What made you want to get involved in the film industry?
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a film director and I think that all started with Aliens. James Cameron’s film really had a huge impact on me because I saw it as a small child and just loved it. Of course, the practical FX but also the characters and story. I actually told my third grade teacher I wanted to be a film director and she was very nice. She responded, “I’ll look for your name in the credits one day.” So I was committed at an early age, making my first short when I was 12 (inspired by Carnosaur and Jurassic Park) and then later in middle school or high school when I saw John Carpenter’s The Thing and Japanese cinema like Yojimbo, it cemented my passion even more. I made a lot of shorts in high school then my first feature The Sky Has Fallen when I was 22. I always loved practical FX. Film is really an amazing magic trick where the best films completely engross you, making you jump or cry or go on an incredible journey to another time and place. I love that. You forget your problems and the fact you’re actually just sitting for two hours in front of a screen. That’s incredible plus the way it connects people all over the world.
From script-to-screen, how close did BAKEMONO come to its original vision?
Very close. I would say the script is really up there on the screen. I didn’t have the $15 million dollar budget of The Thing or anywhere close to that so there were definitely limitations and there is a lot more I could do if I had more money (as is always the case although especially on this kind of monster film) but I still wrote a crazy script with a ton of special effects. I really pushed and challenged myself to make something very exciting that quickly pulls you in despite my limited resources as an independent filmmaker. I just had to try to make something like The Thing. I love those 1980s practical FX monster movies so much.
What was your favorite day on set and why?
Just shooting this in Tokyo was a dream come true but without spoiling anything, I think my favorite day was one with Irie-san where I was just blown away by his acting. It was a key moment in the film that I had visualized in my head for a long time and he nailed it. I love all the monster carnage too of course but shooting that was very challenging so it was harder to enjoy.
What scene did you enjoy directing the most?
I think it’d have to be the same scene I just mentioned because I was also really happy with the way it was shot using slow motion and changing lighting.
What is the biggest obstacle you faced while making BAKEMONO?
All the practical FX were very difficult but I love practical FX and I knew that going in so I planned and prepared everything. I sculpted four different creature masks from scratch, built these different mutations that come out of the monster, etc. It’s just that there are so many special effects throughout the film and different kinds of FX so it was a lot to take on but I’m extremely happy with how it came out and everybody who has seen the film loves the FX.
What was your proudest moment during production?
Seeing the monster fully realized and properly lit, etc. was a wonderful moment (like the last shot of the teaser). Really the proudest when people watch the film and jump. There seems to be a lot of negativity about jump scares these days but John Carpenter’s The Thing has a great jump scare in the infamous blood test scene. A really good jump scare is difficult to do and it’s not just a loud sound. You have to build tension beforehand and misdirect the audience, etc. It’s not as easy as people think. It’s really a magic trick as well and the best horror films usually have great jump scares too (A Tale of Two Sisters is another excellent example from South Korea). But seeing that kind of visceral reaction from the audience is wonderful.
How do you get a film to stand out from the crowd in today’s landscape?
That is a tough question. Hollywood spends millions on marketing to try to do that and even they fail sometimes. I think part of it is you need a great idea people can get excited about then you need to really deliver. As a horror fan, I love practical FX monster movies but those are so rare now; however, I think there are tons of horror fans like me who desperately want to see those. Who wouldn’t love to see another movie like The Thing or The Blob or The Fly or Aliens? Of course, you can’t just copy those movies. What’s really difficult is you have to make something amazing on its own terms. Something that is unique but exciting and badass like those films. Then you need a phenomenal poster, word of mouth, review quotes, festival wins, a good trailer, etc. It’s very challenging. I also love horror that pushes boundaries. As Brian Yuzna said, horror with a transgressive element helps the audience remember it (like the head giving head in the first Re-Animator). I think that can help you stand out too since it’s also a bit rare these days (great recent examples: The Sadness and Terrifier 2) but the story, the characters, the cinematography, the special effects, the sound effects, the music, all these things need to be really good.
What other filmmakers inspire you to do what you do?
Maurice Devereaux. I think what he accomplished with his independent horror film End of the Line was incredible. Just the fact he made four features on his own outside the studio system is amazing. I really admire and respect so many independent filmmakers. Mike Flanagan and Damien Leone are two very inspiring recent success stories going from small indies to huge films or Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (love The Guest). Of course, there are the legendary masters of horror we all look up to like John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Guillermo del Toro, David Cronenberg (his son Brandon is doing phenomenal work too), etc. and the other all-time greats like Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Paul Verhoeven, Tarantino, James Cameron, Denis Villeneuve, etc. Steven Kostanski is also a big inspiration with The Void and Psycho Goreman. But I really love the little guys like me who nobody knows and we’re working ourselves to the bone off in the shadows hoping one day we can break through.
What is your favorite horror decade and why?
Definitely the ’80s because so many absolute classics came out then: The Thing, The Blob, The Fly, The Terminator, Fright Night, Aliens, From Beyond, An American Werewolf in London, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Stuff, Gremlins, Poltergeist, Possession, Videodrome, The Evil Dead, The Shining, Child’s Play, The Howling, etc. Especially as a crazy huge fan of practical FX monster movies, that was definitely the peak. Boobs, blood, and beast as Joe Bob’s song goes (and a fantastic documentary on Don Dohler) but that can’t be beat in my opinion although I do love the French extreme horror wave. There is an amazing Japanese documentary on French extreme horror called Beyond Blood from 2018 that I hope gets released outside of Japan one day.
What is the next step in your filmmaking career?
I want to make more practical FX monster movies. That’s what I love the most. Films like Aliens, The Thing, The Blob, The Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Street Trash, etc. Something like those but also unique with mystery, atmosphere, a ton of kills, very exciting, etc. I want to do more gruesome melting and transforming. I love that so much and I’m very inspired by Japanese anime too like Wicked City but absolutely practical FX monster movies.