Talking Shit: Discussing ZOMBIE ASS with director Noboru Iguchi & stars Arisa Nakamura & Demo Tanaka
Among the special programmes at this year's Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival was a celebration of the work of Noboru Iguchi, the director of such low budget splatter classics as THE MACHINE GIRL, ROBOGEISHA and ZOMBIE ASS, which enjoyed its Japanese premiere at the festival. Between the deranged all-night party, that saw Iguchi and his cronies take to the stage clothed only in traditional fundoshi undergarments for a never-ending parade of games, video clips and hilarious raconteuring, to preview screenings of his latest work and rarely seen oldies, the love for Iguchi at Yubari was palpable. Immediately following the home nation premiere of his latest masterpiece of blood, boobs and silliness - ZOMBIE ASS - I sat down with the director, regular collaborator Demo Tanaka and the film's 18-year-old leading lady, Arisa Nakamura, to discuss the film, toilet humour, female flatulence and really anything else that came up!
James Marsh - (to Arisa) Please start by telling us a little bit about your working relationship with Iguchi-san and how you came to be part of ZOMBIE ASS?
Arisa Nakamura - Iguchi called me and told me about the project. I was the first actress to come in for an audition and I got the part. I had to read some lines and do some action moves and I really wasn't sure if I was any good and it was a long time before I heard back from him. I was very nervous because I was very excited about the project, but eventually he liked what I did and I got the part.
JM - (to Iguchi) So when you wrote the script, you didn't have a particular actress in mind?
Noboru Iguchi - I had no idea who I would cast at first, because the part demanded somebody very athletic and capable of performing a lot of complex moves and actions. I felt quite hopeless at first, because I didn't have a specific image of the character in my mind, so I had no idea who I could cast.
JM - Were you worried that after the success of the more serious and commercial KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR, your fans and investors might be less inclined to return to the craziness of ZOMBIE ASS?
NI - ZOMBIE ASS wasn't really my idea in the beginning. My investors actually requested that I make a zombie movie. So, after working with my biggest budget to-date with KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR, and reaching a very wide audience, I decided that if I was going to make a zombie movie it had to be really crazy and eccentric. So I wasn't really worried what the ZABORGAR audience was going to think of ZOMBIE ASS.
JM - And what was the response from your investors when you pitched them ZOMBIE ASS?
NI - The president of the company is a huge fan of horror films and he particularly related to the idea that the characters can't stop farting. So I got the green light pretty much based on that.
JM - With an effects-heavy film like this a fair amount of the action and story needs to be pre-planned but to what degree was your cast free to improvise?
NI - Normally I write a rough draft of the script first from which I storyboard the whole movie. That gives me a basic structure and helps inspire me and give me more ideas for what I want to see in the film. Improvisation really depends on the actors and the characters they are playing. For example, in the case of Demo's character - the Shit Zombie...
JM - Now whose idea was that? (to Demo) Did you request to be the Shit Zombie or were you offered the part? How did that piece of casting work?
NI - The casting was my idea. The toilet was one of those traditional outdoor toilets, where you just squat over a pit, and the kids used to really get scared about using it, worried about what was down there that might come out and get them. I really wanted to tap into that kind of fear and create the type of monster that might be lurking down there.
JM - And Demo is how you picture that in your head?
NI - Yes!
Demo Tanaka - I wanted to be the mad scientist originally, in fact I was expecting to be that part, but then Iguchi changed his mind. At first I was a little shocked, but I think it worked out for the best in the end.
JM - A more challenging role, certainly.
DT - For the liquid in the toilet pit we used miso soup with lots of extra ingredients thrown in. I was very worried that it was going to hurt if I got any in my eyes. We knew it had to be done in only one or two takes, and I had all this miso soup pouring into my nose. Miraculously all the fake turds that were floating around were positioning themselves perfectly around my face, which I had no idea about at the time. But as I rose up out of the liquid, I got a huge round of applause from the crew because we got such a perfect shot.
JM - It was quite beautiful in its own way.
DT - I also thought in order to get the perfect shot my face should be bloated, so I stayed up all night drinking before shooting so that my face would be really puffy and bloated. The results are really great.
NI - Another reason I cast Demo is that I knew he really needed the money and I had read somewhere that in some zombie movies it's the zombie characters that can become more famous and iconic at zombie conventions all around the world. So I figured if I gave Demo a zombie part he might be able to make some extra cash out of it in years to come. We have to cherish our Shit Zombie.
DT - At first I was convinced I had to study all these classic zombie films to learn how to move like a real zombie. But in the end I decided this had to be a new zombie, a new creature, so I stopped doing any research and tried to create some new moves instead for the Shit Zombie.
JM - So what were you influenced by?
DT - It was intuitive. I had to feel it. Of course I'm prepared for critics of the film to say that my character is not a zombie at all and that it doesn't deserve to fit in the zombie category, but I don't care.
JM - (to Arisa) How did you feel coming into the project and working with a very tight group of people, where you are the lead?
AN - Well I knew what to expect from this tight group who are so unique and so crazy, but I was very warmly welcomed and we had a really fun time together.
JM - Did you have to do much specific training for your fight scenes?
AN - For a few days right before we started shooting I had to do some karate practice, and I did some other additional training but it wasn't anything too intense.
JM - There are also some quite challenging scenes regarding nudity that would be a big deal for any actor or actress to perform. How did you feel about those scenes?
AN - I'd be lying if I said I didn't hesitate at all, but I had complete trust in Iguchi, and the cast and crew made me feel very comfortable on set. They all took care of me all the time so it actually wasn't too difficult in the end.
JM - It's amusing that your character seems more embarrassed and emotionally traumatised by the fact she's farting throughout the movie rather than that she's half-naked for long periods of time.
NI - That's my perfect woman! A girl who is more embarrassed by farting than by being naked. Normally Japanese guys have this kind of image of Japanese girls, that they should be modest and pretty, kind of like a princess, who don't fart, or poo or pee at all. It's a really twisted idealised concept about what Japanese girls should be like. Because real actresses can't express that in reality - that girls can fart just like boys - that's why all these ideas go into animation or cartoons, because real people can't do that. But what I wanted to do was show that it can be done in a live action feature film too.
JM - It's six months since the World Premiere of ZOMBIE ASS at Fantastic Fest, and already you have another film completed, a 26-episode web series in the can, and DEAD SUSHI in post-production...How do you continue to stay interested and motivated when you are working so much?
NI - For most Japanese filmmakers we have to work with small budgets so we need to keep working all the time in order to make a living. This means we are trained in working this way, moving from project to project, and maintaining an interest in what we are working on. It's not really my choice to work this way but I'm used to it - always dreaming up new ideas, staying inspired all the time, my mind is constantly there. It would be nice to make one big budget feature film each year, but I can't really do that.
JM - So do you think if you had the time and the budget to take your time over your films you would change the way you work?
NI - Of course I would love to try it once, with unlimited time and a huge budget and take my time over each shot like so many other gifted and fortunate filmmakers. But in the case of a film like ZOMBIE ASS I shot for 10 days, or a month in the case of KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR, and I always feel really bad about pushing my cast and crew to make the deadline. I would love the chance to work under more relaxed conditions so I could operate without a guilty conscience.
JM - So if you were given $100 million tomorrow to make any kind of movie you wanted, do you have anything in the back of your mind that would be your dream project?
NI - I would love to make something really crazy and silly about high school girls that turn into robots, and a fleet of 10,000 school girl robots fly all over the world and conquer the entire planet.
JM - What did you think of Zach Snyder's SUCKER PUNCH? That seems like a film after your own heart.
NI - I liked it but I wasn't blown away. I would have added more comedy and more flying schoolgirl robots. In my movie, when the whole fleet is flying in formation, they would actually create the image of a girl's face.
JM - So once DEAD SUSHI is finished and released what is next for you?
NI - Everything else is just in the development stage at the moment. I have a few different ideas but nothing is finalised yet. Maybe something based on a Japanese comic, but I can't tell you which one.
JM - And do you have plans to work with Arisa again?
NI - I'd love to. Actually we have just finished working together on my short film for THE ABCS OF DEATH.
JM - And I know Demo will be in everything.
DT - I've completed an 80-minute making-of documentary for KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR that should be featured on the DVD release later on, and I'm currently filming one for ZOMBIE ASS (holds up the video camera he's been playing with throughout the interview) as we speak!
A huge thank you to Midori Inoue and Marc Walkow, without whose help this interview would not have been possible!