Director Ryuhei Kitamura's English language debut film The Midnight Meat Train fell victim to widely reported studio politics that would crush a weaker filmmaker. Now he returns with his new feature No One Lives and our own ZigZag had the opportunity to ask him a series of career spanning questions.
ZigZag: Hello, I’d like to start off by thanking you for taking the time out for this interview.
You have gotten to do some pretty impressive work over the past 15 years starting with Versus and Azumi. Both share amazing camera work and really energetic choreography. Azumi is particularly gorgeous and I want to thank you for convincing Tak Sakaguchi to pursue acting. I love that guy and look forward to your next collaboration.
I had the pleasure of walking into No One Lives without any prior knowledge of the plot, having never seen a trailer or any marketing material, but I knew you had directed the picture. I really enjoyed not knowing where this thing was going and that at its core it remains a dark love story.
The anti-hero is so nicely introduced and then revealed to be a worthy adversary. Without spoiling anything, my favorite shot involves his choice of the best hiding spot. That is a fun sequence. How difficult was establishing the villains as despicable cretins and then switching things up and making them somewhat sympathetic?
Ryuhei Kitamura: That was my goal from day one. I thought about two of my favorite movies – The Hitcher and Silence of the Lambs. It’s rare to find movies that have villains who are not only evil but someone you feel sympathy for.
What attracted me most when I read the script was the main character, DRIVER. He is a pure killing machine and no doubt an evil person but he’s doing it all for love. It’s so twisted but his love is real. Yes, it’s fun to shoot bloody sequences and action sequences, but it doesn’t mean anything unless it has real character and story.
ZZ: Your films frequently play out in long wide master shots that utilize depth of field. The courage to shoot without extensive coverage is impressive. Does your choice of DP reflect this signature? How thrilling was it to work with Daniel Pearl and was it his idea to shoot Super 16mm?
RK: Making this movie was a nightmare. We encountered all kinds of problems – troubles and challenges every single day from the day first to the last – but working with Daniel Pearl and Luke Evans was the best experience.
I’ve been a big fan of Daniel’s work since I first watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We both felt that we were connected the first time we met and we had a magical chemistry. I wanted to do something totally different from my previous movie The Midnight Meat Train and Daniel came up with the idea of shooting Super 16mm and I loved it.
ZZ: Did you deliberately seek out to emulate the tone of 1980s horror with the use of practical effects and a limited number of locations? Do you regret the use of CGI blood in Midnight Meat Train?
RK: Yes, I think the golden age of movies, especially splatter movies, are back in the '80s. In those days movies had a more analogue, hand-made feel and they felt like they had more energy. I’m not a big fan of CGI or CGI blood or CGI gunfire. It’s okay if you have a mega-budget but not so much with a low budget movie.
|Poster art for No One Lives.|
ZZ: I’m curious about your directing style as your movies are so visual, how do you deal with actors? Meaning, do you trust their instincts in the role or do you frequently have notes? Are you more a “faster/slower” type director or are you very specific with the actors?
RK: I trust my actors. It’s easy to give them tons of notes and tell them exactly what I want, but I find it more interesting to see what they can squeeze out from within. That’s why the casting process is the most important part for me. When I feel connected and that a person understands the character, I trust them 100%.
Luke and I didn’t spend that much time discussing his character. After 30 minutes I knew we were seeing things similarly and I could count on him. So instead of talking about the character we talked about our lives when we had free time on set.
ZZ: How intimidating was it to direct Godzilla: Final Wars? Were there many guidelines or restrictions enforced by the studio concerning the franchise? Have you seen Pacific Rim?
RK: There weren’t many restrictions, I had enough creative freedom. It was a great honor to direct Godzilla and it was the last man-in-suit old fashion Godzilla movie. I’m a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro and he’s my good friend. I really enjoyed Pacific Rim. The master knows Japanese film/Anime/Comic culture more than us Japanese.
ZZ: Which was a bigger thrill: working with Godzilla or Clive Barker? Both are awesome, but I would fear disappointing either.
RK: I can’t compare these two greatest “monsters”. Clive Barker is a true genius and master of his craft, I was so honored and happy I had chance to work with him. We still have a great relationship and I would love to work with him again in near future. And of course I would love to go back and do a Godzilla movie again.
ZZ: What are your productions generally like in regard to shooting ratio and daily page count? How many days did you get to shoot No One Lives vs. Midnight Meat Train?
RK: I shoot very fast. I don’t stop on the set. Midnight Meat Train – I shot in 28 days and No One Lives was 24 days.
|Vinnie Jones contemplates the mysteries of life in The Midnight Meat Train.|
ZZ: You went back and added additional scenes, gore, music and changed the color timing for Versus after the film had already been released. If you could go back and tinker, which of your other films would you like to change?
RK: That was the rare case and that didn’t mean I wasn’t happy with the original version. Versus is 100% my baby so I wanted to do something crazy and did re-shoot/re-cut. I always try my best to make the film as good as it can possibly be and I am proud of my films.
There are millions of opportunities for shit to happen that will make a film go bad, but I guess that’s the nature of filmmaking and somehow I need to survive and do what’s best. No excuse, no reasons. I am the director and take responsibility for my films. So I prefer to make something new rather than looking back.
ZZ: This sounds like a dumb question, but would you ever want to direct a $200 million tent-pole blockbuster or do you prefer to stay under the radar with smaller budgets?
RK: Of course I’d love to direct a $200 million blockbuster.
ZZ: Hollywood never tires of remaking movies and personally, I would rather see a bad movie reworked than a classic (Fix Friday the 13th part VIII or Halloween 5 instead of the originals). Given the opportunity, what film would you attempt to remake?
RK: It’s not my style to attack on the Internet so I won’t say which… but I want to remake most of the “fucked-up remake movies” I loved the remake of The Hills Have Eyes and Maniac. Alexandre Aja is one of very few who knows how to do justice on remakes.
ZZ: All right, I think I have taken enough of your time. I want to thank you again and encourage you to keep doing exactly what you are doing.
Be sure to check out the new release of No One Lives and any of the other fine films directed by Ryuhei Kitamura now available on Blu-ray or DVD!
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