Interview: Sushi Typhoon Founder Yoshinori Chiba
Author: Elliot Gay
Official Site: Sushi Typhoon
Special Thanks to Marc Walkow and Emiko Kawai
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
During the 2009 American Film Market, Japan’s oldest film studio Nikkatsu Corporation announced their new genre film label the Sushi Typhoon, which would produce and internationally release “extreme movies” by such controversial and acclaimed filmmakers as Takashi Miike (ICHI THE KILLER, AUDITION), Sion Sono (LOVE EXPOSURE), and Yoshihiro Nishimura (TOKYO GORE POLICE, VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL). The first two Sushi Typhoon titles— the action gore comedy film ALIEN VS. NINJA and the splatter action comedy MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD— have already played the film festival circuit in the United States and Canada and are now slated for release on North American DVD and Blu-ray by FUNimation Entertainment in early 2011.
Sushi Typhoon was conceived by 44-year-old producer Yoshinori Chiba, a longtime behind-the-scenes creative talent whose work has literally changed the face of the Japanese film industry. Chiba began work in advertising at Gaga Communications, but soon transitioned into production when he met director Keita Amemiya, whose ZEIRAM (Zeiramu) he produced in 1991. The Japanese V-cinema boom hit soon after, and Chiba found himself associated with a filmmaker whose name became virtually synonymous with the budding genre: Takashi Miike. Their FUDOH: THE NEW GENERATION (Gokudoo Sengokushi: Fudoo, 1996) was one of Miike’s biggest hits overseas, and Chiba’s credits read like a “best of” list from the world of Japanese genre film: ZERO WOMAN (1995), the EKO EKO AZARAK series, ANOTHER LONELY HITMAN (Shin Kanashiki Hittoman, 1995), BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL (Jigoku Kooshien, 2003), NEIGHBOR NO. 13 (Rinjin 13-go, 2005), DEATH TRANCE (2005), THE MACHINE GIRL (Kataude Mashin Gaaru, 2008), TOKYO GORE POLICE (Tokyo Zankoku Keisatsu, 2008), and last year’s YATTERMAN (Yattaman), a major studio production which became the biggest hit of Miike’s career.
Chiba and Sushi Typhoon are hard at work to (in their own words) “satisfy audiences who crave the good taste of bad taste, and for whom too much is never enough”. With ALIEN VS. NINJA and MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD in the can, the team is putting the finishing touches on thier next slate of films… director Shion Sono’s COLD FISH, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s HELLDRIVER, and Noboru Iguchi’s KARATE ROBO ZABORGAR, an update of the 1974 P- Productions superhero television series DENJIN ZABORGAR.
In the midst of all this activity, Yoshinori Chiba took a brief time out to discuss Sushi Typhoon with SciFi Japan reporter Elliot Gay…
Elliot Gay: When did you become interested in the world of filmmaking, and what prompted you to start?
Yoshinori Chiba: Ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to work in film. The first time I got involved was in 1987 at the film studio Gaga. At that time, Gaga was a studio of ten people. While I was there, I purchased a great deal of western films: for instance, B-grade horror films from around the world, trauma films as well as Hong Kong ninja films.
When I was 25 years old I met director Keita Amemiya and produced his film, ZEIRAM. I produced the film knowing absolutely nothing about making a movie, so production was incredibly difficult. Yet in the end the film was a success not just natively in Japan, but around the world as well. Following ZEIRAM there was a big boom for V-Cinema, and so I was able to produce films like Takashi Miike’s FUDOH, [Shimako Sato’s] EKO EKO AZARAK, as well as erotic action film ZERO WOMAN at studio Gaga.
Elliot Gay: As a producer, do you try to be more hands on with the filmmaking process or do you typically observe and offer advice?
Yoshinori Chiba: I typically go to the location, but I don’t really say anything. Once production at a location begins in earnest I leave the rest up to the director. I believe that if the producer starts to give directions etc, it’ll only lead to confusion. Also generally speaking, our films have a total shooting time of only two weeks, so it’s often the case that in a day we have to film over 100 shots. There’s no way the director has time to listen to the things the producer might want to say. Hahaha.
Elliot Gay: Why did you decide to start Sushi Typhoon? What is your general goal with the company?
Yoshinori Chiba: These days, there’s simply no interest in watching Japanese films in theaters. All you see now are anime films, continuations of TV dramas or stories about young girls, dogs or the elderly who are dying of some decease. Where exactly is the Japanese film industry’s future in all of that?
I believe there are still directors who have the ability to make good horror, action and comedy films at Gaga, but there’s just nowhere in the current industry for them to flourish. Even if the films we make don’t become very popular here in Japan, as long as we have fans around the world we should be able to keep making these films. When MACHINE GIRL was made, I truly believed that to be the case. As a result I really felt that we should make Japanese films on a level for the fans abroad.
Elliot Gay: I recently had the opportunity to watch both ALIEN VS NINJA and MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD. Very different films, but both extremely entertaining and filled with action. Are these types of action films the types we can expect from Sushi Typhoon?
Yoshinori Chiba: I was able to tour with the films in New York, Fantasia and Comic-Con, and at each location they were sold out. The reactions of the audience were incredible! Because the fans abroad so genuinely enjoyed the films, we were so pleased and it really boosted our confidence.
Our films only use a budget of about 1/100th of a Hollywood film. Despite that however, I truly believe that we won’t lose as far as entertainment is concerned! From now on we want to keep making films that the fans can get excited over.
Elliot Gay: What do you think of the current direction of Japanese film?
Yoshinori Chiba: I believe Japanese films have slowly and steadily been getting worse. Films made in Japan rarely are accepted into big foreign film festivals and the only films being seen in theaters are anime and TV drama continuations. I just don’t feel as though studios want to make films that can compete on an international level.
Even in the west, big hits are slowly decreasing in number which means that there are less and less opportunities for young people to see films made with a high level of quality. If the audience’s standards continue to drop, so will the quality of the films. In other words we won’t be raising filmmakers with talent. At this rate, I fear that the Japanese film industry is going to be left behind by the rest of the world.
Elliot Gay: Do you have anything you would like to say to your American audience?
Yoshinori Chiba: We want you to watch our movies and buy the DVDs! Don’t you dare download them! Hahaha, of course I’m only kidding.
We’re always encouraged by the fans we see at the film festivals. This feeling is the same for me as well as the directors. I’m going to keep producing interesting films from here on out, so please keep supporting us!
Yes… I think the fans of this site will surely also like our upcoming project ZABORGAR as well!
For more information on Sushi Typhoon please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan: