Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shusuke Kaneko: Kaiju Man


Check out Shusuke Kaneko on imdb.com and you’ll find that he’s currently involved in post-production on the movie Bakamono, starring Hiroki Narimiya (from both Nana movies and the Honey and Clover live-action TV series) and Miho Shiraishi, who previously appeared in the bizarre Calimari Wrestler (2004).

At the beginning of this year he also helmed the over-the-top rival opera singer romp Pride, starring Hikari Mitsushima – a.k.a Sayu Yagami in the Death Note movies.

Which is no coincidence, since three years ago Shusuke Kaneko directed both Death Note and its sequel Death Note: The Last Name.

The man responsible for the sequel to Ryuhei Kitamura’s Azumi popped up a decade before as one of three directors for a 1994 American/French adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.

He then steered into kaiju (monster) territory when he directed a trilogy of movies featuring Gamera, the giant flying turtle (1995 to 1999); two years later Kaneko hit paydirt when he helmed Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.

While recently the principle involved in the Ultraman reboot TV series, Ultraman Max (original Ultraman director Akio Jissoji and the great Takashi Miike were others alongside him), at the same time that the Death Note spotlight fell, Kaneko in fact started out in the 1980s as an assistant working in the roman (romance) porn industry for respected production company Nikkatsu – just like fellow directors Tatsumi Kumashiro (Woman with Red Hair) and Koreyoshi Kurahara (Antarctica).

These days, at the age of 54 and with the Death Note movies on his resume, Kaneko is one of Japan’s more in-demand film-makers and he made time in September to chat with me in an interview this month published in its entirety in Impact magazine – nicely translated to full effect by my wife Yoko.

Here's the straight Q+A version.


Why do you enjoy directing, and which part of creating movies makes you the happiest?

“I’m happy when I feel my originality and talent are alive – the times that I think other directors would never shoot like this, or they wouldn’t think that way; the moments when I know my choice is the best choice. That moment comes all of a sudden while I’m making a script, shooting, editing. If the moment becomes continuous it can be fun, though sometimes it’s not. So I can’t say which process, in general, makes me the happiest.”


I note that you are now completing postproduction of the feature Bakamono – could you tell us more about this movie?

“Yes, we’re working on that now. This movie is about a guy who lives in a local city for about a decade, from the age of 19 to 29 years old. He doesn’t have any skills – he was raised by a sweet family, so he’s a nice guy but rather stupid. He is hurt in love, becomes an alcoholic… then he become a ‘man’. This story describes his path with a bit of a poetic touch.”


How was the earlier experience of directing the Death Note movies?

“Because of my super-tight schedule, the work required lots of concentration from me. The offer came on 10 December 10, 2005, and at that time it was already planned that the first-half movie would be released in June 2006, and the rest of the story in the second part in November 2006. So shooting took place in February and March 2006. I had also committed to work on Ultraman Max for TV around the end of the year and the new year, so while making the script for Death Note, I shot Ultraman Max. It ‘s fun to think back to that busy time now.”


Had you read the original manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata before doing the Death Note movies?

“Two years before I got that offer, my elementary school son brought me the first volume of the comic. At the time I thought the concept was interesting, but I didn’t imagine that that kind of thing would be made into a movie, so I didn’t read the rest of it. But straight after I received the offer to make the films, I went straight to a manga café and read the whole series – then went to the meeting.”



Why do you think the Death Note franchise has been so successful in Japan?

“When the Internet had established itself across Japan, Death Note appeared [in 2003] and it created a realistic setting for an otherwise impossible story. The imaginative superstition – that you’ll die if you write your own name in the notebook – coincided with the phenomenon that an anonymous note on the Internet could harm a person quite physically.”


Some people argue that the Death Note stories encourages kids to be violent...

“I think it’s possible. But there’s a lot of other stuff that makes kids violent. I certainly don’t think I’m making good stuff in the educational realm.”


Could you tell us more about the Ultraman Max experience, directing with Takashi Miike and other directors?

“Tsuburaya Productions offered me a job as main director, and I was in the position of controlling the scriptwriter selection, other directors and the cast. The producer approached Mr. Miike to shoot two episodes as a guest director, so I thought he would be great for that job. My view of the Ultraman Max world was closer to that of the original Ultraman rather than science fiction; an anything-is-possible place. So I wanted the other directors work freely and I think Mr. Miike could do so in that way too.”


How did you get involved directing the Gamera movies, from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe in 1995 to Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris in 1999?

“I can’t describe that in such short space, but I think people thought me suitable for the Gamera directing job since I had just given a presentation to the producers, Diei Motion Picture Company, on Ultra Q.” [The 1966 sci-fi/kaiju monster series was the most expensive TV series in Japan at the time.] “I wasn’t a Gamera fan when I grew up. I hadn’t exactly thought Daiei’s monster films were childish, but I liked Toho’s monster films better when I graduated from elementary school. Just before I got into adolescence, which is when I got into girls, I was also a manic fan of monster movies; at that time I was making a monster illustration book by myself. Therefore, when I was directing Gamera, I felt happy that I could revert back to my childhood.”


In 2001 you directed the wonderful Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.

“There was something I quite deeply felt about that... I started with Gamera, and reached up to Godzilla. Since Toho studio was producing movies more systematically than Daiei, I could hop on that flow and make movies myself. Then again, we had more time to prepare for Gamera but there wasn’t enough time to think about Godzilla – I feel like we made that movie on impulse power. But, of course, Gozilla is charming.”


Imagine a battle between Godzilla and Mothra. Who would win, and how?

“They had fights so many times already, so please talk to Toho about that suggestion, and get them to offer me the director’s chair so I can start dreaming up ideas!”


The rest of this interview has been published in the November issue of British anime & action movie magazine Impact - see HERE for details.