Q&A with Yakuza Weapon star/co-director Tak Sakaguchi


[For the next two weeks, Alec will be covering select films from the New York Asian Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “NYAFF11.” Keep watching throughout the week as we bring you more reviews!]

After the screening of Yakuza Weapon at the Walter Reade Theater, three members of the film’s creative team took the stage: star and co-director Tak Sakaguchi, co-director and writer Yudai Yamaguchi, and actor Arata Yamanaka (who was also in the excellent Karate-Robo Zaborgar). Tak Sakaguchi, through a translator, answered some questions about the film (and other projects he has worked on). Just as with my transcription of the Q&A with B.T.S.: Better than Sex director Su Chao-pin, my recording had some issues, and so I was not able to hear some things. Rather than paraphrase or guess, I simply these out, so this should be very faithful to the original words. A few questions were simply obnoxious and have been left out. Sakaguchi says some really interesting things (including how he broke his neck during filming) and reveals a detail or two about his next, (unannounced!) project. For more, check below!

Q: I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about the original work, the background of the film. It came from a comic book?

A: The original comic is written by Ken Ishikawa…. There are three books of the manga out, and this covers the first book. Mr. Ishikawa actually died five years ago, and this is the first time one of his works has been adapted to film, and his surviving family has been very supportive of this adaptation. After the screening, the son came up to me and said that “this is really amazing,” and “I really wish my father could have seen this,” and he said it with tears in his eyes.

Q: Lots of people saw Versus [Sakaguchi’s first film – Ed.] just now. This cost a little bit more than what Versus cost, but it is still a low budget film. I was wondering if you could explain a little bit how you guys handled the action for this film. Was it in a different way than you did for Versus?

A: When I did Versus I was still very young, and I didn’t understand really the… action. It’s been seven years since I created Team Zero, which is my action stunt team, and I’ve also since then worked as an action fighter and director for a number of films… For this film we really wanted the fight choreography to not be so pretty or beautiful but more yakuza-like.

I created my own action team so I could really get into the kind of stuntwork I was interested in, but now I’ve lent my team of to my friends, like Sion Sono, the director of love exposure. I’ve lent the team out so much they haven’t really come back to me. One big difference is that when I work with my team, they get really excited and say “Hit me! hit me really hard” and when I work with Shimamura Yuji’s team [used for Yakuza Weapon – Ed.], they’re really unhappy about that.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the one-take, four and a half minute scene?

A: The 4.5 minute action sequence was done in just two takes. On the first try, we did it when we were very early… and I was going to go knee somebody, and the person I was supposed to knee got scared and backed off and avoided the knee, and so I fell straight on there, and it actually it came up to my neck, and I actually broke a bone in my neck, but I kept shooting, and, on the second try, we got it successfully.

Q: How long did you keep shooting with a broken neck?

A: Until the end of that day. I didn’t realize it was broken. I thought it really hurt a lot, and I went to the hospital and they said, “You know, it’s broken.” They said, if I “didn’t have all those muscles in your neck, you would have been dead!”

At this point, Sakaguchi was asked about an unrelated time when he fought a bear. He decided to reenact this with fellow actor Arata Yamanaka. I was able to film it(!), and that will be put up along with another video of the two of them in a few hours.

Q: You said you started as a fighter? What kind of training have you done?

A: Eight years of boxing, five years of kickboxing, four years of Mixed martial arts. I trained six years in using a katana sword, but very recently I’ve been training on the katana sword every day. The reason is that I have been punching and kicking people for a long time, and we’re moving into a time where I’m going to start cutting people. When I get back, I’m gonna be working on a film with my friend Sion Sono where we will have endless katana fighting and killing, so I hope to see you guys again with that movie in tow!