Kitamura Ryuhei Talks NO ONE LIVES, VERSUS 2 And Sakaguchi's 'Bullshit' Retirement

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)

Japanese director Kitamura Ryuhei has been a favorite here at ScreenAnarchy since the day he first broke on to the international scene with 2000 effort Versus. And with his latest English language effort - No One Lives - about to release in North America we had the chance to ask the director about his latest effort, bridging Hollywood and Japan, and the prospects of the long awaited Versus 2.

The Lady Miz Diva:  What brought you to this project?
Ryuhei Kitamura:  It was back in 2010, I think, the producer found me and he sent me the script - that's what happens when you're in Hollywood, right - they send you a script all the time - every week. Unfortunately, most of the scripts suck.  So, especially after I did this movie, The Midnight Meat Train, I wasn't interested in doing a hardcore, bloody movie.  It's so easy to put the label on you in Hollywood.  Midnight Meat Train was the only horror movie I did, but the people don't know - like the executive producers don't know who I am; they didn't watch Versus, or Godzilla, or Azumi - if I do this bloody movie again I didn't want them to put them label on me that this was just a bloody, horror movie director ... Which I believe I'm not! {Laughs}  I wasn't really interested.  I'm more interested in doing an action movie; something totally different. 

But when I got the script and I started reading and after the first 15 pages I was telling my manager and agent, "No, no, no, I'm not going to do this torture porn movie.  Come on."  This is exactly the same movie, right?  The couple in the wrong place at the wrong time and a group of bad people capture and torture them.  I'm not into that kind of movie very much. 

Then, the movie shifted into something completely different.  I said, "Oh my god, this is not about the couple being tortured and trying to survive, this is completely different."  After that, I finished the script and I called my manger and said "I wanna do this."  It was completely different from The Midnight Meat Train.  I felt like this is like a movie that I would be watching when I was growing up back in the 80s, when I was a teenager.  I felt like I had to do one movie like this.  These movies taught me a lot when I was a kid.  If this was a movie like Friday the 13th, or Halloween, or that kind of slasher movie, I'm not sure if I would want to become the director.
LMD:  What was your take on the script when you read it?  It's so surreal, at times I wondered if the whole thing wasn't going on in Emma's head?
RK:  Wow!  I never thought about it {Laughs}.  That's a very interesting theory, but I never thought about it.  In my mind, yes, it really happened. 

But when you watch a movie like The Midnight Meat Train, that story was surreal; it was a story about two worlds, which most of the people don't know, and Bradley Cooper's character finds a gateway to get there and he ended up basically on a another world, and his whole fate and the world changed.  Even on Versus, it was a story about previous life and this life and the next life.  So, I'm very interested in the surreal tone of the movie.

I'm not really that much interested in doing a superrealistic movie, because superrealistic ... that's what I'm really living right now, right?  When I go to the movies, I feel like, "Come on, show me something else.  Show me something that I can't experience in my life.'  So, of course most of the things that happen in the movies, you don't want to happen in real life. 

But I totally agree with you, I really loved that if was just about killing tons of people and lots of guns I wouldn't have done it.  What grabbed me most from that script is I really felt it's a very twisted love story.  I've never read something like this.  It's funny, the movie opened a couple of weeks ago in Japan, which is probably the reason I'm here.  Most of the guy fans, they were like, "Oh, that shot was unbelievable," or, "This movie was great because of the hardcore violence." But most of the female audience was telling me, "Oh, I felt like pure love.'  That's so funny.  Even though The Driver is crazy and is sick, what they shared was pure love.  That's what I felt when I read that script, is that this is totally fucked up.  He's doing it all for love.
LMD:  Are you drawn to stories where you don't really know how to cheer for?  With Versus between the prisoner and yakuza, and now here with No One Lives; none of the characters are really good guys.
RK:  It's very challenging.  It's all about the balance because this movie's main character is a fucked up psycho, right?  There are not many movies like that, but like the first Terminator; the Terminator was killing everybody, but you couldn't stop loving him, right?  Or a movie like The Hitcher, the Rutger Hauer character, I don't know anything about this guy: Who the fuck is this guy?  But a very strange emotion was coming up to me when I was watching that movie - I think I was 15 - 'This guy's an evil person, but come on, he's so cool.'  So when I read the script, it was a rare opportunity for me to make this kind of character.  It's not that easy to do it, of course, but I always like a challenge, so I just knew that this is a tough premise, but I want to make the audience cheer for this character.
LMD:  Now having made two films in Hollywood, what, if anything do you miss about making movies in Japan?
RK:  To me, it wasn't that hard to adjust to the Hollywood industry, because movie making after all is all about the communication. You have to have your crystal clear vision.  Then through the relationship with producers and the crew and the cast, all I need to do is tell, crystal clear, that 'This is my vision, this is what I wanna do, this is the direction we're going.'  Then the rest of the job is my great crew and cast will work with me, so it's basically not that much different.  Whatever the fucked up finances ...

I'm pretty strange because Hollywood, Los Angeles, through the weather, traffic, whatever, nothing moves fast.  I believe that if Hollywood was in New York, it would be better.  I was shocked; everybody's late like 30 minutes, and they don't even say sorry.  No, it's natural.  Nobody gets there on time!  Now I know why all the Hollywood projects take 100 times longer than the movie in Japan.  In Japan, we don't have a contract; we don't have lawyers, managers, agents.  If we say we're going to do it, we do it! 

There are not many sharks in the industry like in Hollywood.  Everybody makes you dream, then stabs you in the back.  They have all have Luke Evans' face and they make you love them, then, of course, they're gonna fuck you up.  That sort of superficial human relationship, that's very different than making movies in Japan.  That's part of the things I miss about making movies in Japan, but still I love watching Hollywood movies, and when it comes to actual pre-production and production, there is not much difference.  It's all about the communication and it's all about working hard and doing your best. 

It's been like 6 years since I moved to LA; it took me a while to figure out - cos I'm basically a nice guy, so I trust when someone tells you something - but then I found out that, no, no, no, no, don't trust anybody in this town.  99% of the industry people are liars.
LMD:  I had the pleasure of speaking to some protégés of yours back in 2011, Mr. Tak Sakaguchi and Mr. Yudai Yamaguchi.  They hinted at a Versus sequel in the works and you've just recently confirmed it.  However, I wonder how you'll be able to make that movie when your main star is in retirement?
RK:  {Laughs} That retirement thing is fucking bullshit!  I was kind of pissed that I was the only one who was very vocal about that.  [*cough*] On the opening night of No One Lives, because of course, Sakaguchi was there, right? 

They think that it's a retirement, but it's all about the fucking politics.  Those powerful agencies - those parasites and sharks - and poor Tak Sakaguchi, he's trapped in the middle and he was kind of like forced to retire.  Which he never had to do, anyway.  But it's a small world, anyway, and of course that's why he retired, but I was like, "What on earth made you?  You are the stubborn person.  Just fuck them all."  But you know, Taku has his reasons. 

He is like my son.  I don't call him my brother; he is like my son.  He calls me Daddy.  Because before Versus, he was just a street fighter, he was nobody.  Taku, he's a super loyal soldier to me.  He never betrayed me, he never ran away from me, and I've know that guy for like 14, 15 years.  I met him last week and every single time I meet him, he'd come top speed running with a big smile {Laughs}.  He is like a crazy guy who loves me too much.
LMD:  Well, it doesn't sound like his retirement is going to stick.
RK:  No, I'm going to bring him back.  That's the thing.  The only time he can retire is when I tell him to.
LMD:  I believe Versus is at least partly responsible for the zombie renaissance in film and television we see now.  When Versus came out it, wasn't like any other zombie movies before.  Now that zombies are everywhere, is it more of a challenge to make Versus 2 stand out from the current trend?
RK:  Uh-huh, whatever is happening the US, we all love zombies.  Every, like, five years, the Hollywood producers, they all love the zombie movies, right?  Zombieland, The Walking Dead kind of stuff.  Now everybody loves zombies, right?  Then everybody says, 'Uhh, too much zombies."  So now they don't want to make zombie movies.  It's so crazy right?  It's not about what you wanna do; it's all about, 'Somebody's making money? All right, we'll do it.' Then, there's too much, "Uhh, no, no, no, no, we don't do it.'
LMD:  So Versus is going to stay true to what we saw before?
RK:  Yes, of course, otherwise I wouldn't have done it.  I made that movie 13 years ago and everybody all over the world - I really appreciate the fans - they're telling me "Versus 2, Versus 2, Versus 2," but I never wanted to do it just for money.  I know that if I did Versus 2, I'm gonna get money.  That's not my motivation, so I always was thinking; I'll do it when I come up with the right story. 

Then when I was doing the preproduction of No One Lives, one day lightning strikes and all the pieces of the puzzles came together inside my brain.  So, I actually wrote the script when I was in Louisiana.  So now I have the script and now I feel like, okay, now I see what I wanna do.  Ultimately, it's the same script, but it's not gonna be the same.  It's on a completely new, much, much bigger scale.  But the movie opens up from the exact moment the original Versus ended. We'll do a story showing how that KSC2-303 character - Tak Sakaguchi's character - how he's fallen into the dark side. {Laughs} How he got a Darth Vader story.
LMD:  Will any of the other actors from the first film make an appearance?
RK:  I don't think so.  Taku will be there.  Taku is the only spirit of Versus

It's a sad thing, but people change, right?  Also, half of the actors, they disappeared.  They retired from the movies.  I made the movie with an all-nobody cast.  But, of course, 70% of the actors, I have no idea where they are or what they're doing.  Obviously, they're not in the scene.  Then a few survived, then they changed; they forget about what made them and some of them betrayed me.  But I'm the director of Versus; if you pick a fucking fight with me, I will fight you back.  That's exactly what the movie No One Lives is about right?  You picked the wrong guy.  I will kill you all!  That's exactly me; if I don't find myself in this project, I can't do it.  I can do it technically, but I'm not interested in doing it.  The Driver character, when I read the script, I was like, 'Oh, this is like me. I'm a nice guy, but if you pick a fight I will fucking fight you back.'  That's what I am.  I will do anything to protect somebody I love.  Tak's somebody I love, and it's all connected in my work.
LMD:  We've been talking about Versus 2, but is there anything coming up for you before that?
RK:  Actually, right now I'm about to start the preproduction of my big comeback movie in Japan. That's why I'm here.  I cannot tell you what it is. {Laughs} It's a completely different role than what I've done before.  It's also not a bloody movie, not a horror movie.  It's a big action movie.

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