Directors, Features, Filmmakers, Interviews, Japan

Takashi Shimizu interview: Not all shock and gore…

We chat to Takashi Shimizu, director of the Ju-On: The Grudge series and Shock Labyrinth 3D, about 3D movies and how keen he is to move away from directing in the horror genre – yes, even a romantic comedy…!

So, the film Shock Labyrinth 3D is based on a popular theme park ride. Very Pirates Of The Caribbean! How did the film come about?
Masa Tanishima came to me with this idea of shooting a film in the real horror house, which is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest horror-house walk through. I loved the idea, but I wasn’t satisfied with the then-prepared script, so I took the offer with the condition that we could change the scripts by discussing different angles with the producers and the writer.

What difference do you think using a theme park ghost house as a starting point, rather than a novel or your own ideas, makes to creating a movie?
This was an idea I never had myself, and that’s why I thought it’s interesting. I would never be able to come up with this project if I had been all alone.

Do you think it changed audiences expectations, especially those who know and have enjoyed the original attraction?
This should be a totally different experience for sure. If you have experienced this horror house before, you will find a new world built on that place you’ve been to, and after you watch the film, you will want to visit the attraction once again. If you watch the film and then visit the attraction, you would have a totally different experience from those who don’t know about the film and just visit the place.

Do you have a favourite Pirates Of The Caribbean movie? What do you make of other films that have tried to adapt a theme park ride? Do you think anyone’s got it right?
I am sorry, I have only seen the 1st film and that’s all… Actually, I don’t see my film as something you can compare to Pirates Of The Caribbean, so I am surprised. I have experienced the Disneyland ride… but I never thought my film is entirely adapted from the attraction, so I cannot really talk on this point.

This was your first movie in 3D, did that create problems you’d not experienced in filmmaking before? How does it change the process of filming, and in other ways, such as composing shots?
Not only the composition of the shots. I needed to keep my thoughts on 3D from the time when we worked on the script. In the beginning, I wasn’t specifically interested in the 3D filmmaking technology, so I actually was with mixed emotions and wondered why I, an unmechanical guy, was being offered this and had to be the “poison tester,” but I thought I should do my best to accommodate the 3D technology to my film within certain limitations, such as the budget, the schedule, etc. Of course I needed to make sure not to forget the very basic idea of making an enjoyable movie, whether it’s 2D or 3D, so I chose not to shoot the 3D scenes for the 3D technology, but to make sure to use the technology naturally in my movie. Also, I don’t see my self as a horror director, and this time I didn’t want to end up with horror elements that are predictable visual shocks, so it was a challenge to take a balance between my direction and what the producers want from me. Audiences would expect things popping out from the screen for the 3D films, and I also tried to keep that in mind and satisfy such needs as much as I can. But my goal was to invite the audience to the depth of the story itself and psychological aspects to it, rather than just to show them how 3D images are flashy and new. In that sense my biggest challenge was to find the best way to apply the 3D technology to achieve that goal.

You obviously enjoyed making a 3D film, according to IMDB you’re working on another, Rabbit Horror! Is this true, and if so what can we expect from this film?
My next film Rabbit Horror will be in 3D, and it is simply because this project has been set up with the same production team that I work for The Shock Labyrinth. What I can say as of now, end of January, 2011, is that this is made at the same horror house where we shot The Shock Labyrinth, and I am doing this with the same producer, but this is not a sequel and the setting is totally different. We have the same rabbit that appear in The Shock Labyrinth, and the rabbit will be the key to involve a woman and her young brother in a certain event in this psychological suspense horror. They are sister and brother in a dysfunctional family, and the father even forgets his son’s 10th birthday. One day the young boy watches a 3D film and there is a rabbit popping out from the screen and landing on his knees. From then weird things start to happen to him… That the beginning of the story. The lead actress is Hikari Mitsushima from Love Exposure and the father is played by Teruyuki Kagawa. This is wistful and beautiful dark fantasy of a lonely girl and boy. With this film I am trying to push the envelope and build a new genre. Don’t miss it.

What impact do you think the current trend for 3D has had on the filmmaking industry in general?
I don’t think the other filmmakers and audience are feeling the same way, but I do believe in more possibilities in the 3D technology. Even I, who wasn’t interested in it at all, am feeling this way, which should mean the filmmakers including me can try to come up with new ideas to use the 3D technologies for effects that can never be expected by the audience, and we all will need to work hard to learn more.

You’re best known for horror, what is it about the genre that keeps drawing you back?
I have been the one who easily gets scared since I was a little kid, and I am really bad with anything looking painful too. So Really want to make non-horror films. But I guess what I like is psychological tension. It is the same for any film genres, action, fantasy, adventure, romance, comedy, you name it. For me, it’s like kids playing funny tricks on people. I always enjoy feeling excited to entertain people.

Do you ever fancy a change, like directing a romantic comedy perhaps?
Actually I have been interested much more in making films of other genres for years! I could not watch any horror films until I was 14 as I was such a wimp. I was even feeling that there is something wrong about those adult people who keep making and watching horror films. I don’t know if I am capable of handling a romantic comedy, but if I get an opportunity, I would like to give it a try. I am interested in other genres as well, such as fantasy, adventure, romance, comedy, human drama, suspense, you name it. I understand people relate me to horror films from what I have been making, but I feel strange that people call me a horror guy. It’s already comical if I think about the gap between my public image and who I really am.

Your Ju-On series has become something of a franchise in the tradition of Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday 13th, with other directors interpreting your creation. Were you surprised by it’s success over the world? Did you ever expect it?
It was very surprising, as it started as a micro budget straight-to-video project. I am still amazed now if I think about how it all happened. Like I said, this has become my most known work and because of that I keep being offered horror project and people think I am a horror kind of guy. I need to break this public image as soon as possible by making films far from horror and surprising people. For your information I have never had any ghostly experience nor paranormal phenomena. And no I haven’t seen aliens either!

You wrote the original stories and oversaw the last films, Black Ghost and White Ghost. It is important to you to maintain control over the series?
The fans should think it important that the original creators are involved, but new films by new directors should and have to be created from different views and with different styles. Probably I feel this way because I am a director myself, but I think any film should reflect the director’s senses, characters, characteristics, etc. If the directors would need to suppress themselves to achieve a film that would be welcomed by general public, I think that film would not work. If the director cannot hang on the core of the project for various reasons, there have to be at least one person who would never let go of that core throughout the production. Otherwise, the project would get lost. It can be the producer, one of the staff members, or even an actor, there have to be somebody with a strong will and leadership.

How different did you find the process of working on an American production? Would you do it again?
I felt differences in many different ways. Not only the filmmaking system, but also culturally, ethnically, religiously, etc. But among all, I guess what I found the most prominent was the fact that the Hollywood filmmaking is really originating from the goal of entertaining the audience. Also, I was impressed by how everybody involved and their functions and rights were protected firmly by contracts etc. I think there are a lot of things that we Japanese filmmakers should learn from, and at the same time I think there are other things in the Japanese film industry that Hollywood could learn from. But judging from the outcome, I really respect Hollywood’s spirits that backs up the basic ground of the entertainment business that secured individuals’ rights. I don’t have any decided plan right now to shoot a film in Hollywood, but I basically I think my base should be Japan, and still I should be open to shoot my film anywhere in the world, depending on the opportunities, timing, and most of all the projects and how they will attract and need me.

How did you come to cameo in Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl?
It was a low budget project, and I was simply asked by one of the directors Yoshihiro Nishimura, who is a great friend of mine. They didn’t have a script for me, and the only direction I had from him was to just keep saying funny things about Ju-on until he says cut. So everything was improvised. I did enjoy it, but would never do it again.

What do you make of the low-budget splatter horror scene in Japan that seems so popular right now? Your work may be more Wise’s The Haunting or Kubrick’s The Shining to their Raimi’s Evil Dead or Gordon’s Reanimator, but your early Ju-on films were a similar low-budget and spirit.
I would not agree to your classification. Nishimura and Iguchi are good friends of mine, and we help each other when we make films, but our styles and ideas are all different from the time I created Ju-on. We are all very unique and original, and different from each other. I don’t think I can do what they are doing, and they cant do what I am doing. You notice that new Japanese low budget splatters are very visible in the international field, and I think that is only because the Japanese film industry have a lot of issues, such as budget, schedule, censorship, etc., and the filmmakers recognizing such issues are looking at the international market from the beginning and putting all their resources, talents, to try all they can do in making their films and maximize their creativity. Of course I am trying my best, and their producers have really strong wills and goals in doing what they are doing. I cannot do the same thing, but I am watching as may of them as possible and am looking forward to their future projects. What I hope further is that those films will be recognized by more Japanese audience and there will be a healthier supply-and-demand balance here which shall enable those filmmakers to make their films more comfortably. There are always filmmakers desperately trying their best to achieve something new and original, but the industry and the market are not really helpful for them and rather pushing them to the margins. Especially, horror and porn movies are in those margins, but that’s where you can find something totally new and unpredictable. In that sense we share the same spirits, but from my personal point of view, I am really feeling that the international audience for our films are helping the Japanese domestic industry to realize those films now re-imported to Japan, which could change the Japanese movie making system.

Who are your favourite directors and why? What were your favourite films last year?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Yoshitaro Nomura, Kiyoshi Murosawa, Jackie Chan, Tatsumi Kumashiro, Kohei Oguri, Yasujiro Ozu, Kinji Mizoguchi, Christopher Nolan, and Ryuta Tasaki. The reason is, they all have prominent and one-and-only taste, viewpoint, and visual style, just as any filmmaker should. They are all my personal favourites. Last year I didn’t really watch many movies, and I cannot name any from them particularly.

Thanks to Takashi Shimizu for his time, and Paul from The Associates for setting up the interview.

About the author

Andrew Heskins
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
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