domingo, 20 de março de 2011

Interview with Kinji Fukasaku

By Chris D. (buy here)

Q: Tell me about the first two films you directed, the pair of Wandering Detective picture?
A: The system in place in those days was to let new directors make their first films as relatively short features, 60 or 65 minutes. This was to see if they had any talent. If they felt you had talent after those films, they'd let you direct the longer pictures. So those were shorter second features to the longer first features on a double bill.

Q: Your first entry in the Gang series, Gang Vs. G-Men... the story of an ex-yakuza who becomes and undercover policeman. A role played by Koji Tsuruta.

Q: The Gang series, even though a bit old-fashioned at first as it progressed it became more true to life, for example, your League of Gangsters - a precursor of the jitsuroku type of yakuza picture that become commonplace in the seventies. Then there where your other early yakuza pictures like High Noon For Gangsters and Wolves, Pigs And Men, which are pretty amazing, considering when you made them.
A: I think you're correct to say that. But the stories were all fictious and not based on any real people or events.

Q: Do you feel that you were one of the pioneers of that jitsuroku style of yakuza picture?
A: Perhaps. The first film of mine that I felt really successfully blended the documentary feel with the fictitious drama was Street Mobster. From that film on, I was more aware of the real past and contemporary underworld characters and events I could draw on to give the films a more reality-based feeling.

Q: You never directed any yakuza movies that could be termed ninkyo eiga. Did you not want to direct any ninkyo films?
A: Back then Toei had two studio branches, one in Kyoto, one in Tokyo. The one in Kyoto made the jidai-geki pictures, the samurai chambara, and also, as the sixties progressed, the ninkyo yakuza films, which were also set in period - say the late Meiji Era, the Taisho Era, the early Showa Period. I was stationed at the Tokyo branch and we concentrated on making contemporary films. When we did yakuza films, they were set in a relatively contemporary time period. The ninkyo stories from Kyoto didn't really fit our dramaturgy. The pictures directors like Umeji Inoue and I did in the Gang series, films like Gang Vs G-Men, were modern style action films, but at the same time, they were not very realistic. The more realistic pictures came in with films like Street Mobster. I think that gives you a clear delineation.

(Okami to buta to ningen, 1964)

Q: In your films Gambler Ceremony of Disbanding, Gambler - Foreign Opposition, Japan's Violent Boss, you see Koji Tsuruta, a ninkyo actor, playing a much more world-weary character...
A: World-weary?

Q: Out of place. A more alienated character than you see when he starred in ninkyo yakuza films.
A: I always thought that Koji Tsuruta's personality was more in tune with that kind of character, someone who is left behind, frozen in time. One of the films that I worked on with him was The Proud Challenge, which was not a yakuza film. And I felt that then. He was playing a newspaper reporter who'd been sacked because he was an idealistic Communist.

Q: Did Mr. Tsuruta ever express any objections to things his character had to do in your films?
A: No, no, I didn't ever have any problems with him.

Q: In Gambler - Foreign Opposition, Tsuruta's character wears sunglasses through virtually the entire movie, even when he's in bed with his girlfriend. Whose idea was that?
A: (Laughs) I had him do that in The Proud Challenge too. He was a journalist in that and a yakuza in the Gambler film. But it was my idea. You know, sometimes I thought when he was playing these characters his face looked a little too gentle. I wanted to occasionally make him look a little different, tougher.

Q: In Boss, Tomisaburo Wakayama plays a wild, drug-addicted gangster and, as it turns out, he has more in common with the strong quiet gang boss, played by Tsuruta , rather than with the corporate gang bosses, men without honor. Both Tsuruta and Wakayama hold them as a common enemy and almost became friends because of that.
A: Yes, strange bedfellows.

Q: Can you talk about working with Wakayama?
A: Tsuruta had always been a star and pretty much always played the lead role. The character in Boss didn't really suit his tastes, and he wasn't very keen to do it. In comparison to Tsuruta, Wakayama had a quality that was conductive to playing a bad guy. Much like other actors such as Lee Van Cleef or Humphrey Bogart, Wakayama belonged very much to that school of tough guy. In the beginning of the movie, Tsuruta and Wakayama's characters are enemies, but before you know it, when they both face a common adversity, they become close. I thought that that idea was very interesting. And the audience liked it too.

Q: Ryohei Uchida also appeared in Boss as Tsuruta's old friend who has joined up with the more corporate gang. You have him dressed in a white suit through the entire picture. Did you have any special reason for that, since he was the only member of the corporate gang to wear white and who had any remnats of decency left?
A: Well, Tsuruta looked better in black and, to be honest, Wakayama wasn't too stylish. But Ryohei Uchida had a natural sense of style to him. He looked good in the suit. Also, he wore the white suit to show he was a member of a more prosperous money-conscious gang. It made him stand out from the rest of his gang, but I wasn't consciously doing it because he was the only honorable one.

(Bakuto Gaijin Butai, 1971)

Q: In Street Mobster, Bunta Sugawara is a post-WW2 orphan of the streets with no moral upbringing. Before the prostitute played by Mayumi Nagisa becomes his girlfriend, his only experiences with women are through rape. In fact, he and his friends had raped Nagisa earlier, something that had led her down the path of prostitution. And he also can't go along with other yakuza. Sugawara's character is similar to the character played by Tetsuya Watari in your later film, Graveyard of Honor.
A: Graveyard of Honor was based on a real character, while Street Mobster was completely fictitous. But I had already had the idea for Graveyard Of Honor, before Street Mobster. I was aware of the real-life gangster Rikuo Ishikawa, because he had come from the same area as me down in Mito, and thought his story would make a good film. I decided to incorporate elements of his character in Street Mobster to see how it would work. When it turned out well, I made up my mind to do the story in an even more realistic style in Graveyard of Honor.

Q: There seem to be quite a lot of superficial roles for women in yakuza films in general -
A: What about Mayumi Nagisa in Street Mobster?

Q: She was going to be the part of my question. She's one of the exceptions.
A: And Yumi Takigawa in Graveyard of Honor?

Q: Yes, she was great in that. I'm not talking specifically about your yakuza films - more in general terms. You don't get many strong females in yakuza pictures except for the more mythical ninkyo films, such as Red Peony Gambler with Junko Fuji. Mayumi Nagisa's character in Street Mobster is such an incredibly strong role for a woman in a jitsuroku-style yakuza picture. She really does seem to be one of the exceptions.
A: I think if you look at films such as Street Mobster, they are exceptional films. They aren't run-of-the-mill.

Q: Why, though aren't there stronger women's roles on those kinds of yakuza films? Perhaps it's naive or maybe just too obvious in this day and age to say this, but I also think women in Japan, because of the ingrained culture, have had a harder time than women in Western cultures on asserting their individuality.
A: Well, I would turn that around then and ask you if there are any strong women's roles in American gangster pictures.

Q: Not really. I suppose you're right. There were some in the forties and the fifties. Movies like Out of the Past (1948) with Jane Creer, Guns Crazy (1950) with Peggy Cummins, Crime of Passion (1957) with Barbara Stanwyle. But it's true, movies like the Godfather trilogy and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets don't really have particularly strong female characters. Perhaps later on when you get to Lorraine Bracco on Goodfellas and Sharon Stone in Casino.
A: Well, when you do a jitsuroku film, just by its nature you're going to be telling a tale about men. And when you have to concentrate on one or two male characters, you just don't have the space to concentrate as much on any female roles. And then, when there's action at least in the past in Japan, women have not been as physically strong, and they don't traditionally go around killing people. You also want to establish the attractiveness of whatever female characters you do have, so you can see the dilemma.

Q: You see more of the sensitive female character in some ninkyo films like Red Peony Gambler pictures, movies which are admittelly not connected to any historical reality.
A: However, characters like Junko Fuji in Red Peony Gambler are not necessarily more complex because they are strong characters. In some ways, they are one-dimensional, similar to the characters that Ken Takakura played in those ninkyo films. They don't do any bad things. They always remain clean.

Q: There's a more truthful picture of the yakuza in Battles Without Honor And Humanity stories. But you don't see as much of their moneymaking activities as you do in, for instance, some of Junya Sato's jitsuroku yakuza pictures. You will actually use the yakuza forcing women into prostitution in collision with labor unions, extorting money. But in the Battles Without Honor films you see more of the gangsters having meetings, devising betrayals, then bloody vendettas and gang wars erupting. Why did you decide to concentrate more on that?
A: I emcompassed the period from 1945 through 1955 in the Battles Without Honor movies. Most of Junya Sato's films start around 1963, a time where there was a big crunch for the yakuza. They were starting to become more corporatic and had to become more ingenious in getting out income for their survival. The Battles Without Honor films are also set outside Tokyo, in Hiroshima right after the war. There was a lot more street crime, much more mindless violence and many gang wars in struggles for supremacy.

(Jingi Naki Tatakai: Hiroshima Shito Hen, 1973)

Q: There was also the black market and drug-dealing which you do show -
A: I was trying to show the yakuza's race to catch up as Japan's reconstruction took place after the war. Those yakuza did not have brains or social status. They were trying to run after the bus, so to speak, so they wouldn't miss the ride to propsperity.

Q: There was also supposedly collision between the yakuza and the US occupation forces the late forties and through the early fifties. Was there a reason you didn't touch on much of that in the series?
A: That alliance, you could look at that as the yakuza riding along with the US occupation. In Tokyo and Osaka, both the Japanese police and the US military entrusted the yakuza to keep order in the black market. Some American soldiers also provided the yakuza with goods to resell on the black market at a profit. Also, arms were stolen from the military and resold.

Q: There's hints of that in the Battles Without Honor and Humanity - Summit of Operations.
A: The selling of commodities on the black market from the US military, you see that in the beginning of Graveyard of Honor.

Q: The US occupation was nervous about Communist influences in the labor unions and would often employ yakuza as strike-breakers when there were labor conflicts.
A: Yes, the yakuza definitely helped out the US occupation forces in that regard. I really didn't touch on that in the Battles Without Honor series. But my earlier movie, The Proud Challenge was about that and was meant as an exposé of the CIA's plot to crush the Communist and socialist left in Japan.

Q: All though your Battles Without Honor series there is incredible violence. Were the gang wars, not only in Hiroshima, but also in Osaka and Tokyo, that violent in real life?
A: Hiroshima was the only city that I'm aware of where even ordinary citizens became victims of violence. People getting caught in the crossfire.

Q: And the films largely taking place in Hiroshima, it's almost as if the gangsters are mutations from the radioactive fallout. In a metaphorical sense. That this was the nadir of the worst because of its location, where the atom bomb was dropped.
A: (Laughs) I felt that metaphor, too. The genesis of the extreme violence with the gangsters almost appearing right out of the dust and smoke of the mushroom cloud. And that's why we used the stock footage of the bomb going off at the beginning of the film.

Q: There's a scene in Battles Without Honor and Humanity - Saga Conclusion where a young gangster is in a shootout in front of a Toei movie theater showing a Junko Fuji film and actually dies on top of one of her film posters. Was that a comment that the romanticizing of the yakuza, as in the kind of ninkyo films that she was in, ultimately had a destructive effect on certain impressionable segments of the audience?
A: Yes, you could say that. But more specifically, having him die on her picture was just an ironic comment on the fate of this boy, who wanted to achieve the yakuza idyll but couldn't quite get there.

(Jingi no Hakaba, 1975)

Q: One of the writers on Graveyard of Honor, Tatsuhiko Kamoi, also wrote several of Tatsuya Watari's pictures while he was still at Nikkatsu studios, including Yukihiro Sawada's Kanto Society of Leading Mobsters (1971) which I think is one of Watari's best films. Did Watari have anything to do with him coming on the project?
A: Tatsuo Yoshida, who was the producer, first asked Mr. Kamoi to write, but his script didn't end up being used for the most part. So I hired Fumio Konami and Hiro Matsuda to take a crack at it.

Q: Tetsuya Watari's last few pictures at Nikkatsu were leaning more towards the jitsuroku approach and his roles seemed to get a bit rougher than his eralier sixties Nikkatsu films. But, in Graveyard of Honor it was a startling transformation, as if he'd become another person. Did he felt that the part was a challenge? Or maybe an unflattering role for him?
A: Watari was very excited and felt it was a great challenge. But some of the producers who had worked with Watari at Nikkatsu were rather reluctant to see him take the part.

Q: Was the character his part was based on also a heroin addict in real life?
A: Yes.

Q: Bunta Sugawara plays a police detective in Cops Vs. Thugs. How did he feel about playing a policeman as opposed to the gangster role he usually work on?
A: Well, he'd played yakuza in so many of the previous films we decided he should play a policeman but a bad policeman.

Q: But his character isn't really bad, is he?
A: As far as society and morality goes, he's bad. He's compromised. Maybe he doesn't come off as that bad. You could describe him as being humanem even though he's corrupt. And in contrast to the more ordinary average policemen who all seems a bit inhuman.

Q: Tetsuya Watari plays a similar character Yakuza Burial and doesn't really fit in with his fellow cops or with the yakuza. Was this something you'd been working on or something the studio proposed as a follow-up to Graveyard of Honor?
A: Well, Watari wanted to do another film with me. But we'd exhausted the Battles Without Honor story. So we came up with this idea of an immoral cop, much like Sugawara's character in Cops Vs Thugs. But we wanted to go even further examining his character and show that, despite his faults, he really is more ethical and humane than his fellow police detectives.

Q: Watari has made only a few films since Yakuza Burial.
A: He ended up concentrating more on TV work. He's still very popular on television.

Q: Where did the idea come from for Hokuriku Proxy War?
A: That was from a true story in Hokkaido. The character in real life, the one played by Hiroki Matsukata was killed soon after our film was made.

Q: There's a scene where Matsukata's enemies are buried up to their necks in the snow and then jeeps are aimed to ran over their heads. Was that something that really happened?
A: Oh yes. That was from real events.

Q: I'd like to ask an unrelated question, if you don't mind, about Bunta Sugawara. He had started at Shintoho studios in the fifties and became a leading man there before the studio went bankrupt. But after that, he had to start again from scratch, playing bit parts at Shochiku, then at Toei, before finally becoming a leading man again around 1969. Did he feel any bitterness? Or did he tend to be more philosophical?
A: Well, of course, as an actor he wanted to play bigger roles during that period. I think he was frustrated. Even when he came to Toei there were other popular stars like Koji Tsuruta and Ken Takakura. He had to wait a long time for his second break. His first starring roles in the Modern Yakuza series, and the film I directed, Street Mobster, that was the last in that series, were all low-budget films.

Q: And what was it like working with Noboru Ando, who had been a yakuza in real life?
A: He had gone to jail after the shooting incident. Then, when he got out, he disbanded his gang and became an actor fairly quickly.

Q: How big was his gang?
A: The biggest they ever were! I think maybe around 500 members. They had control of a fairly large area in Tokyo for a while, the district known as Shibuya.

Q: Junya Sato had done the film series with Ando, True Account Of the Ando Gang. How much of that was in the film really happened, do you know?
A: They were based on his memoirs, and when yakuza write memoirs quite often they end up justifying their actions. I don't believe that Ando was an exception to the rule. You could probably take about 50% of it as being real. Howeever, I believe an exception to this were the articles writen by Battles Without Honor's original writer Koichi Iiboshi. He had also been a yakuza and ended up becoming a reporter. I think his writing you could take 80% maybe even 90% of it as the truth. Many of the people from his writings were still alive when they were first published, so if there'd been fabrication involved it would have been exposed.

Q: How was Ando to get along with? He seems a natural actor.
A: In a way, I accept a lot of yakuza like that. They tend to be very fun people. Sarcastic, but a lot of fun. One habit that many of them have, though, is that they'll never look into your eyes when you're talking to them.

Q: I've heard rumours that some of the head producers at Toei had originally come up from the ranks of the yakuza. Is that true?
A: There was a very big producer there named Koji Shindo, who had been in the yakuza.

Q: How did real-life yakuza feel about your yakuza films? Especially about seeing yakuza portrayed in an unflattering way?
A: There was the godfather of one gang who was portrayed in one of my films by Tetsuro Tanba. He wanted to check it out before it was released so he set up a special screening at Toei. He came, sat there and watched the film. Afterwards he remarked that he was a little surprised that his subordinates, some of the men he'd brought with him, were so quiet during the film that they didn't attempt any retaliation in response to what they were seeing on the screen (laughs). That was a bit scary.

(Yakuza no Hakaba: Kuchinashi no Hana, 1976)

Q: How do you feel about the yakuza genre?
A: By the time I started making the more realistic yakuza films I'd already been a director for over ten years. I felt that with that approach, the more documentary style, I would finally be able to distinguish my films from those of other directors. I felt that strongly for the first time when I made Street Mobster. And from them on, especially with Graveyard of Honor, I really like my work.

Q: Do you think that there have been any good yakuza movies made during the 90's?
A: Maybe a few. One of the only great yakuza pictures made since the Battles Without Honor and Graveyard of Honor in the seventies is a picture from 1983 called Ryuji. It was directed by Toru Kawashima and writen by the actor Shoji Kaneko, who played the main role. Sadly, he died of cancer shortly after the film was made.

Q: What do you feel is the difference between Japanese and American or European gangster films?
A: The thing that really makes gangster film interesting, whether it's a yakuza picture or a gangster movie from the West is if an audience of ordinary people like you and me, non-gangsters, can somehow relate to the characters in the film. When you find a common human thread. There are two French crime films that I think are especially good in that way. Once is Clouzot's Quai des Orfèvres (1947) with Louis Jouvet, and another Jacques Becker's Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1953), with Jean Gabin. In contrast, I think many American gangster films are presented more as entertainments Flamboyant. The Godfather films - I think those films were researched and were realistically based. But, at the same time, they have a slightly different attitude, meant more to entertain. An exception would be Scorsese's Goodfellas.

Q: Mean Streets too. Why do you think yakuza films were so popular in Japan during the 60's?
A: During the sixties and early seventies the students were rebelling against the status quo and government policies. There were incidents with The Red Army. But these sentiments weren't only prevalent amongst students. There was a kind of restless, rebellious energy bubbling under the surface with the geneal public. There were clashes between students and police on campuses and in other areas of the city. It was a time when students, the general public and women who worked in the water trade would go to the late night movie theaters to see the yakuza pictures. It was a kind of emotional release.

Q: It's ironic that the ninkyo yakuza pictures that were most popular in the sixties have almost left-wing sympathies, with a good gang or a lone hero helping the working class, who are being explored by evil gangs or the government. But in reality, during the early twentieth century, the original period of many of those movies, the real yakuza were usually right wing and frequently collaborating with repressive government forces. What do you think accounts for that discrepancy in the ninkyo films? Was it because there were many left-wing screenwriters turning out the scripts? Or were there actually some "chivalrous" gangs?
A: There were a lot of leftist writers and directors, but also many in the general audience shared that leftist sentiment. The students and blue-collar workers who made up a good portion of the audience cheered that type of story. The creators of those films really enjoyed that kind of scenario and loved presenting it on the screen.

Q: How did the more conservative yakuza respond to those films, the stories with the lone wolf hero or heroine, fighting for the common man? Because I've gotten the impression that those films were also popular amongst yakuza.
A: They liked those movies because it made them look good. It was good for their image!

Q: Do you think it could possibly have had any influence on real yakuza behavior?
A: I don't think so, because it was all relative in a way. Also they would have ways of justifying whatever they did as right in the context of their group or for the welfare of their comrades. They responded more to the energy in the films. Ideas expressed of how noble it was to die for their beliefs and for the sake of their comrades. Right or left, it didn't particularly matter.

Q: What are some of your own favorite films?
A: It's difficult, because it's very hard to compare the films that were well received with the movies that were well made but not well received. They're all like children and all so different. Sometimes you love the children more that are a bit simple-minded. But of course, you have affection for the others, too. So out of the 50 or so films I've made, perhaps I chose them as the most loved. Then, again, maybe it would be better if you picked them.

1 comentário:

  1. as a huge fan of your blog, i thought i'd share a little something i put together's a 45 minute mix of various japanese cinema funk from various genres: yakuza, pinku, nikkatsu, toku, eleki, lounge, and more. i think you and your blog readers would enjoy it! it just so happens that the very first song on the mix is from a kinji fukasaku film, so i thought i'd share it with you here. please feel free to share it as you please! your feedback would be appreciated, thanks!!