Raising Hell: Thoughts on the “Helldriver” Launch – Part 1

July 23, 2011, will surely be remembered in the realms of underground film fandom as a date of historical significance, seeing the official Japanese theatrical releases of not one, not two, not even three, but four outrageous titles created under the auspices of Nikkatsu’s Sushi Typhoon label.  Alien vs Ninja, Deadball, Yakuza Weapon, and, of course, Helldriver, all made their official debut at Ginza Cine Pathos in Tokyo, possibly gracing that screen with more gut-wrenching, gory goodness than ever before.

Photo by Norman England

“Now, wait a minute, Mr. Skeleton,” you may be saying to yourself.  “Didn’t you just report on the premiere of Helldriver back in March?  What’s this business about another launch?”  Well, gentle reader, perhaps a bit of clarification is in order.  Filmed in 2010, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Helldriver had its official world premiere that same year on September 20 at the International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, Spain, followed by its Japan premiere at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival on February 26, 2011.  The showing that I attended on March 4, 2011, was the film’s Tokyo premiere, shown as a part of the Tokyo Zombie Film Festival.  Helldriver has since made the rounds of film fests, mostly in the form of a shortened (and slightly censored) “international version,” bringing Nishimura’s delightfully perverse vision to bloodthirsty gore-hounds across the globe.  And so, July 23 represented the official theatrical launch in Japan of Helldriver in its original uncensored edit, running about 12 minutes longer than the international version.

Photo by Norman England

So, back to the launch!  After a lovely dinner at the Vampire Café in Ginza, I found myself staring down a wide staircase leading to what might best be described as a glorified underground passageway.  Standing bars, udon noodle shops, and other establishments lined most of one side, while the remaining areas were peppered with film posters and entrances to the Cine Pathos theaters.  Guarded by an AVN alien, lined with bloody, severed zombie heads, and crowned with the massive scythes wielded by Tak Sakaguchi’s Kisaragi in Mutant Girls Squad, it wasn’t too difficult to spot the right entrance.  Fans milled about the area, lining up dutifully to receive felt-tip blessings upon their posters from favorite actors, actresses, and filmmakers.   I was pleased to catch up with director Nishimura, actor Kentaro Kishi, and my friend Norman England (an extra in the film and responsible for the excellent English subtitles).  I also had the privilege of conversing with the always delightful Asami, who appears in Helldriver and many other notable Nishimura/Iguchi films.

Photo by Norman England

After being pushed back for nearly thirty minutes, the eager film aficionados were finally allowed into the theater, pouring into a lobby full zombie heads, ninja suits, and other props; even the restrooms were unable to escape the carnage!  Official Helldriver T-shirts were available for sale, and a booth was set up for live interviews via Ustream throughout the day (recordings from that day can be viewed here).

The theater itself was rather cramped and could have used a bit more in the way of air conditioning, but none of that mattered when Noboru Iguchi lurched to the front of the screen in a rather loose kimono, shouting something barely comprehensible from beneath an ill-fitting latex zombie mask to welcome the audience to the final showing of that day’s Sushi Typhoon Festival.

A fully clothed Nishimura then led the cast out to the stage, including lead actress Yumiko Hara (Kika), Eihi Shiina (Rikka), Kentaro Kishi (Yasushi), Honoka (kimono zombie), Yurei Yanagi (Taku), Kazuki Namioka (Kai), Mizuki Kusumi (Nanashi), Yuya Ishikawa (Kika’s father),  and Asami (“hyper police” wall guard).  And if you did a double-take when I mentioned that Mr. Nishimura was fully clothed, fear not, for it took nary a moment’s convincing to have him strip down to the fundoshi Japanese undergarment that has become his trademark at these events.  With Mr. Iguchi serving as master of ceremonies, the cast and crew related their thoughts on the film and the grueling two weeks of Hell that gave birth to this latest monster mashup.  The fact that Mr. Nishimura managed to serve as director, co-screenwriter, editor, character designer and special makeup effects supervisor on the film and still churn out Helldriver in such a short period is truly a testament to his passion as a creator, and also the assiduous efforts of everyone involved in the production.

Photo by Norman England

When viewing these movies, I often think about the beauty of film as a medium, and how a group of disparate individuals can bring their talents together to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its constituent parts.  Sometimes, combinations and affinities are discovered that function particularly well, and it takes a charismatic and dedicated director to orchestrate them.  Some examples in Hollywood that come to mind include Tim Burton, with his frequent collaborations with Danny Elfman and repeated use of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee, and others in his films.  Perhaps closer in flavor would be the works of Quentin Tarantino, and especially Robert Rodriguez (with Planet Terror often used as a point of comparison).  Both of these filmmakers find actors and staff that hold a particular resonance with them, and use their unique characteristics and personal quirks to enhance their directorial visions.  This sense of camaraderie then gives the audience the feeling that the folks involved actually enjoy working with each other and have a vested interest in how the film is received, and aren’t just in it for a fat paycheck.  This in turn serves to make viewing the film a more enjoyable experience overall.

My own thoughts aside, the enlightening talks that eventide were cut off all too soon, but an even bigger treat was in store for us.  What are my impressions of the gore-spewing, blood-spraying, flesh-chomping, bone-gnawing action of Helldriver’s original cut?  That will have to wait for next time.  Until then, if you have the chance, check out the Sushi Typhoon Festival going on now in Tokyo.  You won’t regret it!

Special thanks to Norman England for the fantastic photos!

Highway to Hell: On the Set of a “Helldriver” Spinoff

The heady scent of cigarette smoke and grease paint fills my nostrils as I struggle to hold up a cheap plastic umbrella against the persistent rain, waiting for the last bit of makeup to be carefully applied to my face.  Amidst the pitter-patter of countless raindrops falling on the surrounding foliage, I can just barely make out the muffled sounds of shouted directions and the sharp crack of a clapperboard from further off in the mountain trails.  An unearthly moan soon echoes through the trees.  The man standing before me is Japan’s undisputed guru of gonzo gore, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and though I can hardly believe it myself, I am on location for the filming of a spinoff short to be included on the DVD release of his magnum opus of the living dead: Helldriver.  And I get the feeling that there’s something strange protruding from my forehead…John Zombie

To start at the beginning, on June 27th I had the opportunity to stand in as a zombie extra in a Helldriver short directed by Jun Shiozaki (first assistant director on Helldriver), one of three slated to be included on the film’s DVD release.  Those who are familiar with the works of underground film luminary Yoshihiro Nishimura (and his frequent partner in crime, Noboru Iguchi) are aware that one of the advantages of purchasing the DVDs of such films is being able to see the wacky spinoffs that are included among a host of other fantastic extra features.  This time around, regular Nishimura collaborator Shiozaki was selected to give his unique take on the world of Helldriver, deciding to set his humorous romp sometime after the events depicted in the main film.  I won’t give away any of the details here, but I’ll simply say that, like a certain other film’s catchphrase, something…or someone…has survived!

I met with Mr. Nishimura and the rest of the cast and crew at a station in the outskirts of Tokyo, and from there we made our way to a nearby mountain, ascending a steep flight of stairs to a small shrine nestled among the trees.  From there, we took a rough and winding path up a mountain trail through the rain to the summit, where we found a clearing with benches and picnic tables apparently made available for hikers.  Lacking his usual crew (who were in LA at the time), Nishimura took on the job of making up each zombie extra personally, with the help of one assistant.  First I received the ubiquitous “Yubari melon” horn that is such a prominent feature of Nishimura’s Helldriver undead creatures.  Then, using a simple pallet of grease paint, a brush, and his dexterous fingers, Mr. Nishimura worked his black magic on my features.  As many of you know, I have been an avid zombie fanatic since my youth, and I have the utmost respect for Mr. Nishimura and the brilliantly deranged special effects and diabolical directorial work that he has been producing in the underground film scene.  To have my dream of becoming a zombie brought into reality by such a skilled and talented artist was truly an experience that I will never forget.  Everyone on the set was pleasant and cheerful, even with the rather dreary weather that day, and I could sense their enthusiasm and drive to create something fun and interesting as a further addition to the Helldriver legacy. 

And speaking of legacies, after making the rounds of film festivals both in Japan and abroad to high acclaim, Helldriver made its official premiere this past Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 at the Ginza Cine Pathos Theater in Tokyo, joining a lineup of Sushi Typhoon flicks: Alien vs Ninja, Deadball, and Yakuza Weapon.  I was present for the showing, and I will be making a report on the event soon!  Until then, sweet nightmares…

Yoshihiro Nishimura Directs The 50 Kaitenz “KILLER” Music Video!

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Japan’s godfather of gore Yoshihiro Nishimura directed a music video for the Land of the Rising Sun’s equivalent of  The Ramones, complete with fireball-spewing transformable kimono girls and a dude with Gatling guns sprouting from his upper (and one of his lower…) extremities?  Well, neither have I, but fortunately for us, that’s exactly what has happened.  And let me tell you, it kicks ass!

Tokushima Drunkard (Danny), Izumo Youkai (Dory) and Naniwa No-Good (Bogie) of Japanese rock ‘n’ roll band The 50 Kaitenz have displayed their impeccable taste in choosing Japan’s master of monster himself, Yoshihiro Nishimura, to direct their latest promotional video, “KILLER.”  If you love the kind of rock that will make your neighbors hate you when you play it loud, you might just like The 50 Kaitenz.  And even if you don’t, you’re sure to enjoy the outrageously over-the-top video that Mr. Nishimura has put together for us this time.  What are you waiting for?

Also, look forward to my next post, where I’ll talk about my experiences on the set of one of the HELLDRIVER short films!

Moi dix Mois ~ Le dixième anniversaire – Live 2011-2012

tetsugaku no kakeraAs mentioned in my previous post on the Madō Gathering Concert performed by Moi dix Mois in Shibuya last month, Mana is planning a grandiose series of live performances to celebrate the band’s 10th anniversary.  The details have been released for the first concert that will open the curtain on this historical tetsugaku no kakera (fragment of philosophy) concert series.  The gates will open once more to Mana’s elegantly tenebrous world on Sunday, August 21, 2011 at duo MUSIC EXCHANGE.  Since I will likely be helping on the set of Norman England‘s latest short film, I won’t be able to attend, but if you are a fan in Tokyo I would invite you to take this opportunity to witness a very special moment in the history of this unique symphonic metal band.  I hope to join the later concerts, and perhaps we may someday meet in Mana’s realm of bizarre Gothic illusion…