Unleashing a Japanese Action Tour-de-Force on the World:
A Solo Interview with Death Trance’s Sakaguchi Taku!
With an explosion of swords, fists, and bullets, Death Trance has finally arrived in order to stage a raid on the Japanese action film world—which until recent years has been called “devoid of a star.” The action director of Versus and Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, Shimomura Yûji, with his ballistic debut, and the preeminently capable Sakaguchi Taku, who has appeared in one film after another to resuscitate the action film industry, have enchanted us with their common-sense-overturning “J-action.” When the advance trailer for this film screened at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival it sent out a huge echo and, regardless of the fact that it was still in production, was flooded with international buyers. Already, in places like America, Europe, Brazil, and Thailand there are notices in the theaters. Star Sakaguchi Taku, who this time also took charge of the action direction, spoke with us about the highlights of Death Trance.
About the Film
In a world of unceasing strife, there exists a coffin that is rumored to be capable of granting all wishes. When the coffin is reopened it will ruin the world. But bit by bit the rumor that differs from the truth has grown strong: If you open the coffin in the “Forbidden Forest of the West” it will grant any wish. Believing in the coffin, people who planned to plunder it did not cease in their attempts but no one succeeded. Until one man was able to carry it off. Rumors about this man (Grave, played by Sakaguchi Taku) having snatched the coffin away spread far and wide. Pulling the coffin, sealed with chains, and accompanied by a small girl, Grave heads for the “Forbidden Forest,” hunted by a group of assassins who come at him one by one. In order to return the coffin to its temple, the priest Ryûen (Suga Takamasa) follows. Along the way, the gun-wielding Sid (Kentaro Seagal) and the enigmatic swordswoman Yûri (Takeuchi Yuhki) join in the pursuit; a journey of endless battle against enchanted foes has begun.
May 11th Solo Interview with Sakaguchi Taku, Star of Death Trance
The antics between Grave and the little girl he travels with were comical, weren’t they?
Well, because I’m a person who’s friendly with children, there are places where that came out. (Laughs). In the film, the little girl is a mysterious character; like a “source of evil” even.
Talk about the action scenes such as the one at the bar with the tonfa gun and hand to hand fighting.
The sparks that shot out from the tonfa gun were CG, but during shooting it was nothing but a hazard. On the first day, I dislocated my shoulder and the action was only half my usual power… Please excuse me, we’ve finished shooting now so I don’t want to make excuses, but… (Laughs).
Talk about costarring with Suga Takamasa and filming episodes with the rest of the cast.
In private, Suga and I are on very close terms. It wasn’t so when we starred in Cromartie High: The Movie together, but we became close while participating in an independent movie. Basically, I didn’t mix much with the other cast members. As the action director, I was in charge of scenes like the barroom sequence. As far as the women’s action scenes were concerned, my co-action director Ohara Gô was in charge. I divided my acting and action director duties exactly in half. I was also in charge of the zombie fight in the second half of the film so please watch that with anticipation.
The clothing and makeup was really un-period-piece-like; were there any places where you made suggestions?
I’m totally hands-off about that. Regarding the visuals, the director, Shimomura, was seriously fussy and even had instructions for minute parts. It was unexpected and nerve-wracking if it seemed like I was going to meet with the director’s world-view. (Laughs).
Action scenes occur frequently; how did the rehearsals go?
The flow of action was that on the off days or such-like we prepared for the scenes to come, so at the location we rehearsed through small adjustments. However, to the people watching it looked like a make-or-break game. Fists were “really hitting” and so, of course, we aimed for no injuries. For this, technique is fairly essential. I was performing with a sponge of about a 1.5 centimeter thickness attached to my fist and with that skillfully hitting my partner in the face. Because I was calculating the distance to my partner, who was moving around, right before I struck at him it was quite difficult. Well, but my specialty is action, so… (Laughs). But I actually hit my partner with a sword and because of that on that day of shooting everyone seemed depressed. It hurts, you know, the sword does. (Laughs). Even though it was okay to say if it hurt, everyone would bypass Ohara and come to tell me. (Laughs).
What were your motives for getting into the world of action and the works you referred to, actors you aimed for, etc.?
About eight years ago, martial arts like PRIDE and K-1 were just becoming fashionable, and I thought “it would be good if I could change the fake-looking action that we have now.” So I decided to do my own style of action, and four years ago I established my own action team. There aren’t really any works that I’ve referred to or actors I’ve aimed for.
In America and Europe, for example, screenings have been planned, but what do you think will become of Japanese action films?
I think that in the Japanese movies of today, action stars have gone away. Furthermore, the fact that Japanese action isn’t penetrating to the outside world is no good at all. From here on out it’s not going to be the Hollywood style; I really want to take Japanese action films into world circulation. I’ll do that until my body breaks! (Laughs).
Please give a message to everyone reading OCN “Cinema Life.”
Everyone, those who thought they were being swindled (who thought they’d met with Kurosagi), please come to see this, okay? (Laughs). Because this isn’t a very period-piece work it’s a film that will be received favorably by young people, martial arts fans, and even women!
In contrast to his role as the unrelenting “Grave,” the fresh-faced Sakaguchi Taku is a young man who loves to talk passionately about action. His attitude towards action, which declares “it’s alright if I’m the last Japanese action star” is a serious thing. Hereafter, the expectation of Japanese action films that circulate around the world will swell. This time, it’s the much talked about film that stars the unstoppable Suga Takamasa and Kentaro Seagal (who inherited the hand-to-hand fighting gene from Steven Seagal) and that piles on the action scenes more than ever: the Japanese action film that will surprise the world with its “anything goes” policy: Death Trance!
Opens May 20 (Saturday) at Cinemahto, Roppongi and nationwide. (Contributor: Mihara).
* Kurosagi is a character from a Japanese manga; at the time of this interview it had just been made into a television drama. More info here.
* The tonfa is a traditional Okinawan weapon that looks similar to a billy club. More info here. (Yay Wikipedia!)
* You can learn more about PRIDE and K-1 by clicking their official links.