Director Kazuaki Kiriya isn’t shy about setting large goals for himself. “I wanted to make a movie that the whole world would see,” he said. “This film isn’t based on any other work. It isn’t based on an anime or a novel. We created a completely original story.”
The movie is "Goemon," the director’s second effort after 2004’s apocalyptic sci-fi flick "Casshern." While his new film’s subject matter is about as far as you can get from genetically modified humans and killer robots, it is no less epic in scope.
"Goemon" tells the (fictionalized) story of legendary 16th-century robber bandit Ishikawa Goemon. Known popularly as the “Robin Hood of Japan,” he is famous for robbing from the rich, giving to the poor—and then being executed in a vat of boiling oil. Kiriya’s version takes place amid the civil war of the 1500s, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power following the assassination of Oda Nobunaga. Goemon, played by Yosuke Eguchi, becomes a people’s hero as he robs from one warlord after another. But the past he tried to forget comes back to haunt him when he steals a box containing a secret that several powerful men—including future shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (Masato Ibu)—would do anything to recover.
As with Kiriya’s previous work, "Goemon" has a CGI-heavy visual style. In fact, the film spent nearly two years in post-production. At a recent press conference, the cast revealed that almost all of the filming was done in front of a green screen. “We never really knew where it was we were supposed to be fighting,” said Takao Osawa, who plays legendary ninja Kirigakure Saizo. “Then, when I finally saw the film, I kind of thought, ‘Oh, so that’s where we were!’ But that also made it more interesting.”
“We had to make the movie in a world we couldn’t see, inside our imaginations… It was very difficult,” said Ryoko Hirosue ("Okuribito"), the lone female member among the main cast. “When I saw the film for the first time, it was truly like nothing I’d ever seen before.”
Hirosue plays Lady Chacha, one of Hideyoshi’s concubines. In the movie version, her character is also the daughter of Nobunaga and Goemon’s childhood sweetheart. Besides the technical hardships of filming, Hirosue said, “I had to wear a lot of really heavy, painful costumes.”
For Kiriya, "Goemon" provided an opportunity to utilize new technology that surpasses his previous work. “With this movie, I wanted to do what I couldn’t do with Casshern… At that time, if you were in front of a green screen, the cameras couldn’t move. If they moved, then all of the background CGI had to be made into 3D, but that was very time-consuming and expensive.”
The idea behind "Goemon" arose from the director’s love of 16th-century history. With the setting established, Kiriya realized he wanted to make a movie about a popular hero rather than a samurai. “Even regular people can change the world; even regular people can start a rebellion. That’s what I wanted to show.”
It remains to be seen whether "Goemon" will become the worldwide blockbuster that Kiriya is clearly hoping for. But with its premiere as the opening work at the Okinawa International Movie Festival in March, coupled with Kiriya’s cult status overseas, the film already appears to be well on its way.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today