Film School: Shiraishi Koji

Thanks this time to Twitter, I was fortunate enough to make contact with director Shiraishi Koji, whose horror films include the excellent Noroi, Kuchisake-Onna, Teketeke, and more.

Shiraishi-san graciously agreed to answer some questions via email. In the section that follows, my questions and Shiraishi-san’s answers are given first in English. Below that is the original Japanese.

It took a number of emails and the work of two translators to get this hammered out (as yours truly still doesn’t know Japanese), but it’s definitely worth it. Special thanks to AnMitsu for the translation, and Mami for help polishing the final English version.




AS: You have quite a long list of horror films in your portfolio. How do you define horror? What kind of horror films do you like, and what filmmakers inspire your own work?

SK: For me, horror is, above all, the genre that I am most asked to do for jobs. Also, it is SF and fantasy. And it is the body which can contain all the elements, including social issues, political problems, adolescence, friendship, family love, love, adventure, romance, action, violence, panic, mystery, suspense, tragedy and comedy, and musicals… I love various film genres, not just horror movies. So, considering the percentage of horror in total, it would be relatively a small portion. My favorite movies include Crazy Thunder Road and Phantom of the Paradise. I’ve never thought “I like this kind of horror,” so I will list the titles of some of my favorite movies that come to mind. As for Japanese movies, Inugami no Tatari, Yatsuhaka-Mura, Horrors of Malformed Men, Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell; as for Western movies, The Thing, The Exorcist, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Unbreakable, C’est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous, Altered States, The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead 2, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Zombie, Irréversible, The Hitcher, Blue Velvet, Freaks, Seven, The Night of the Hunter, Angel Heart, Jacob’s Ladder, Lifeforce, Zombio, Videodrome, The Toxic Avenger, An American Werewolf, The Howling and so on…

I can’t choose just one director who influenced me most, since I was influenced by various films and directors. In my case, I can’t think of any one person. I think I got entertaining film elements, like exciting and thrilling ones, from Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Brian de Palma, John Carpenter, James Cameron, Okamoto Kihachi, and Fukasaku Kinji. In terms of horror, I think the images that I have in my mind would be Nomura Yoshitaro, David Lynch, and Dario Argento. In terms of the supernaturalistic worldview, the influences from the works by two master manga authors, Morohoshi Daijiro and Umezu Kazuo are very deep. As for the techniques of fake-documentary, I was influenced by the film C’est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous and the techniques of Japanese TV variety shows. In the case of a narrative film, the frequent use of holding a camcorder is influenced by Lars von Trier. Also, as far as entertaining by constructing an elaborate film cut (for example, trying to show non-one cut scenes as single cuts), Brian de Palma is very influential, although his elaboration looks very different from mine. I just want to entertain audience members by using techniques as much as possible. In terms of violence and humor, I’m influenced by the early works of director Kitano Takeshi and his variety shows that he did as Beat Takeshi. Regarding those parts of my films that avoid sugar-coating bad things [lit., “dislike fake goodness”], influences are from TV shows like the Hissatsu series and various works of Kudo Eiichi. The models for drawing human perspectives are directors Lee Chang-dong and Abbas Kiarostami. And about the most central part of a movie, i.e. to pursue romanticism [here meaning something like a deeply-held dream or goal], the most influential work is Crazy Thunder Road.

AS: Some of your films are based on urban legends (Teketeke, Kuchisake-Onna). Why do you use this material in your films?

SK: It’s because I was asked to do it and it was the project. It was not my idea. The person who planned it was a producer. The producer usually creates such a project thinking that viewers find it easier to deal with or are interested because they know the characters, in other words, more people go to the cinema if a movie is created with known and popular characters. I myself am not so interested in urban legends per se. Rather, I am more interested in creepy murders, missing cases, and unresolved crimes with a lot of mysteries.

AS: The supernatural is a big part of most of your work. Can you tell us about your own views on the supernatural (ghosts, etc.)?

SK: The ghost is, in the end, originally a human and [its] existence is too easy. So, for me, it is not something that I am interested [in] to draw [on] in my films. I think it is not so fun to draw ghosts in movies. What I am interested in is a world that human values can never understand, and that’s why it is so scary. So, naturally I tend to lean on the world of the Cthulhu Mythos. I feel the romanticism in the unknown world or presence that cannot exist in this world and I feel it is worthwhile for the movie. To create a movie, by finding and picturing the value in something not valuable in society, I think the movie shines. The supernatural thing can correspond with this, which I think is worthwhile for movies.

AS: Many of your films, although scary, also include a lot of humor (which I really appreciate). I loved to see you and Kiyoshi Kurosawa playing yourselves in Okaruto—it was funny, and it also made me feel like I was included in the joke. Why do you choose to include so many comedic elements in your films?

SK: I did not mean to include humor intentionally. But, since human beings are comical by nature, maybe that’s why it turns out like this. Since the [purpose of a] movie is to visualize and auditorily create the world which the filmmaker feels; I think I see and hear the world as scary and comical. By the way, the appearance of director Kurosawa was not a joke; I was just trying to make it real.

AS: Noroi is one of my very favorite horror films. Many people say that found-footage horror is passé, but in Noroi it works really well, with some genuine scares, and also some genuinely interesting and sympathetic characters. Can you talk a little about the inspiration for the film’s story? Specifically, I’m very interested in the Kagutaba legend depicted in the film. Is Kagutaba based on any existing stories, or is it totally fictional?

SK: I’m afraid I can’t say anything about Noroi.

AS: While a few of your films have been distributed in the West, many have not. Do you have plans to make your films available in the West?

SK: As far as I know, there is no plan. That’s a shame. In Japan, it is difficult to make a living by making movies, because the budget of many of them is too low and the salary is also low. Only a handful of directors who keep filming major films can make enough for a living. I am not in that position. For that reason the core of my films will tend to reflect that reality. So, I would like to work in foreign countries and be successful. But I can’t speak English at all, so I need to study. But, I do not have enough time and money for that. That kind of cycle continues. I’ve got to do something about that.

AS: Would you like to say anything to your fans outside of Japan?

SK: I will do my best to make movies even better and more fun in the future. Please wait for it!

Original Japanese(日本語原文):
AS:これまで白石さんが製作された映画には多くのホラー映画がありますが、白石さんにとって「ホラー」とは何を意味しますか?そして、どのような ホラー映画がお好きですか?また、どの映画製作者(監督)から、最も影響を受けましたか?


「こういうホラーが好き」というのはあまり考えた事がありませんので、思いつくままにタイトルを挙げると、邦画なら『犬神の悪霊(たたり)』『八つ墓村』『江戸川乱歩全集 恐怖奇形人間』『吸血鬼ゴケミドロ』、洋画なら『遊星からの物体X』『エクソシスト』『ジョーズ』『未知との遭遇』『アンブレイカブル』『ありふれた事件』『アルタ―ドステーツ』『死霊のはらわた』『死霊のはらわた2』『悪魔のいけにえ』『悪魔のいけにえ2』『ゾンビ』『アレックス』『ヒッチャー』『ブルーベルベット』『フリークス』『セブン』『狩人の夜』『エンゼルハート』『ジェイコブス・ラダー』『スペースバンパイア』『死霊のしたたり』『ビデオドローム』『悪魔の毒々モンスター』『狼男アメリカン』『ハウリング』……などなどです。


AS: 白石さんの映画のなかには都市伝説(テケテケ、口裂け女等)に基づいたものがありますが、なぜ都市伝説を映画の中で用いようと思ったのでしょ うか?


AS: 超自然的なものが、ほとんどの作品のなかで大きな部分を占めているようですが、超自然的なもの(例えば幽霊など)に対する、白石さん個人の見 解をお聞かせ願えないでしょうか?


AS: 白石さんが製作される映画の多くは、怖いながらも、多くのユーモアにも溢れているように思います(その点については、個人的に非常に気にいってい ます)。 映画『オカルト』では白石さん自身と、黒沢清監督も出演されておられましたね。非常に面白く拝見し、またこれも白石さんのジョークの一つであると 感じたの ですが、なぜホラー映画のなかに多くの喜劇的要素を組み込もうと思われたのでしょうか?


AS:『ノロイ』は私の大好きなホラー映画の一つです。ファンド・フッテージ・ホラーはもう古いと言っている人が多いようですが、映画『ノロイ』では、これが非 常に効果的に使われているように思います(身の毛もよだつ瞬間や、大変興味深く、つい自分が入り込んでしまうような登場人物の存在があってこそだと思うの ですが)。この映画『ノロイ』の話の展開について、どこからインスピレーションを得たのか教えていただけないでしょうか?特に、私が気になっているのは、 映画で描かれていた「禍具魂」の伝説についてです。「禍具魂」の基になるような話があるのでしょうか?それとも、白石さんの創作でしょうか?


AS: 白石さんの映画の多くは、西洋では流通していません。いずれ欧米でも白石さんの映画を入手可能にするような計画はありますか?


AS: 日本の外にいる白石さんのファンたちに何か一言ありますか?


Film School: Mauricio Chernovetzky and Mark Devendorf, “Styria”

Did you catch the fact that I was pretty excited by the upcoming film version of Carmilla? Maybe I was too subtle. To clarify, I’m pretty durned excited about the film, Styria, and thanks to the incredible power that is social media, I was able to get in touch with the film’s writers and directors, Mauricio Chernovetzky and Mark Devendorf. They graciously took the time to answer my raving fanboy questions, for which I’m extremely grateful. Here are their unedited responses to my emailed questions. [Because I initially heard back from Mauricio C., my questions are addressed to him, but both directors kindly responded.]

EDIT: For the sake of clarity, I have not seen this film yet. Check the movie’s Facebook page, linked at the bottom of this post, for info on upcoming screenings.

Angry Scholar: Styria is based on J.S. Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, a gothic story that has been adapted for film numerous times. What made you (and co-director Mark Devendorf) decide to create a new adaptation now?

Mauricio Chernovetzky: When we read Le Fanu’s original novella we realized that apart from Carl Dyer’s Vampyr, which was soley inspired by the text, none of the adaptations really delved into the interior life of the characters. Instead they focused on the lesbian aspect of the story to make sexploitation films, such as Vampyros Lesbos. But we found that the original story is far more layered, tense and atmospheric than these adaptations.

Mark Devendorf: Also, none of the other adaptations have really been faithful to the relationship between the girls and the underlying themes, which to us was the most fascinating aspect.

carmilla(Julia Pietrucha)-pushes-lara-further

AS: Obviously Styria is a contemporary reimagining, rather than a literal retelling, of Carmilla. What elements (setting, etc.) from the original remain the same, and what elements have been updated?

MD: The original story was so influential, (Dracula was originally set in Styria as well) most aspects & scenes have been picked clean by other movies, but we tried to keep the relationship of the girls close to that of the book, which has a cat/mouse aspect to it and as I said, the buried themes.

MC: We adapted the story to the late 80‘s and merged New wave goth sensibilities with Victorian Gothic ones. We set the story in a town called Styria on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Reinterpreting the external aspects of the plot, allowed us tap into the richer parts of this classic Gothic tale.

AS: The trailer contains some horror-like elements that are not present in the original. Would you say the film could be classified as horror?

MC: There are some horror-elements, but the film as a whole is really much more of tense, beautifully shot Gothic thriller.


AS: Carmilla famously includes some pretty overt lesbian themes, which also seem to be represented in the film’s trailer. Are these themes explored more fully in the film itself?

MD: In the book, these erotic themes were present, but there were actually no salacious scenes. We wanted to focus on the sensual tension of their romance and sexuality.

MC: Our film really focuses more on the obsession and dependence that grows between two teenage girls who are both troubled and in desperate need of a connection.

AS: Can you talk a little about your casting choices? It’s great to see Stephen Rea as Dr. Hill. Relative newcomers (at least to American audiences) Eleanor Tomlinson (Lara) and Julia Pietrucha (Carmilla) also seem like incredibly apt choices for their roles, based on the trailer. Did you have these cast members in mind from the beginning?

MD: We searched for over a year to find the right cast, because we knew, without the right actors, the film wouldn’t work.

MC: When we sent the script over to Stephen, he simply said, “I found it horrifying.” (Which is good, right?) And with him in the project, it raised the stakes for the other actors. Both Eleanor and Julia have been acting for years. But this film really gives them a chance to develop very interesting characters. The film is ultimately about their relationship and we are very happy with their performances.

AS: On the blog, a major focus is folklore. Carmilla purports to draw heavily on Austrian vampire folklore, with explicit mention of the history of vampires in the region of Styria, the methods by which they are dispatched, and the legal proceedings that led to their disposal. Does any of this figure into the film?

MC: While doing our own research we made a connection that we felt no film had yet explored, namely the link between vampirism and suicide clusters. We realized that from a sociological perspective, the vampire folklore made perfect sense. Imagine a small isolated village where young women begin taking their lives, like a horrible disease spreading and destroying a community from the inside. Today, there’s a name for it, Suicide Clusters. But the name doesn’t really explain the phenomenon away. It’s still happening today. So what we realized is that “vampires” with fangs might not be real, but vampirism definitely is!

MD: It is quite unusual that there is enough research in a film that a new theory on vampirism is discovered, which I think shows the amount of research we did. We also drew quite a bit on the imagery and themes of the symbolists, with their entwined obsessions of death and sensuality. The murals in the castle are based upon their work.


AS: Styria is your first time directing a full-length feature film, and Mark Devendorf’s first time in the director’s chair. How do you see this film relating to your previous work?

MC: Mark and I have worked very closely over the years. We share a passion for a wide-range of filmmakers, from Carl Dreyer and F.W. Murnau to David Croneberg and Bela Tarr. When we decided to collaborate, it knew we wanted to make a film about the entwined mysteries of death and sensuality, the fear of fear of loneliness, and the nightmares that creep from the shadows of our psyche.

MD: Also, with the pressure of our first film, with the madness of overburdened schedules, shooting in a foreign country, exchange rates, etc., it allowed the “director” to be in two places at once.

AS: What made you choose a supernatural thriller, potentially a risky genre, as your feature-film debut?

MC: When we first started talking about the idea, we were simply gripped by the need to make an elegant and mysterious thriller about a troubled teenager who’s obsession with a beautiful stranger threatens to consume her.

MD: For a first feature and the amount of time it takes to make a film, you need a subject you’re going to be passionate about, and so we drew from our own teenage years and the questions we had then (and still do) about love, sex, death, etc., to push us through to the end. Also, we started before the current vampire obsession, at a time that someone from HBO said, “people don’t like vampire movies anymore.” We just had to trust our instincts.

AS: Anything else you’d like to say to potential viewers?

MD: People often talk about wanting films that challenge them, that are intelligent, sensual and suggestive, instead of the alternative. At a preview screening, an audience member came up to me and said, “It’s so beautiful, I felt like I was watching art.” Well, here you go!

MC: Yes, we set out to make a thoughtful, beautiful film that offers a different perspective to the vampire legend. We really hope you enjoy it. Please follow us on facebook for updates about local screenings and release dates!

Styria has the potential to reinvigorate a classic work of Gothic literature, and perhaps steal the vampire film back from its unfortunate, sparkly contemporary permutations. If you haven’t done so already, check out the film’s official Facecbook page and official site.

(Images courtesy of Mauricio Chernovetzky.)