Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2 & 3!

Lust of the DeadI have arrived in Japan, and the first surprise of the day was finding Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s latest outré contributions to the burgeoning(?!) genre of rape/zombie films: Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2 & 3. For those who have read my previous post on the maiden title in this series, and those who are aware of the fact that Japan has practically built up a porn industry based on non-consensual intercourse, this should come as no surprise. For the rest of you…well, watch the trailers below and consider yourselves warned.

Put Some Pants On That Zombie! A Review Of “LUST OF THE DEAD”

Some of you may recall my recent post about Naoyuki Tomomatsu‘s latest foray into the zombie genre, the appropriately entitled Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  Well, the premiere has come and gone, and while I was sadly unable to attend, I did manage to purchase the DVD (actually released the day before the theatrical showing) and give the film a proper viewing.  How good can a film about undead creatures bent on violating the womenfolk of the world possibly be?  I probably shouldn’t answer that, but I will give you my thoughts and impressions of the latest attempt to send George A. Romero to an early grave.  Let’s get started, shall we?

The Story

Jumping right into the action, we see Kanae (Asami) going about her daily housework when she is suddenly assaulted by her abusive husband. While being raped, the television begins to broadcast news of mass rape incidents taking place across the city by unidentified assailants who seem to be no more than living corpses.  The incidents prompt Kanae to fight back and kill her husband, and we are treated to a crazily edited sequence of news broadcasts as various authorities attempt to make sense of the chaos.  It seems that radiation from space has somehow turned non-virgin men into zombified rape demons, whose only weakness is a certain part of their anatomy between their legs.  What’s worse, the women who are taken by these sex-crazed ghouls are killed almost instantly by the poisonous seed of their attackers.  We soon meet up with former office lady Momoko (Saya Kobayashi) and nurse Nozomi (Arisu Ozawa) as they seek shelter in a Shinto shrine not far from Tokyo.  In the shrine they meet up with Kanae and schoolgirl Tomoe (Yui Aikawa), who have decided to make a stand with a cache of assault rifles and explosives pilfered from an abandoned military jeep.  The two pairs are initially leery of each other, but it isn’t long before they come to an agreement and decide that mutual aid is in order.  A romance blooms between wrist-cutting Momoko and the older-sister-type Nozomi, both of whom had traumatic experiences at the hands of men.  Their sapphic interlude is punctuate by a new surprise: the head of the shrine has been there the whole time, but it seems that his otaku lifestyle and unbroken virginity have somehow protected him from the zombie plague, and he soon proves (somewhat dubiously) useful by providing changes of clothing for Momoko and Kanae, who take on the costumes of a maid and a shrine maiden, respectively.  All is not well, however, as North Korea blames Japan for the disaster and declares war, and it isn’t long though before the hordes of decaying deviants are knocking at the door.  Everything ends in an explosively confusing yet original conclusion that you’ll have to see for yourself!

The Good(?)

Something that keeps this film from being completely unwatchable is the enthusiasm of the four main actresses, and also the surprisingly well-thought-out televised commentaries that appear interspersed throughout as the four women watch the unfolding situation via PC.  The speakers are delightfully ridiculous and over the top (including an outspoken pundit with an eyepatch as a nod to Dawn of the Dead), and the twisted yet strangely convincing explanation of the rape zombie phenomenon as a natural step in the evolution of mankind and the Earth itself is certainly proof that some effort was made to create a unique contribution to the zombie genre.  The whole premise is also tied in (albeit shakily) with the Japanese mythology of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and together with the satire of Japan’s modern culture make this a uniquely Japanese take on the undead.  One of the funniest moments may be when a group of women are watching a North Korean missile soar through the skies toward Tokyo.  Rather than screaming or running for cover, they all pull out their cell phones and begin taking photos.  As a person living in Japan, I can honestly say that this also may have been one of the most realistic moments in the entire film.

The Bad

As low-budget zombie flicks go, this one certainly suffers a bit.  A lot of handheld cameras and uninteresting angles are to be expected from a director who is known for his adult videos, but when it comes to those sequences Tomomatsu certainly does shine, and he even manages to get some decent action scenes with Asami fighting off the zombies as well.  However, while the CG is used sparingly and to relatively good effect, the prosthetics and practical effects are sub-par at best, and sometimes just downright painful.  That said, the effects aren’t really distracting as the characters really drive the story forward, and the film is paced well enough to keep up the audience’s interest in what is happening.

The Undead

Trading in their traditional shambling gait in favor of the undignified waddle of a man with his pants around his ankles, Tomomatsu’s ghouls have about as much realism as they do regard for mutual consent during intercourse.  The general makeup effects look like something from a cheap Halloween store, while the poorly fitted latex masks appear to be leftovers from Helldriver‘s scrap bin.  Again, one can also choose to look at these shortcomings as a part of the film’s charm and, as mentioned above, the effects aren’t significantly distracting, especially since the camera is less concerned with showcasing the zombies than it is in getting as many breast shots as possible.  Is this something to complain about?  I’ll leave you to decide.  But the answer is no.

And so, in conclusion I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  While I expected a one-trick zombie, I found a unique little film that actually has a fair amount going for it in terms of social satire and comedy.  It’s a fun little romp through a perverted post-apocalypse world that only Japan could bring us, and so if you have the chance, grab your libation of choice and sit back for what might just be the guilty pleasure of the year!

Hang on to your ZOMBIE ASS! It’s Noboru Iguchi’s “TOILET OF THE DEAD!”

Night of the Living Dead began in a graveyard.

Resident Evil began with a virus.

And now, Zombie Ass begins from a toilet…

Noboru Iguchi, the mad genius responsible for The Machine Girl and bête noire of rectophobes around the globe, is forcing audiences to roll up their sleeves, take out their plungers, and dive down to where zombies have rarely gone before: the sh***er.

Yes, this is a real film, as if we could doubt anything to come from Japan after my recent report on the upcoming Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  Offering ass-loads of toilet humor garnished with liberal amounts lots of flesh-ripping and feces-flinging action, Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead was shown at the Texas Fantastic Fest in September 2011, and just saw its Japanese premiere in Tokyo this past weekend on February 25th.

Zombie Ass stars Arisa Nakamura, Mayu Sugano, Asana Mamoru, as well as Iguchi regulars AsamiKentaro Kishi, and Kentaro Shimazu and tells the tale of Megumi, a young karate student and her friends as they find themselves confronted with the menace of a parasitic breed of intestinal worm that turns its victims into horrifying ghouls!  And what’s more, it seems that only the power of flatulence can possibly save humanity from these undying terrors of the toilet!  Remember, this is coming from a man who proudly proclaims himself as a “legendary ass-fetishist.”  I would attempt to make more toilet/anus-related jokes, but I have a feeling that I might just be beating a dead ass – er, horse, so I’ll leave you with the trailer.  Just don’t watch the film after eating.

RAPE ZOMBIE?!? Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s “LUST OF THE DEAD”

Well, the zombie boom continues around the world, and leave it to a Japanese director to come up with something so outrageous, so gauche, and so tasteless, that one can only wonder why someone hasn’t thought of it before.  The title says it all.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.

Brought to us by Naoyuki Tomomatsu, the co-director of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and director of another Japanese zombie schlock film, Zombie Self-Defense Force, this horror/comedy film takes audiences to new levels of undead indecency and reverse necrophilia, featuring a cast of notable AV (adult video) actresses such as Asami (The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha), Arisu Ozawa, Yui Aikawa, and Saya Kobayashi (currently one of Japan’s hottest AV stars).  According to the Japanese description

Undying rape spirits that have taken the form of human men descend upon helpless women in this sexy/horror/action film. Incidents of rampaging men raping women break out across Tokyo.  Refusing to die even after their heads are lopped off and their hearts shot out, it seems that the only way to defeat these creatures is to sever the ****s from between their legs…

Well, if that doesn’t sound like a fun-filled romp for the whole family, then I don’t know what does!  An official selection of the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival 2012 (February 23 – February 27), the Japanese DVD will be released on March 2, followed by a late-night theatrical event with several other films at Theatre Shinjuku on March 3, with some of the cast and crew in attendance.  More info (in Japanese) can be found on director/writer Tomomatsu’s blog.  You can also Like the film on Facebook here.

Sushi Is Hungry! Noboru Iguchi’s “DEAD SUSHI”!

Time flies by on leathery, bat-like wings here at Castle Skeleton, and a look at the cobweb-ridden calendar on the wall tells me that Candlemas has already come and gone without a single post here at my horror blog!  Well, to rectify the situation I decided to highlight one of the latest slices of cinematic WTFery to be spawned from the mind of delightfully demented director Noboru Iguchi: Dead Sushi.  Responsible for films that have gained loyal cult followings such as The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha, and Karate-Robo Zaborgar, Iguchi is sure to please once again as martial artist and actress Rina Takeda (High Kick Girl!, Dogoon V) takes on an army of killer sushi!  Shigeru Matsuzaki will also appear, along with Iguchi regulars Asami and Demo Tanaka.   This visual and gastronomical(?) delight will hit theaters soon, but for now check out the trailer and flyer, with English text supplied by my good friend Norman England.  Itadakimasu!

Interview with Eihi Shiina for SCREAM THE HORROR MAGAZINE!

By a strange and curious turn of events, I have found myself becoming the “man in Japan” for SCREAM, a UK-based magazine that is drawing fresh blood in the world of horror publications around the world.  According to the web site:

SCREAM is Britain’s premier Horror Magazine. SCREAM is your best source for horror movies, DVD and Blu-rays, reviews, previews, celebrity interviews, books, games, film festival reports, comics and pretty much everything else you can think of in the world of horror…

While the vicissitudes of my various activities have prevented me from taking up my quill and ink here at Castle Skeleton recently, I was able to take the opportunity to pen some thoughts on my participation as a zombie in a Helldriver (Yoshihiro Nishimura) DVD spinoff filmed this past summer, which you can read about in Issue 7 of SCREAM, available now at news agents and book stores across the UK, and for international order at their web site: http://www.screamhorror.com/

Not only that, I also had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Japan’s undisputed splatter queen, Eihi Shiina!  We discussed her roles in Audition (Takashi Miike), Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura), and, of course, the Sushi Typhoon zombie epic Helldriver, and she also shared with me some of her activities outside of the film world and her thoughts on life and love.  You can read the full interview (conducted and translated by yours truly) in next month’s issue of SCREAM.  For now, check out the post here on SCREAM’s home page.  You won’t want to miss it!

Raising Hell: Thoughts on the “Helldriver” Launch – Part 3

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.

Photo by Norman England

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!

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

Photo by Norman England

Continuing from my previous post, after hearing Mr. Nishimura’s tales of grueling 300-cut days on the set of his latest splatterific masterpiece, it was time to partake of the gore-soaked, adrenaline-charged thrill ride that is Helldriver.  So grab your favorite rubber ducky, we’re about to jump into a serious bloodbath!

While I was able to discuss Helldriver to a fair extent in my previous report on the Tokyo premiere back in March, a second viewing allowed me to evaluate the film on a more personal and thematic level, and see the depth that lies beneath the surface of this hyperactive tale of carnage and mayhem.  The first and most obvious theme is perhaps the politics, whereby Japan’s government is stymied by a political stalemate over whether the infected humans should be captured and treated medically, or simply exterminated.  Minister of Justice Osawa (Guadalcanal Taka) favors the latter path of annihilation, while Prime Minister Hatoda (Minoru Torihada) seeks rehabilitation of the zombified citizens, much to his regret about midway through the film when he is cannibalized by the very beings he was attempting to protect.  Both characters have been assigned monikers that are not-so-subtle parodies of existing politicians, and the government satire almost hits too close to home, especially considering the eerie resemblance of the film’s plot to Japan’s current situation, with clouds of radiation and polluted foodstuffs replacing Helldriver’s plume of poisonous ash and infected population in Japan’s northern regions.

More interesting to me than the critique on politics (which is, let’s face it, almost too easy considering Japan’s recent political landscape), was the way that the film approaches the topic of family.  Woven throughout the story are various plot threads involving familial ties.  Taku (Yurei Yanagi) takes care of orphans in the memory of his departed father, while one of those orphans, Nanashi (Mizuki Kusumi) searches for his lost sister.  Newly included scenes of the always wonderful pair of Asami and Takumi Saito in their roles as “hyper-police” also show a tragic story of siblings facing impossible odds, and a Catholic priest (Kanji Tsuda) offers sanctuary and shelter to the “afflicted” relatives of families who aren’t quite prepared to be separated from their dearly departed. And, of course, the overarching plot revolves around Kika (Yumiko Hara), her sadistic mother Rikka (played by the lovely Eihi Shiina), and her equally insane uncle Yasushi (Kentaro Kishi).  Rikka incessantly reminds her daughter (while killing and eating the flesh of her own husband) that she only exists because of her, and thus is her possession.  The megalomaniacal mother-turned-zombie-queen even goes so far as to tear her daughter’s own beating heart out of her chest to replace her own, insisting that it was her belonging to begin with.

Superseding the various other plot threads, the climax of the film sees an enraged Kika crying out to have her life, her father, and her heart returned, her repetition eventually devolving into a furious chant of “Mine, mine, mine!”  The “like mother, like daughter” irony of the film’s closing casts a shadow over the otherwise fairly upbeat conclusion, and the depth of the relationships explored throughout the film certainly made a repeat viewing more than worthwhile.

So what was different about this new “extended” version?  Well, aside from the aforementioned Asami/Takumi Saito mini-arc and priest storyline, the film also contained an extended scene featuring the capture and subsequent devouring of Nanashi’s school uniform-clad younger sister (played by adult video actress Rui Saotome).  Tied down in a chair, the girl is surrounded by devilishly leering zombies and, in a somewhat disturbing scene, has her shirt torn open and both nipples bitten off a la Castle Freak.  While the unrealistic torrents of blood that gush from her ample breasts are not likely to offend the sensibilities of the film’s target demographic, and the actress herself was 22 at the time, the people at Sushi Typhoon probably thought it wise to omit this particular portion of the schoolgirl cannibal show in the film’s international version.

Some of you might remember the rant in my first review, where I expressed a few gripes about the pacing of the film and the way in which some of the action sequences seemed to drag on a bit too long.  Well, Mr. Nishimura provided an astute and eye-opening statement during the introduction to the film, where he essentially said that he “wanted to create a film that will tire foreign audiences out.”  In other words, he wished to test the limits of viewers in their craving for outrageous action and over-the-top gore, and I truly believe that the director has indeed pushed the boundaries in this particular area.  Recalling his phrase, I was able to enjoy the lengthy scenes more than the last time, although I still have my issues with the race across the Hokkaido landscape.  You can read my previous report for details, but while I still find the discombobulated settings and background images a bit distracting from the action itself, I managed to immerse myself in the scene and enjoy the zany, bloody hijinks for what they were.  Overall, I enjoyed Helldriver even more the second time around, having a bloody good time and becoming even more excited to see what Mr. Nishimura and his crew will be churning out next!

So there you have it, my impressions of Helldriver in its original gut-wrenching glory.  Watch out for a DVD release (and see me in the extras!), hopefully before the end of this year.  And if you’re in or around Tokyo, then what are you waiting for?  Get caught up in the Sushi Typhoon!

Stay tuned for part three, when I will be giving a more personal account of the Helldriver premiere after-party with the cast and crew!

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…