sexta-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2011

Interview with Teruo Ishii

By Chris D. (1997)
Q: Did you always want to be a film director?
A: (laughs) An accident.

Q: How did you begin working at Shintoho?
A: I started working there as a cameraman.

Q: What would you say was Shintoho's filmmaking philosophy? They were making the kinds of films in the fifties that Toei made in the late sixties.
A: Shintoho had a philosophy - everything was speed. The first important thing was speed, the second important thing was speed, everything was speed.

Q: Hmm, because of money?
A: Yes.

Q: The subject matter of their films seems shocking for the 1950's compared to other Japanese films at the time.
A: (laughs) I don't know much about that! In the fifties, the eighties or the nineties! The fifties were a long time ago. What titles?

Q: Let's start at the beginning. You initially worked on the Supergiant series (known in the Us as Starman). What was it like working on those?
A: Right after my first film, a producer friend said he had an idea. He knew how to make a person look as if they were flying on film through special effects. I asked him, "Is that really possible?" He was intrigued by this idea that eventually became Supergiant.

Q: Shintoho's Queen Bee series were some of the earliest modern yakuza films and went in the same direction Toei did in the sixties. There were visual ideas in the second film's title sequence, where the girls are dancing in the street, then the nightclub scenes, the gambling scenes. I was wondering how much freedom you had, because you can see many similar things in your later films?
A: I had a lot of freedom to do what I liked. Mainly because I didn't care what the producers said and just went ahead and did what I wanted.

Q: As in the Line series? How did that series come about?
A: Before the Lines series, I had had some trouble with the company. I thought maybe I was going to be fired. Then, after an almost one-year break, it was recommended that I make another kind of film. Which became the Line films.

Q: What kind of trouble?
A: My idea of the kind of film I wanted to make was very different from Shintoho's.

Q: How so?
A: We didn't see eye to eye on the selection of actors, as well as producers and people on the technical side. The company was very strict. They were very specific about subject matter and the selection of actors. I was just bucking them every step of the way. They started to become upset, saying, "Look, this is the way we do things in this company." As a result, they gave me the year break. I wasn't too surprised and thought there was nothing I could do about it. That's another reason I was glad when Toei became interested in me.

Q: How did things change as Shintoho got closer to bankruptcy?
A: At the time I wasn't very surprised that they were going into bankruptcy. And I was on a part-time hiatus starting to work over at Toei, so when it happened I just moved over there.

Q: Why did Shintoho go bankrupt?
A: They had distribution problems. They wanted to be independent of Toho, who distributed their films. And, because of the friction, distribution began getting worse as time went along. If they had stayed under the Toho umbrella, maybe they would have been better off.

(Hana to Arashi to Gang, 1961)

Q: One of your first films at Toei was The Flower, The Storm and The Gang. It seemed there was much more of an American influence on it - as in your Shintoho Line films - more of a film noir feel than the yakuza films Toei did in the sixties. What kind of freedom did Toei give you in that first Gang film?
A: They didn't give me that much. Which was understandable, since it was my first film there. But I wanted to make it my own, an original film, so I asked them for three days to rewrite the script. Once I got final approval, I just started shooting and followed my instincts. They pretty much left me alone after the script approval. I wanted to be happy with it in case something happened, and I was never able to make another film. But, still, I knew if I din't succeed at Toei I would have no future in movies. It was a fine line I had to walk: still making sure I gave them what they wanted, but also doing what I thought would make the film work and my own creation.

Q: I know, in many Japanese genre films, studios would sometimes slavishly adhere to certain story elements with little leeway for deviation. Did Toei give you specific guidelines to follow?
A: (laughs) They gave me guidelines for the Gang movies, but I didn't follow them! So they were surprised by that. But, almost always, after they saw the final cut, they were happy with the results.

Q: In Tokyo Gang Vs. Hong Kong, Koji Tsuruta plays a drug addict. Since he was a star, was he worried about his image or did Toei have a problem with him playing that kind of role?
A: No, neither he nor the studio had a problem with it.

Q: Tale of Showa Era Chivalry was an early ninkyo yakuza film set in the pre-WW2 period. What do you think of that genre?
A: I wasn't interested in making that kind of movie, but the head of Toei forced me to do it.

Q: It's one of my favorite ninkyo yakuza pictures! I like the ending, where Tsuruta dies on the boat going across the river, with his boss and girl and comrades clustered around him.
A: Really? Tale of Showa Era Chivalry was one of the first of that type. Later, many other Toei directors did that kind of picture, but it was one of the first.

Q: Did Toei try to get you to direct other ninkyo yakuza movies?
A: (smiles) No, they didn't try to get me to direct any more of them.

Q: Gold Warehouse Break-in was one of the only conventional jidai-geki films you made. Was that another genre you weren't particularly interested in?
A: (laughs) The head of Toei was interested in the more conventional period chambara film, and he recommended that I direct that picture. He was excited about the story. But I was never really enamored of that genre.

Q: Your most popular pictures from the sixties were from the Abashiri Prison series. Nikkatsu had made a film adapted from the same Abashiri Prison story in 1959.
A: I hadn't seen the Nikkatsu version, but I'm fairly certain they had been pretty faithful to the original story. I was familiar with the novel, and wasn't interested in following it. I thought I had a good idea for my own version. I asked Toei If I could take a stab at it, and they said yes. So mine is very different from the Nikkatsu one.

Q: Did Toei intend from the start to make it into a series?
A: (laughs) No!

Q: It was just going to be the one film?
A: After the first film was so successful, they decided they wanted to continue it as a series. And they wanted me to direct them.

Q: Is it obviously a type of Yakuza film. How did you approach it differently from the other Toei yakuza pictures?
A: At the time, I wanted to promote Ken Takakura's stardom. I decided to make his character a kind of everymna, but one who was faithful to a woman and the idea of unconditional love. An unselfish, honest character. I thought he was the perfect match for that romantic kind of role. We didn't always try to focus on the yakuza angle.

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for Naoki Sugiura's character, the sunglasses-wearing tubercular, whistling killer from the third Abashiri Prison film, Saga of Homesickness?
A: I had several ideas for his character. I wanted to make him sleazy, but cool at the same time. Sugiura's character was meant to be scary, in contrast to Takakura's character, someone who is almost but not quite square, a helpful and friendly straight arrow.

Q: But Sugiura was still somehow sympahtetic, even though he was a bad guy. You kind of liked him in spite of himself?
A: That's very true.

Q: Duel in the Blizzard, the tenth in the series, was the last one you directed. What did you think about the series when it continued with other directors?
A: (laughs) I was weary of the series, making almost the same pictures time after time. So, I wanted to have Takakura killed in the last one, I did. But, of course, that wasn't going to happen. After that I gave up my claim on the series to whichever director wanted to take it over.

Q: How did you think directors Masahiro Makino, Kiyoshi Saeki, Yasuo Furuhata did which the other later films?
A: (laughs) I haven't seen any of them!

(Kyofu kikei ningen: Edogawa Rampo zenshu, 1969)

Q: You then worked on a different kind of film, the erotic/grotesque or zankoku type, such as Joys of Torture, Hell's Tattooers, Orgies of Edo, Yakuza Punishment - Lynch Law! How did that series come about? The films are bloody, full of sex and violence. But also surrealistic too. Were these films your idea or Toei's?
A: I was tired of filmmaking after the Abashiri series. I wanted to go in a completly different direction. The idea for that kind of film was Toei's. But I wanted to go far out with the sex and the violence, to see as much as would be allowed. I made those films because I really wanted to see how far I could push the limit.

Q: The imagery in the films is distinctive, that erotic/grotesque look. How much of that was you and how much were in the screenplays to begin with?
A: Some were inspired by the tales of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, stories like his Portrait of Hell. He also wrote the original stories on which Rashomon was based. The actual imagery was mostly mine.

Q: How were those films receieved by the critics when they were released?
A: (laughs) The feedback was horrible. The reviews were all negative!

Q: The films have must been popular, though.
A: Yes, they were popular.

Q: Toei continued to make them, even in the seventies and eighties, with other directors like Yuji Makiguchi.
A: They become much sicker.

Q: Yakuza Punishment is the only one out on Japanese video. Are any of the others ever going to be released? Both Joys of Torture and Orgies of Edo have been released on German video, dubbed in German.
A: Really? I didn't know they'd been released on German video. I don't think Toei has any plans to issue them on video here. They're very sensitive about what the critics will say.

Q: Being politically correct. There are many people in America who would like to see all those films. Many have come out as underground bootlegs.
A: (amazed) Really?

Q: What about the Horror of Malformed Men, which came from Edogawa Rampo stories? How did that originate?
A: I'd liked Edogawa Rampo's stories for a long time. Rampo's stories were not very popular with Toei in the sixties. But, right during that period, Toei needed to get more films into their theaters, they had upcoming open playdates, so they told me to go ahead and make whatever kind of picture I wanted. I took them at their word and made that.

Q: You then did two films for Nikkatsu, Rising Dragon's Iron Flesh and Blind Woman's Curse.
A: I knew the producer, a man by the name of Hideo Koi. He'd worked for Shintoho. He asked me to come over to Nikkatsu to direct those films.

Q: Did Toei have a problem with that, that you were going to do some pictures for Nikkatsu?
A: I didn't have any problem with that, because I was a freelance director by then.

Q: How much involvement did you have in the second film in the trilogy, Rising Dragon's Soft Flesh Exposed (Nobori Ryu Yawa Hada Kaicho). I saw your name on the movie poster.
A: I was busy doing a picture over at Toei at the same time so I made my assistant director, Masami Kuzuo, the main director, and I acted as a kinf of advisor.

Q: When I interviewed Meiko Kaji, she felt Blind Woman's Curse was basically a ninkyo yakuza film. But there were kaidan images in the picture, what with the hunchback played by Tatsumi Hijikata, the cat licking up the blood, etc. How did you get the idea to blend the two genres?
A: (laughs) It's supposed to be the third in the Rising Dragon series. The company actually wanted me to work the ghost story elements into the film. I was already shooting when they asked me to start blending in the macabre imagery. I never could figure out any specific reason! But they were very insistent.

Q: I must say it really worked. It's an original film. Very strange.
A: (laughs) The ghost story images? As far as being coherent, I feel the movie was nonsensical.

Q: But isn't that the idea behind the erotic/grotesque genre? I thought the yakuza and horror were well integrated. Speaking of which, did Shintoho ever ask you to direct any kaidan while you were working there?
A: No, they never asked!

Q: Back at Toei you did a film, Bohachi Bushido, that was another adaptation of manga by Kazuo Koike, creator of Lone Wold and Cub.
A: Tetsuro Tanba and I were great friends. He owned the script and wanted to star with me directing. We went back and forth about it for a while, but he finally convinced me to make it.

Q: In the sequel, directed by Takashi Harada, co-star Goro Ibuki came back but main star Tetsuro Tanba didn't appear. Do you have any idea why?
A: I didn't even know there was a second one!

Q: You then did two woman gambler movies: Story of a Wil Elder Sister Widespread Lynch Law, with Reiko Ike, and the Silk Gambler, with Eiko Nakamura. Since Junko Fuji, who'd been successful in the Red Peony Gambler films, had just retired in 1972, was Toei trying to create another popular female yakuza series?
A: Yes, Toei was looking for a new face, a new personality who was capable of catching on as the next popular female yakuza. Sadly, Eiko Nakamura eventually committed suicide, many years later.

Q: Did Toei originally intend for The Silk Gambler to become a series? How did it do along with the Elder Sister pair of films?
A: No, it was always intended to be just that one film. None of those were that successful. Now there are fans who have made those pictures cult films. I hear requests all the time from people who want videotapes of the pictures.

Q: I'm one of those people! I've actually found posters of all of them.
A: (laughs)

~(Teruo Ishii)

Q: Modern Chivalry with Ken Takakura was written by Shinobu Hashimoto. He usually did not write yakuza films, being more involved in prestigious jidai-geki films like the Seven Samurai and Hide Gosha's Hitokiri. How did Toei manage to get him to write a yakuza film?
A: It's true, it was very unusual for Hashimoto to work on such a film. I did not really like his scenario. I don't feel that film was very successful.

Q: Did you want to change Hashimoto's screenplay?
A: I changed it some. But Hashimoto didn't like what I did, so he wanted to go back to his original script. The whole project seemed compromised.

Q: After that there were the two Executioner films with Sonny Chiba. The first one was more of an action film. The second is much more of a comedy. Why was that?
A: (laughs) After I made the first one, which Toei liked a lot, they asked me to do a sequel. I didn't want to do it. So I decided to make it as a comedy!

Q: At the beggining of the first one, The Big Turnabout, there's a sequence of many quick cuts, all violent and gory imagery. But there's not much more like that in the rest of the film why?
A: (laughs) I didn't have much of a plan for the film, so I just threw it in there at the beggining to make things more interesting, to hook the viewer.

Q: The bosozoku films for your Detonation! series, Violent Tribe, Violent Games and Season of Violence - why did that genre become so popular? Was there much youth gang activity going on in Japan then?
A: Bosozoku gangs were starting to be in the news and Toei wanted to take advantage of that, of the topicality, so they asked me to make some films in that vein. To tell you the truth, I didn't much care for the idea.

Q: In Violent Games, there are off-the-wall sequences with choreographed rock'n'roll numbers, almost modeled on the youth gang numbers in West Side Story, the finger-snapping; where did those ideas come from?
A: (laughs) To be frank, I couldn't come up with any other ideas. I decided to go with that because I thought it would be entertaining.

Q: It really works.
A: (laughs) I don't even like talking about those films.

Q: You worked on television in the seventies, some chambara shows like Crimson Bat and others. What was it like working in Japanaese television them, compared to film?
A: I didn't really see any difference between film and television. Of course, there was less money. Toei asked me to direct some television, so I did.

Q: Was that the Crimson Bat series?
A: Yes

Q: The TV show was Toei, but the films done a little earlier were by Shochiku. Why did Toei do the TV series?
A: The Toei studio producer hadn't work at Toei at the time, he had worked through Shochiku when the movies were made.

Q: You've been enamored of the manga of Yoshiharu Tsuge, doing films of his: Master of Gensan-Kan Inn and Villain Field, and the one you recently completed, Wind-Up Type. What is it about Tsuge's manga that makes you want to adapt them to film?
A: He shows the very poor side of society in Japan, that's what interests me.

Q: In Villain Field, there's not only similar imagery from your earlier yakuza films, but also the bizarre sadistic imagery of Horror of Malformed Men and Hell's Tattooers.
A: I was only using the same imagery I found in the manga.

Q: Great minds think alike. When will Wind-Up Type be released?
A: It should be out next spring. We've promised one small theater owner to show it in his place. But we haven't contracted with any major distributor as yet.

Q: Do you have plans to direct any more action or yakuza films?
A: (laughs) Just last month I was going to start a yakuza movie for Toei but the production ran into - shall we say - some trouble. I ended up having to pull out the project. They wanted to film a real true-life yakuza story, but I wanted to make some changes in the scenario. They rejected my ideas. So that was that.

Q: You've made many profitable films over the years. Can't you now pretty much do what you want?
A: (laughs) Not really. I'm a veteran crank.

Q: All the successful films you've made, you'd think producers would just let you do what you want.
A: It's the same thing that happened with Wind-up Type. No one wanted to adapt it from the manga because it is a very unusual story. That's what made me want to do it. I felt it would be an adventure trying to bring it to the screen. You can expect a funny, strange, adventurous film.

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