*Interview* Director Ryuhei Kitamura

To start kick things off, how did you get into the industry Ryuhei?

I started making movie with my friends.
I made this crazy zombie action horror Hi-8 Video movie called DOWN TO HELL and started knocking on doors of all producers, production company etc, and I met this cool actor Atsuro Watabe and he agreed to do the movie with me. HEAT AFTER DARK – small film noir was my first movie got theatrical release. I did my best but it wasn’t strong enough to break through. I knew I only got one more shot and had to do something really going to change my life. So I owe lot of people lot of money and spent next 1 year and made VERSUS, and yes it changed my life.

You wrote and directed Godzilla: Final Wars. How did you want this to stand out from the other entries?

It was right after the release of AZUMI Toho studio wanted to have meeting about the project.On the very first meeting with producer Mr.Shogo Tomiyama I was very honest and straight forward and told him that I was big fan of Showa Godzilla movies but not really Heisei Godzilla movies. I thought Godzilla franchise stayed way too long doing same old school visual style and story telling and needed change and new vision. Mr. Tomiyama agreed and wanted to do something different and new with this young crazy director.

Did you find it daunting writing for a franchise that is so BIG worldwide? As fans can be very judgemental.

I worked with 2 talented writers and Mr. Tomiya who knows everything about Godzilla franchise so I wasn’t afraid at all.

Were you a fan of Godzilla growing up?

Of course yes. My favorite was GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA 1974.

What do you make of the latest Godzilla movies?

I simply enjoy as a fan.

Was doing the fight scenes practically with stuntmen challenging?

Not at all. That’s what I’m good at.

You also directed Vinnie Jones and Bradley Cooper in Midnight Meat Train, how did you land that movie?

I was in LA to see great 80’s band ASIA. I decided to stay longer and called my manager.
She set up the meeting with producer Gary Lucchesi at Lakeshore Entertainment.
It was just a meeting to say hi and not about particular project, but he liked me and gave me the script.
My first response was “No, I don’t want to do it, and I don’t want you do it! Don’t mess with the great Clive Barker!”
Gary laughed and convinced me to at least take a look at the script. I read it and liked it and it begun.

When orchestrating the ‘Kills’ how did you go about making them as brutal and Cliver Barker like as possible?

As a hard core fan, I loved HELLRAISER, NIGHT BREED and CANDYMAN, but not other based on Clive Barker movies.
So I was determined to get close to what Clive wrote, and do something you don’t see often in other horror movies.

Vinnie was menacing, how did you get him to keep his Jason Voorhees like presence?

In the original script he had more dialogue but I took out everything except just one word he says at the end.
I kept telling him don’t say anything, don’t move too fast, don’t blink, don’t breathe.
Vinnie said to me one day “Boss, you won’t let me do anything!” But I told him “Trust me. Less is better. Let me and my DP do the job and you’ll look great in the end”

Rumor has it you were offered the director duties on Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, why did you pass?

I didn’t pass. I was just one of candidates.
It was a bit sensitive project for me because it was set in Japan and I’m a Japanese director.
I had meetings with producers and writer, shared my vision for the movie. I guess it wasn’t what they were looking for.That’s it.

I also heard you bumped into Samuel L Jackson at a party and he was a huge fan, that must have been quite surreal?

Samuel is the reason I moved to Hollywood.
I met him at the party at Comicon back in 2006.
He was a big fun of VERSUS, AZUMI and GODZILLA FINAL WARS.
We talked for hours and in the end he said “Hey you should come to Hollywood” and introduced me to his manager who became my first manager in Hollywood.
I would love to do movie with Samuel near future.

Your latest movie, The Doorman, I hear it took time to out this project together?

This was the longest, hardest project in my career.
Script came to me back in 2014. Took years to set up and we actually almost started shooting back in 2017 in Ottawa Canada, but something happened and we had to shut down 5 days before we start shooting. A year and half later I met Ruby Rose and we were instantly connected and agreed to do this, and the project was reborn. We shot in Bucharest Romania last year. It was really chaotic and tough, but filming is fun no matter what.

What initially drew you the script?

I thought the script was very smart DIE-HARD style “wrong place at the wrong time” story.
Yes I do Action and Horror movies a lot, but it’s not really action, blood and guts interest me.
To me it’s all about character and story.
Not interested in doing just action show without real character and story.
When I read the script I thought it was not only fun script but also very emotional.

It looks like a good old school throwback movie, how long was the shooting schedule?

Shooting was 32 days.
We were under tight schedule and budget and nothing really worked as we planned.
I think movie director is like a captain of Titanic. Everyday is full of trouble and challenges and the ship will go down – But I can’t let my ship sink no matter what.
Everyday was a struggle but I had great cast and crew helped me survive.

The hand to hand fight scenes look amazing, were you given much time to prep?

No.
But the good thing was I had amazing stunt coordinator – The great master Simon Rhee.
Simon is really like my brother and always took good care of me and my cast.
Without Simon I couldn’t make it, but he was always there for me and made mission impossible possible.

I assume coming out of John Wick and The Batwoman series Ruby Rose was more than capable of adapting and learning the choreography?

I have nothing but pure respect and love for Ruby.
She was injured during the Batwoman shoot and wasn’t in great shape when we were making this movie, but she was always a fighter. Never complain, never cry, always calm and cool.

After The Doorman, what is next for you?

It’s been tough on everybody, tough on film industry, but we need to rise up again.
I’m supposed to start filming my next movie soon.
Next year I have projects lined up in US and also in Japan, and Asia.

Movie making is challenging but I will keep fighting and doing my best to make better movies next time.

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