Yoshihiro Nishimura is a director who specializes in all things gory. He began as a special effects artist and is now a director. His films are produced and distributed by Sushi Typhoon a company that specializes in marketing extreme Japanese films to a foreign audience. He is most well know for Tokyo Gore Police. Film in Japan had a chat with him about his newest film Hell Driver.
Translated by Adam Higgins
FIJ - Could you explain a little bit about how Hell Driver please?
N - After making ‘Tokyo Police’ the producer Shiba was keen to make a zombie film. This time Shiba asked me to make a movie involving a high school girl driving a car and wiping out zombies. So, I started thinking of the story. But, that’s basically how it began.
There aren’t many zombie films in Japan. Because, we burn the dead before burial. That was a problem, so I thought it would be better if, all at once, half of Japan became zombies instead. I wanted to have fun with it. For instance, when you cut off a zombies arm it still moves, doesn’t it? Only if you blow off the head will it stop moving. That’s why I had the zombie car and the zombie plane etc.
FIJ - Did you film in Yubari (a place in Hokkaido)?
N - I wanted to, but we didn’t get enough for that. I tried to find places that were similar to Hokkaido. In the end we shot most of in Yamanashi Prefecture, at one point you can see Mt Fuji in the background.
FIJ - How did you get interested in film? Was there one film you saw that you thought “ah”, I want to be a film director?
N - Well, from the beginning I was making independent films myself. At that time I did all of the special make up myself. While doing that I met Shion. He was also making independent films. Around that time I started getting lots of work - enough to make a living. But, as for being a director, despite making films in the past, I didn’t have much determination. I liked films as an elementary school student. I made my first independent film in junior high.
FIJ - How have technological advances affected your film making?
N - A turning point was when Shion at Sea Side Club made a commercial film for the first time. I did all the art and we got paid. We were in a position where we could advance things in the arts department. So, it was a very important turning point.
FIJ - The film makes really inventive use of special effects. I liked the 3 chainsaws and the zombie with the knife and fork. Do you ever have an idea that just turns out to be completely impossible?
N - Yeah loads! In ‘Hell Driver’ there was a zombie car, right? Smashing all the zombies out of the way and the zombies roar chasing after it. But actually I wanted to have the zombies on a zombie kick board then into a zombie bike then into a zombie car - lots more zombies. But that wasn’t possible. There were only two weeks left.
FIJ - You have an idea in your head. You are the writer, costume designer and director. How does it go from your head to the screen? What’s the process?
N - At the Ueno standing bar I drink Hoppy [Japanese beer] in the afternoon. You know it? While drinking I make designs. I go home drink ulong hai and design. Then next morning I don’t drink and I write a clean draft. Right? In the afternoon I design for other films without drinking. After designing a character I think about how they will move. How will the story work? What will happen? It starts to turn into a script. Occasionally I get inspiration from the Ueno bar.
FIJ - It’s an important place!
N - It’s a very important place. Then I’ll get out my red pen and go “no no no” for two weeks until I get a story board in place. ‘Hell Drivers’ story board was 2,500 or 3,000 cuts. It looks like this. (gestures several inches with his hands). The fact is it becomes something completely different from the written version. I make it all up to break it back down - rewrite it.
FIJ - Cool process!
N - Hoppy is an important ingredient.
FIJ - How did you find the actors and actresses? I liked the zombie queen she was very cool and sexy?
N - Do you know Audition? Miike? She’s from Audition. We did an audition, but not like Audition.
FIJ - What horror directors have influenced you or do you appreciate?
N - The fact is I love horror movies, but I also like other movies like Star Wars, Blade Runner. But the most influential director for me would be David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky the director of Holy Mountain were definitely influential, but I find the stories confusing. (laughs). So, I put in something else.
FIJ - So ‘Sushi Typhoon’ the distribution company you use is generally for foreign audiences. When you make a film do you gear it towards foreign audiences? If so how?
N - I don’t think about that too much. I was raised in Asakusa. Do you know it? There are many foreigners there, right? They come to see the temples and things. As a young child I remember the souvenir shops where they would go vividly. It was always easy for me to see foreign reactions, and so I feel that perhaps I am used to many different types of ways to reacting to things.
FIJ - Do Japanese and foreign audiences react differently to your films?
N - Clearly (laughs). Foreign audiences cheer “waah” but Japanese audiences are more like “haa”.
FIJ - So, which is better?
N - I like both. But, I like to be praised so… I like the foreign response.
FIJ -You have done many styles; zombies, vampires. So what’s next?
N - I’m doing a lot now, but I think next I’d like to do something with a bit less blood, like an action comedy. With ‘Hell Driver’ I wanted there to be so much blood that I’d almost exhaust myself for a following blood filled film. Next, will be something different. I love ramen. Eat it almost every day. So, I’d like to do an action comedy involving ramen. Tanpopo action comedy or something.
FIJ - Sounds interesting. I’d like to go see it. Lastly, Yubari isn’t very famous overseas could you talk about it a bit, and give us your thoughts on it?
N - Yubari was a film festival based on the Average Fantastic Film Festival. They wanted to imitate it in the snow on the top of a mountain. Yubari is a small place, people know one another, so they would all gather together as friends and watch films.
Do you know Katsuo Shintaro [Shintaro famously had a cocaine addiction that was a very big scandal in Japan] from Zaitoichi? He made a great comment: “I don’t need drugs I’ll just breathe in the white Yubari snow and watch films!”