
APA: You like that movie.
RK: That kind of motion, thatís what we should have done. But no Japanese studios make that kind of movie anymore. Or they do make that kind of a, you know --- period movie, but not as entertainment or as action. Same thing you know, they keep telling me that if you do the historical thing or the period thing, itís going to cost a lot of money. So they donít make that kind of movie anymore. Then you know, then again, Hollywood do it. Always, always, Hollywood is so ahead of Japanese studios. I have to fight every time with them to do what I want to do. When I was making the movie Azumi--that was a Samurai-action movie. That was the first real big-budget Samurai movie in Japan. After 20 years or 30 years, they havenít been making that kind of movie. So when I was making Azumi, it was a big fight.
APA: I notice that thereís an element of speed and power in your movies. Are you incorporating that in the Godzilla: Final Wars as well?
RK: Yes. He is moving fast. He is very strong this time. I alwaysÖwhen I met the producer, Kimiyama-San, I told him that recently, for the last five or six movies, Godzillaís too weak. Thatís what I told him. Godzilla is the king of monsters. He is absolutely strong; thatís what he has to be. Speed and Power is what I think is the most important thing for an action movie or entertainment movie--this kind of movie. If it's slow, you go to sleep.
APA: Yes. So this speed and power is actually representative of your character as well?
APA: You donít waste time.
RK: No, I hate wasting time, you know? No one makes me wait [laughing]. Life isnít that long and you donít know when youíre going to die, soÖ
RK: I do move forward very much. So that you know I can die any time.
Shogo Tomiyama: Godzilla was created in 1954 by Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, Director Ishiro Honda, and Special Effects Director Eiji Tsuburaya. Thank you. Since then, Godzilla has been loved by people around the world as a representative of the Japanese cinema. Especially here in the States, many people loved Godzilla and at that there are many directors who grew up watching his movies. I think one of the biggest charms of Godzilla is that you feel empathy with him when you watch his films. Godzilla was born as a result of H-Bomb explosion.
APA: What Godzilla movie is your favorite?
RK: You mean in the past?
APA: In the past.
RK: My favorite is Godzilla versus MechaGodzilla back in Ď74.
APA: And did this inspire you in any way in the making of Godzilla: Final Wars?
RK: Yes, that kind of taste, the Godzilla series had lost that kind of taste. That was only during the period of middle of '70s? I think that back in the '70s Godzilla movies have more power, as you say, more power and speed. He was very fast and he was very strong. Not too much logic, or people just discussing what should we do about Godzilla. Instead of making that kind of scene, Godzillaís fighting all the time. Thatís what I liked to watch. So in my Godzilla, you know --- less dialogue and more action. Thatís what I believed. Thatís more fun than watching people discuss and what we should do about Godzilla. As a Godzilla fan I want to see Godzilla punching and kicking, beating up all the other monsters instead of somebody talking again, you know --- discussing the operation. So back in the '70s, I think that Godzilla had more power and speed. That's what I wanted to do is to revive that, but not in the same ways--I have to update.
RK: This is the updated version of '70s, crazy, monster movies.
APA: I see.
RK: We discussed who do you want to fight, Godzilla against what? Godzilla against Angilous. Godzilla against Luten...then we came up with ideas. I think most of our audience wants to see our Godzilla versus Hollywood Godzilla. And I don't like using too many CGI. Nowadays, you know, thisÖtoo many CGI in movies even in Hollywood and even in Japan.
APA: I see.
RK: But I believe that movie is what we should make on our own hands, you know, man-made instead of inside of the computer. Inside of a small computer screen.
APA: So you want to capture the heart and soul?
RK: Yes, so on the first meeting, I told everybody that I donít want to use CGI for the monsters... not that much.
RK: We stick to the special effects. Thatís what we've been doing for 50 years. And thatís why Hollywood donít do it. So on the first meeting, I told everybody that we stick to the special effects, and the live action instead of CGI. So itís a CGI-monster-Hollywood Godzilla versus our manmade live-action monsters.
RK: Youíll see what I mean.
APA: Iím looking for to it.
APA: Could you tell us a little about your background and doing special effects for the Godzilla series.
Eiichi Asada (Through a translator): So heís done a lot of the Godzilla movies as an assistant director and last year that he really started to be the Director Special Effects for all the Godzilla series.
APA: And of course, you only have a limited time in the suit because itís too hot in there.
Tsuromu Kitagawa (Through a translator): Itís really hard to be in the suit. But he has like an air tube going through inside of the suit. But when they film, it just take off. So itís kinda limited to be inside. Itís very hard.
APA: And is this your first movie with Toho?
Rei Kikukawa: Yeah, this is my first movie with Toho.
APA: I see. And Rei, could you tell us about your previous roles in other movies before this movie.
Rei Kikukawa: I did action movie before. I used guns and fight.
APA: And the last question here. What type of preparation did you do for this role?
Rei Kikukawa: I cooperate and help to fight against Godzilla and other monsters and aliens by using my brain. Iím a biologist. So I think of how we can attack Godzilla by using knowledge and research.
APA: I see. Thank you very much Rei.
Rei Kikukawa: Thank you very much.
APA: Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
Ryuhei Kitamura: I donít know. I donít know, when I was 15 or 16? I was a movie junkie. When I was a kid, I didnít go to school at all. Instead of listening to boring teachers, you know, lessons, I preferred to go to the movies. I think movie, still now, movie teaches a lot of things. All I remember is that first movie I went to saw more than 10 times--a movie called, Little Woman's Diary. She was so cute in the movie. I loved the movie. So I went to see it; I was about seven or eight. There was no DVD or there was no video at the time, so I had to go there to see it every time, you know? I went there every morning to the evening, what, five times a day. And the next day, I went to see it again. Then my father found a novel. It was based on the novel. I did not know about that. He brought it to me one day. He liked this movie so much and I found that book at the book store. And that was the first book I read. And I liked the music so much that my father took me to the record shop and he bought me the soundtrack. Thatís how I got into music. So through the movie, I found out about books and music. So everything I did...I did boxing once because I saw Rocky. I saw the movie called Champ. Thatís a good movie. Thatís why I started toÖI wanted to become a boxer and I studied to learn boxing when I was a kid. And what else? There was a movie called Breaking Away. Excellent movie. And there was a story about bicycle racing. So then again, I asked my father I wanna bike like that. Then he took me to the bicycle shop. So everything I did was from the movies. So it was great, natural. So when I was 15 or 16, this is something I should do. This is something that I was born for. This is something I would do for the rest of my life. I made myself create when I was 17, so I was at high school. And I was listening to the boring [speech] again. One day, suddenly I decided, ďno, no, this is useless listening to this boring teacherís speech.Ē
RK: Thatís when I decided to quit. So I wrote a letter to the principal and I just stood up and walked to the teacher and said, ďNo, this is it. Iím out.Ē So I gave him my paper and everybody in the class seemed so shocked, like: "What are you talking about?" So I said to everybody that I would be a director.
APA: So you wasted no time again.
RK: So I just walked out of my classroom. I was on my bicycle. I was listening. I loved ĎThe Policeí songs. So I listen to Sting's music called "So On." So I was on the bicycle going home and listening to it. I lost everybody in class. So next week, I was in Australia because I liked movies by the best Peter Weir.
RK: Yes, he is my favorite director, Peter Weir. I loved watching those Australian movies in excess. So I decided Australia was the place. So next week I went to Sydney and I was looking around the town. Then, I found a film school: School of Visual Arts. I just walked up to the principal again and said: "I am from Japan.Ē
RK: ďI will become a film director. So let me in." And he told me, "All right, come back in six months.Ē Then from that day, I started English [classes], started earning money for the school. Thatís how my career began.
APA: Really. So through this journey, you're now prepared for Hollywood, for the international entertainment industry, and I think youíre gonna definitely succeed from what youíve shared from your heart. I'm sure that people at UCLA, there are people there who are your fans beginning with the movie Versus, theyíll be rooting for you.
RK: UCLA--they wouldnít let me in. I really wanted to go there.
APA: Oh really?
APA: One last question. Any chance in the future that TOHO may have a Godzilla film festival maybe at UCLA?
Shogo Tomiyama (Through a translator): He finds it very interesting.
APA: I think UCLA would truly welcome a Godzilla film festival in the future.
ST: Thank you.
APA: Thank you very much Mr. Tomiyama.
APA: Maybe we can display your films for a film festival.
RK: Oh, great. Thanks.
APA: Thank you very much Ryuhei Kitamura.
RK: Thank you.
Date Posted: 12/21/2004