Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sushi Typhoon producer hopes genre label will produce "socially challenging" films

by Chris MaGee

It was just last night that myself and VCinema's Coffin Jon were discussing (for an upcoming VCinema Podcast) a quote from Yoshinori Chiba, the main producer behind Nikkatsu's genre wing, Sushi Typhoon, that was taken from an interview at Variety.com and posted at Wildgrounds. With the film scene in Japan becoming bleaker and bleaker by the minute in Japan for independent artists Chiba was quoted as saying, "The (Sushi Typhoon) brand is just a platform. Through the diffusion of the brand, we can provide young Japanese directors a place where they can make interesting films. The films being made by the big film companies have become standardized, and it’s become harder to make films that have an individual vision or a socially challenging theme."

This is indeed a noble goal during a time when many indie filmmakers in Japan can't make a living doing what they love most: making movies. That being said, both Coffin Jon and I were scratching our heads a bit wondering how Chiba thought that the current batch of Sushi Typhoon films such as "Alien vs. Ninja," and "Mutant Girls Squad" represent films with a "socially challenging theme". While you'll never find me becoming a voice for some kind of stodgy moral majority, a look at the Sushi Typhoon preview reel (below) will have most people asking themselves the same question I have - How are these films communicating socially challenging themes?

Sushi Typhoon is, at the moment, churning out exploitation films that are making money on the North American genre film fest circuit, and good for them! Chiba and Sushi Typhoon is doing what so very few filmmakers and producers can do in Japan at the moment, namely turn a profit; but at least call the films for what they are: exploitation films. Hopefully there will be films coming from Sushi Typhoon that will inject some edgy social themes into them (maybe Sion Sono's "Cold Fish" will be that film), but as of right now Nikkatsu's genre wing is making audiences cringe, laugh and sometimes throw up in our mouths just a little, while we happily buy tickets for the privilege.

Let the debates begin in the comments!

UPDATE: We received a message from Variety.com's Mark Schilling, the author of the orginal article and the man who interviewed Yoshinori Chiba. Here's what MarK had to say:

"As the writer of the Variety story on the Sushi Typhoon label I ought to clariy that Chiba used the term "hanshakai," which translates literally as 'anti-social.' I used 'socially challenging' since I thought he was speaking of films that challenge society's taboos and conventions, not celebrate anti-social acts -- say the murder of innocents -- as such. Wasting aliens is another matter, of course."

1 comment:

keeperdesign said...

I had an interesting discussion last night with a Japanese houseguest. After watching "Fish Story" — a film she'd never heard of, despite liking movies — we watched 8 or 9 previews for other Third Window releases. She had never heard of "Love Exposure", "Kakera", "Fine, Totally Fine", "Funuke" or many others. She concluded that these films were made for Western film festival audiences, not Japanese theatergoers. Sound familiar?
Of course the success of "Machine Girl" and the subsequent funding that followed really drive the Sushi Typhoon filmmakers, but I believe those guys would be making those types of films anyway. (When Iguchi-san got his TV deal, he made Dogu-chan, a show that is basically unexportable but has all the earmarks of his film work.) Regarding foreign dollars driving creative choices, I wonder if there aren't similar forces at work in non-genre circles. It's reasonable to believe films such as "Kakera" had audiences as large as, or larger than, their Japanese counterparts at overseas festivals. Nowadays Hollywood films have to be conscious of a global market to be profitable. Take "Inception", which despite glowing reviews and a good B.O. run cannot be profitable without major overseas receipts. In North America the movie's haul has exceeded its production/marketing budget, but only just. The studio won't see a penny until foreign grosses come in. If Japanese filmmakers want to compete on a global scale, don't they have to take all their potential audiences into account? For me, there's little doubt that Takeshi's middling "Outrage" is something of a pander, a big "gomen" to his many western fans who got hooked on his Yakuza dramas and then mumbled through his more personal films. Is that any less calculated than "Helldriver" or "Mutant Girls Squad"?
I'm terrified of a homogenized global village cinema, an 'art' where every filmmaker has to temper his or her choices in order to make their product as profitable as possible. Sushi Typhoon hasn't done a whole lot yet with their imprint, but it's still young. Sion Sono's film looks to be made of sterner stuff than the schlocky "Alien Vs. Ninja", and hopefully will nudge the rest of those guys into doing those 'socially challenging films'. I like a gore comedy as much as the next guy (maybe more!) but that stuff will get old very fast. I'm optimistic that at least one of these filmmakers will go down a more Cronenbergian path and say something about relationships, society, politics, what have you, within the framework of a horror film. It could happen.