KAIJI Production Notes
DEATH NOTE’s Tatsuya Fujiwara is the Ultimate Gambler in Big Screen Manga Adaptation
Source: NTV (Nippon Television Network)
Additional Images: 4Digital Media
Official Movie Site: kaiji-movie.jp (Japan)
Special Thanks to Asuka Kimura, Tzeling Huang, Steve Beecham and Steve Kirkham
KAIJI (Kaiji Jinsei Gyakuten Geemu) is a 2009 live action film based on the best selling manga series. It was produced by a partnership of companies that include the Nippon Television Network (NTV), Toho, Kaiji manga publisher Kodansha, Horipro, YTV, Vap, DN Dreampartners, and Hint Inc. KAIJI was released theatrically in Japan by Toho on October 10, 2009. The film was a box office success, earning ¥2.1 billion yen (approximately $23 million US) during its theatrical run. A sequel has been announced for release in Japan in 2011.
NTV is handling world sales of KAIJI and has promoted the movie at international trade shows such as the American Film Market. The film has been distributed in a handful of countries, including the United Kingdom where it was released on DVD with English subtitles on July 26, 2010. In some territories it has been released with the English title KAIJI: THE ULTIMATE GAMBLER.
NTV has provided SciFi Japan with photos, promotional art, and production notes for KAIJI. Supplementing the article are additional photos from the film’s UK distributor, 4Digital Media.
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details and images from a recent movie not yet released in the United States.
A live-action movie based on a bestselling comic series with over 13 million copies sold!
Kaiji, the champion of losers…
The ultimate life-or-death game is about to begin.
Kaiji, a deadbeat job hopper…
A “loser” with no special talent and no real purpose in life. He even finds himself in huge debt after he cosigns a loan for a friend. But one day, something happens that turns his life around.
Tatsuya Fujiwara, a hero of the new generation x A new type of super-stimulating charismatic manga = A completely new and supremely stimulating movie that overturns all conventions of entertainment!
Kaiji, the original comic series by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, was first published in Young Magazine (Kodansha) in 1996, and its radical plot and clever portrayal of the characters’ psychology brought it instant popularity. In 1998, it won the 22nd Kodansha Manga Award. This bestselling series is made up of three collections—Tobaku Danjiroku (“gambling apocalypse”) Kaiji, Tobaku Hakairoku (“gambling corruption”) Kaiji, and Tobaku Datenroku (“gambling falling from heaven”) Kaiji— with 39 volumes in total, which have sold over 13 million copies. In October 2007, a TV animation was made under the title KAIJI- ULTIMATE SURVIVOR (Gyakuso Burai Kaiji; literal translation “Vagabond in Adversity Kaiji”).
Tatsuya Fujiwara plays Kaiji Ito, the hero of losers. In roles such as the middle schooler at a breaking point in BATTLE ROYALE, the loner genius in DEATH NOTE (2006) and the revenge-seeking swindler in CHAMELEON (2008), he has continued to captivate the audience with his stoic acting skills onstage and onscreen. With this role as KAIJI, he is breaking new ground in his acting career.
Yuuki Amami (PONYO) plays Rinko Endo, the woman who changes Kaiji’s life. And Teruyuki Kagawa (20TH CENTURY BOYS trilogy, TOKYO SONATA) plays Yukio Tonegawa, the man who high-handedly persecutes Kaiji and the other destitute men. The alluring cast also includes Taro Yamamoto (PRINCESS RACOON, BATTLE ROYALE), Ken Mitsuishi (PANDEMIC, 20TH CENTURY BOYS 1), Suzuki Matsuo (ICHI THE KILLER, THE SHOCK LABYRINTH), and Kei Sato (THE RETURN OF GODZILLA), and there is a special appearance by Kenichi Matsuyama (DEATH NOTE, L Change the WorLd, KAMUI, DETROIT METAL CITY), another big point of interest.
The games played in the movie, such as Restricted Rock Scissors Paper, Steel Beam Crossing, and E Card, are bizarre and stimulating as well as captivating and unique. “People can turn their lives around”—this is the poignant theme behind the seemingly preposterous games.
The theme song and songs featured in the movie are performed by YUI, an artist who enjoys a large following of all age groups. The powerful music that complements Kaiji’s attitude of “never give up” will multiply the viewers’ exhilaration when they are finished watching the movie. Loser Kaiji risks his life to turn it around!
Kaiji Ito is a 26-year-old man who leads a hand-to-mouth existence working half-heartedly at his part-time job at a convenience store. He sees no purpose in life and keeps putting things off, telling himself “one day” or “soon.” Every now and then, he relieves his frustration by kicking expensive cars. Although he doesn’t admit it, he is the typical loser of today’s society.
One day, a mysterious, beautiful woman named Rinko Endo comes to see him. She is the president of an unscrupulous loan company and demands that Kaiji clear a debt he cosigned for a friend. With the company’s exorbitant interest rate, the amount is blown up to 2.02 million yen. Kaiji, who lives from hand to mouth, has no way of getting hold of such money. Then Endo sweetly informs the desperate Kaiji that he can not only clear the debt overnight but can also make a lot of money for himself at the same time. She says everything will become clear if he boards a ship that leaves Harumi Port in a few hours.
The ship’s name is Espoir, which means “hope” in French. Kaiji is skeptical at first but when Endo tells him that “it is his chance to change his life,” he makes up his mind to accept the invitation, but without realizing he has taken Endo’s bait…And late that night, Kaiji boards the luxurious Espoir.
The cabin is permeated by a down-and-out aura from all the other passengers, losers like Kaiji who are deep in debt. “Winning is everything! If you lose, you’re trash! Staying alive without winning is out of the question!” Tonegawa (Teruyuki Kagawa), a high-ranking executive of the Teiai Group who oversees the ship, provokes the participants.
That night’s game is…Rock Scissors Paper! The players are given 12 cards and three star badges. The 12 cards consist of four cards each of the three hand gestures of rock, scissors, and paper. The rule is to play Rock Scissors Paper with the cards. The stars are bet as collateral. The players win if they lose all the cards and have at least three stars left at the end of the game. If not, they will be sent to the feared backroom, where they will be forced into hard labor that denies their dignity as human beings for the next few decades. The time limit is 30 minutes. The survival game of Restricted Rock Scissors Paper is about to begin.
But for Kaiji, this “ultimate game that could turn his life around” is merely a prelude. Soon, the players are caught up in the violent whirlwind of fate…
He has no real job and leads an idle life from one day to another. He cosigns a loan for a friend and ends up in debt. He is a bum and a typical good-for-nothing, but in extreme situations of life or death, he becomes extraordinarily bold and daring and does his best to play the games for his life.
The female president of Endo Loans, a loan shark company of the Teiai Group. She lures Kaiji onto the ship Espoir by telling him “it’s his chance to change his life.”
A participant on the Espoir. A smooth talker with a Kansai dialect who befriends Kaiji. A sly man who makes Kaiji suffer right off the bat.
A meek, middle-aged man in huge debt. He boards the Espoir to clear his debt for his beloved daughter and family, but ends up getting sent to the backroom.
The leader of Team E of the underground hard labor facility where Kaiji is assigned. A hyena that approaches Kaiji with a smile and robs him of his small salary.
Dreaming of making big, easy money, he and Kaiji challenge the steel beam crossing 74 meters above the ground. With his superb athletic ability and dauntlessness, he manages to cross the beam but…
The chairman of the Teiai Group. A cruel, tyrannical, and loathsome man who is a curse to Kaiji. A man driven mad by wealth whose dream is to own all the money in the world and build his own kingdom.
The number 2 in the Teiai Group. “Winning is everything. If you don’t win, you’re trash.” He provokes the debtors with such sharp words and lures them into the life-or-death games.
The ultimate games Kaiji plays for his life
1) Restricted Rock Scissors Paper
The participants receive 12 cards—four each of the three hand gestures of rock, scissors, and paper—and three star badges. They use the cards to play Rock Scissors Paper against other participants, and the winner takes a star from the loser. When it’s a tie, no stars are taken. They must use up all the cards and have at least three stars left at the end of the game. The losers are sent to the backroom, where they are forced into hard labor for the underground kingdom the Teiai Group is secretly building.
2) Steel Beam Crossing
The participants must cross a narrow steel beam stretching from the top of a skyscraper to the top of the Starside Hotel, a high-rise hotel that has not opened yet. They win the game just by crossing the steel beam. If they put their hands on the beam while they are crossing it, high-power electric currents run through their body, making them fall off. Losing in this game means instant death. Before they start, the participants are given a certificate they can redeem for 10 million yen, only when they are successful in crossing the beam. The certificate can be cashed at the goal, Room 5014 of the Starside Hotel.
3) E Card
A game played between two players with three types of cards—“Emperor,” “Citizen,” and “Slave.” The game is played with one side having four Citizen cards and an Emperor card (Emperor side), and the other side having four Citizen cards and a Slave card (Slave side). The Slave side starts by putting down a card. The Emperor card beats a Citizen card. A Citizen card beats the Slave card. Two Citizen cards are a tie. The Slave is the weakest card but can beat the Emperor. The Slave side is at an overwhelming disadvantage since he has to go first, giving his opponent the chance to read his expression, but his winnings are also much bigger. The “E” in “E Card” stands for the “e” in “emperor.”
The fierce battles of Restricted Rock Scissors Paper!
The scenes for Restricted Rock Scissors Paper, one of the most popular episodes in the original story, were shot in Gunma Prefecture. The set was all pomp and splendor and was indeed the interior of the luxury ship Espoir. On the set, there were over 80 “losers”—that is to say, the “extras”—and the temperature was high even though it was in the middle of winter. In the hot room, Director Toya Sato was giving even hotter directions to the actors. He gave detailed instructions to the cast, such as Tatsuya Fujiwara and Taro Yamamoto, and also to the extras. After each cut, he would run over to the actors to directions on how to hold the cards or where to stand. Director Sato, who is making his debut as a movie director with this, “wanted to portray a never-seen-before Tatsuya Fujiwara in his role as Kaiji.” He wanted to depict the character not just as a hero but also as an ordinary human being. And together with Tatsuya Fujiwara, he created a Kaiji that matured as the filming proceeded.
The alluring cast!
The cast was just as passionate about their performance as the director was about directing. Before the filming started, Tatsuya Fujiwara, who plays the main character, Kaiji Ito, used his own money to go to the pachinko parlor day after day in order to prepare for his role. He got firsthand experience in gambling and responded perfectly to the various requests by the director. When practicing the scene where Kaiji hits Funai, played by Taro Yamamoto, the director receives a punch from Fujiwara. Of course he did not hit him with all his might, but the director later said, “I actually wanted to see how it felt.” With the director going all out with his direction and in the intense atmosphere of the set, the details of the scenes became increasingly more intricate. Many card tricks are used in Restricted Rock Scissors Paper, and Yamamoto, who actually had to do some of them, received training from a real magician. His superb card techniques are a must-see on the screen.
But a cozy atmosphere turned icy in an instant with the lines by one man. Teruyuki Kagawa, who plays Kaiji’s nemesis, Tonegawa. Kagawa is usually the funny guy on the set, but once the camera starts rolling, he overwhelms the scene like a demon god. In the scene where he provokes the participants, his powerful acting made the extras nervous for real.
In the original story, Endo, the president of the loan shark company, is a man, but in the movie, it is a woman played by Yuuki Amami. She decided to take the role because she read and liked both the original comic book and the screenplay. She uses facial expression to portray Endo’s feelings that cannot be described with words, for example, how she used to be an elite businesswoman who falls from grace and ends up the president of a loan shark company.
The terrifying steel beam crossing!!
The steal beam crossing scenes, one of the major points of interest in the movie, were shot in the Toho studio for nine consecutive days. The giant 30-meter-long set was very high as well, and it was extremely dangerous even with mats spread across on the ground. Since they were rainy scenes, just standing on the beam, without doing anything else, drained the cast and crew’s energy. The actors were on their feet throughout the scenes, which was a great strain on their legs and lower back.
And on the steel beam, that duo makes a revival. Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama. In this movie, they are “losers,” the exact opposite of the cool, intelligent characters they played in DEATH NOTE. Watch how they play the two destitute men with similar backgrounds, encouraging each other in the worst-possible situation, trying to cross the steel beam.
The author of the original story, Nobuyuki Fukumoto, also makes a guest appearance in this scene. Acting for the first time in his life, he said, “My voice became higher pitched than I expected.” Fukumoto is one of the people who were very excited about the story being made into a movie. After the filming, he commented, “I’m very happy that such wonderful actors took roles in KAIJI.”
The dreadful underground empire!
The scenes for the underground empire where the participants are sent for hard labor were shot in Oyamachi, Utsunomiya, in Tochigi Prefecture. There is a real quarry in the town and a sharp cliff near the location, so thorough safety measures were taken for the filming. Huge quantities of masks and body warmers were prepared to fight the dust and cold, but since the cast and extras had to wear T-shirts and tank tops for the scenes, it was hard work just trying to keep them warm. There was a huge boulder that wasn’t there during the location hunt, and the actors, who learned about the recent ground fall, became even more heedful during their performance.
The clash of fate! E Card
Every prop on the set for the E Card game was extremely sophisticated, and the E cards themselves were very delicate, like works of art. They were handled with the utmost care.
Since the cuts in these scenes were long and contained a lot of monologues, the director and cast went over the acting in meticulous detail. Director Sato frequently interrupted the cuts, but Fujiwara’s concentration never wavered. When the camera’s position was being checked, Fujiwara, who was focused on his acting, muttered, “How long are you taking?”—a line from the movie. Then one of the crew apologized, thinking he was talking to him.
And the intense performance by Fujiwara and Kagawa overwhelmed the studio. In the scene where the two men engage in an intense yet subtle psychological battle and stare at each other without a word for over two minutes, the air in the studio became charged with silent electricity, and one could almost hear the actors’ heartbeats.
With the best sets, locations, art, and props, the cast and crew showed perfect teamwork and the filming wrapped up in two months.
カイジ ～人生逆転ゲーム (Kaiji Jinsei Gyakuten Geemu, literal translation “Kaiji: Life Reversal Game”)
aka KAIJI: THE ULTIMATE GAMBLER
Kaiji Ito: Tatsuya Fujiwara
Rinko Endo: Yuuki Amami
Yukio Tonegawa: Teruyuki Kagawa
Joji Funai: Taro Yamamoto
Koji Ishida: Ken Mitsuishi
Makoto Sahara: Kenichi Matsuyama (special appearance)
Taro Otsuki: Suzuki Matsuo
Kazutaka Hyoto: Kei Sato
Original story by Nobuyuki Fukumoto (Young Magazine KC, Kodansha)
Directed by Toya Sato
Screenplay by Mika Omori
Music by Yugo Kanno
Theme song/featured song: “It’s all too much” “Never say die” by YUI (Sony Music Records)
Production Executives: Toru Horikoshi, Hori Yoshitaki, Yoshinari Shimatani, Hiroyuki Murakami, Hiroyasu Asami, Yoshio Irie, Masatoshi Yamaguchi
Executive Producer: Seiji Okuda
Co-executive Producers: Naoki Suganuma, Takashi Kamakura
Producers: Naoto Fujimura, Kazuhisa Kitajima, Masatoshi Yamaguchi
Associate Producer: Toshio Nakatani
Planning/Screenplay Associate: Hint Inc.
Cinematography: Katsumi Yanagishima
Lighting: Kousuke Suzuki
Sound Recording: Ryoji Wakui
Production Design: Hiroshi Koike
Visual Effects: Ryo Nishimura
Music Producer: Hiromi Shida
Planning and Production: NTV Production Company, AX-ON Inc.
Production Companies: NTV, Toho, Kodansha, Horipro, YTV, Vap, DN Dreampartners, Hint Inc., STV, MMT, SDT, CTV, HTV, FBS
Japanese Release Date: October 10, 2009
Runtime: 130 Minutes
© Nobuyuki Fukumoto, KODANSHA / 2009 KAIJI FILM PARTNERS
For more information on KAIJI please see the previous coverage here on SciFi Japan: