If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It): An Interview with Koji Shiraishi
Interview conducted and translated from the Japanese by David F. Hoenigman.
photo by Benjamin Parks
Of the 10,000 or so movies that the British Board of Film Classification rates for DVD release each year, Koji Shiraishi’s Grotesque became only the second movie in four years (joining Murder-Set-Pieces in 2008) to be made illegal to sell or supply anywhere in the UK.
The BBFC director David Cook stated, “Grotesque features minimal narrative or character development and presents the audience with little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism. In spite of a vestigial attempt to ‘explain’ the killer’s motivations at the very end of the film, the chief pleasure on offer is not related to understanding the motivations of any of the central characters. Rather, the chief pleasure on offer seems to be wallowing in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake”.
The plot is simple, a man abducts a young couple then tortures and kills them.
What does Mr. Shiraishi have to say for himself?
DH: How did you feel when you heard Grotesque was banned in England?
KS: I was happy. Since there was a reaction I was very happy, but of course if it can’t be shown, and it can’t be released, I’m a little disappointed, but actually that means the movie I’ve made has the power to cause a controversy, so I’m happy in that way.
DH: So the purpose of Grotesque was to cause a reaction?
KS: As the person who made it, I wanted to make something that was impressive, and then the producer said, “I want you to make something horribly violent, so violent that it almost can’t be shown”, as these were my orders, I embraced the challenge of making something stirring and emotional while portraying extreme violence. I wanted to portray people who withstood as much one-sided merciless violence as possible, who were unable to fight back, but who never entirely succumbed, not even in the end. I was also, as a director, interested in portraying the feelings of one who’d commit such crimes, so I didn’t want to abandon that angle. I thought merging these two things would be interesting. I kept that in mind as I made the film.
Of course, on the surface it’s a violent movie, since I like that kind of stuff and since I’m making the film, I can see beyond that. Some people will only see violence and not the central parts of the story, it’s a natural reaction, I accept that.
DH: Who is the producer?
KS: Takafumi Ohashi from Ace Deuce Entertainment. They deal with all kinds of films, all genres, they do big movies too, and they do small films like Grotesque.
DH: Why did they want a violent movie?
KS: Probably because violent films are popular. There are many people who want to watch them. The producers had a feeling that there hadn’t been a film this violent made yet in Japan, so if we could make one so violent that it almost couldn’t be shown, they figured they could expect a set audience.
DH: Are the people that want to see it Japanese? Or are they foreign?
KS: Of course we thought of overseas too, but mainly we thought of Japan. Nowadays Yoshihiro Nishimura, Noburo Iguchi, and Sion Sono too recently – make Japanese films anchored in the portrayal of violence. And because these films tend to attract audiences, following this trend, I think I was asked to make this film. And probably of the directors that Mr. Ohashi knew, I was the only one who could make something this extremely violent.
DH: Do you watch violent movies?
KS: Yes, I watch them. It depends on the film, but movies that merely focus on blood and guts are boring. I like things that entertain. It’s old but Dawn of the Dead, I also like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I also like The Thing – they’re great as films, and their portrayal of violence is great. I enjoy seeing these things that can only be portrayed in movies, but I’d hate to see them in reality.
DH: Noroi is a complex movie, Grotesque is very simple. For the same director, they’re quite different.
KS: Grotesque, because it’s a low-budget small scale work, couldn’t be too complicated, because the number of filming days was limited, and because it was filmed in mostly one spot, we couldn’t gear up the movie to become big scale.
And since it was filmed in mostly one spot, to advance the story within these constrictions and to make it as entertaining as possible was an interesting challenge.
DH: I’ve heard you don’t want to continue making horror films.
KS: No, that’s not true, if something suits me I want to make it regardless of the genre. I just said I’d like to try making films that aren’t horror. I like to portray the feeling of being scared and fear itself within film, so I’ll probably continue to do this. But rather than violence, an intense fear, for example: about nature, fear and menace, the existence of the extraordinarily awful – or however you’d like to put it. I’d like to make works that tie this together with thrillers or suspense, anything, so I can’t say I won’t do horror.
KS: Yes, the movie I’ll soon complete, Bachiatari Boryoku Ningen (“Cursed Violent People”), is a comedy. It’s a comedy but it’s a fake documentary. You can say it’s the same style as Occult. It can be called a violent comedy, a gritty & manly film, but ultimately a moving coming of age film. It’s quite difficult to explain.
DH: Would you like to make a Hollywood movie someday?
KS: Yes, I’d like to make one, I want money, making small films in Japan is not profitable. If you don’t make a big movie, you can’t make decent money, I’d like to achieve commercial success at some point so I’d like to try to make a Hollywood movie.
If I could make a big movie in Japan, I don’t think it’d be as good of a film as I could make in Hollywood. When you make a big movie in Japan, you get bombarded with forceful input from all different sources within the infrastructure, the opinions are not as professional as they’d be in Hollywood and the film itself has a tendency to become less and less interesting. Because of this, if you make a big Japanese movie there’s a higher probability that the end result could be an unentertaining film. If I make a big movie, I’d definitely want to do it in Hollywood. Unfortunately, as of yet, they haven’t come calling.
DH: Do you always write your own scripts?
KS: They’re almost all collaborative scripts, I write on my own as well. Once, only once, it was entirely up to another person, but in general I’m always involved.
DH: Which of your movies was the most difficult to write?
KS: It’s always difficult.
DH: Even Grotesque?
DH: Grotesque angered a lot of people. For example, after you were featured on the cover of the popular English language magazine Metropolis here in Tokyo, a reader wrote in:
“The idea that this man made this sick movie, and that Metropolis is giving him credence by featuring him in such a way, along with posting sick, disgusting pictures from the film, is deeply disturbing. What is the benefit of a film like this? To cater to sick freaks? It’s a sad day when people who make films that have no other purpose than to show how low human beings can go get as much attention as this piece of garbage.”
KS: (laughing joyously ) Have these people seen the film? I want them to see the film. But perhaps, maybe if they see the film they’ll be more angry.
DH: Do you think people’s opinions will change if they see the film?
KS: I wonder… some people’s opinions may change, some people’s won’t change, and I think some people will become more angry. But I don’t remember saying anything in that interview that could’ve stirred up such anger.
DH: I believe these reader’s comments came from a foreigner. Did this movie also anger Japanese people?
KS: I think there weren’t any angry people in Japan. They may think it’s not entertainment or that it’s too graphically violent, but there aren’t any people angry enough to say I’ve done a terrible thing. I wonder why.
Well, if Japanese parents found their children watching Grotesque they’d probably be angry. But there’s an age limit to make sure that really young people can’t watch it, it’s very difficult for underage kids to get a hold of.
DH: Who’s your favorite Japanese director?
DH: Have you met him?
KS: I was once involved as a staff on one of his filming sites, we became acquaintances, since we’re both from Fukuoka Prefecture, there was a tight bond. Since Crazy Thunder Road is my favorite movie in the world, I have tremendous respect for him.
DH: How about foreign directors?
KS: There are many I admire: Brian De Palma, Sam Raimi, Abbas Kiarostami, John Carpenter.
DH: Evil Dead?
KS: I like it.
DH: Army of Darkness.
KS: Army… I don’t especially like. I like Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.
DH: How about John Carpenter?
KS: Of course, The Thing, it’s absolutely amazing.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Filmmaker Koji Shiraishi was born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. In addition to Grotesque, he has made the films Occult, Kuchisake-onna and Noroi.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
David F. Hoenigman was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but has lived in Tokyo, Japan since 1998. He is the author of the novel Burn Your Belongings and the organizer of the bimonthly PAINT YOUR TEETH event held in Tokyo, a celebration of experimental music, literature and dance. He is currently working on his second novel, Squeal For Joy.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, November 29th, 2009.