Guns, Guts, and the Gory Glory of GUN WOMAN
by M. G. Keller
You could be forgiven for thinking that Kurando Mitsutake is holding a grudge against someone. The guy seems pretty obsessed with the topic of revenge. It has been the theme of each of his three full length films, culminating with GUN WOMAN (2014) which just made its premier at this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend. The movie, which was shot in America but intended for the Japanese market, stars former Japanese pornographic actress Asami as an instrument of another man’s revenge, rather than, as might otherwise be assumed, someone who is seeking retribution for her own sake. She is a weapon sculpted and trained for a specific purpose by a character known as “mastermind”, and, without giving too much away, there’s a reason the film’s title pegs her as the ‘gun woman’… it involves a lot more than just being able to shoot a gun.
So just what is Mitsutake’s hang up with violent reprisal? “Well, I think because it’s a kind of universal concept.” he says, as he enjoys the positive feedback patrons bestow upon him from the GUN WOMAN showing the night previous, “A universal idea or desire that any person could understand. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak, revenge is a concept that anyone can share. Whether you can agree with it or not, you can understand, so I think that’s why I like the revenge theme. I think the whole idea of revenge is hypocritical, self-righteous let’s say.”
Revenge, or at least violence, played a large role in the films that inspired Mitsutake’s youth and made him want to get into filmmaking. Growing up as a Japanese teenager in the 1980’s, it was mostly American action cinema that wet his appetite. “Some of the movies that I watched over and over were BLUE THUNDER, Stalone’s COBRA, ROBOCOP – original of course. Stuff like that. I watched those movies ’til my VHS copy gave out. My biggest filmmaking influence I guess is Sam Peckinpah.” It was this desire that drove him to come to the United States at the age of seventeen, attending public high school in Fresno through an exchange program. After high school came film school, and then came his first full length feature – MONSTERS DON’T GET TO CRY.
“I shot it when I was 29. Basically after film school, I said to myself that If I couldn’t do a feature film before I was 30, I’m gonna quit. I’m gonna, I don’t know, start making sushi or something. Fortunately, I was able to raise $100,000. I was lucky, because the economy was not as bad back then, so we got some rich Houstonian dentist to chip in on it, and I was able to raise the money. Anyway, I still like the movie, but it was my first time directing a feature. I really didn’t know how to deal with feature length running time. It’s a completely different game from making a short film. So I call it an ‘honorable failure’ kind of movie, but I learned a lot from it, more so than from film school. I guess my advice to the young filmmaker is ‘don’t go to film school, it’s a waste of your money. Just make a movie. Make a feature. Don’t bother with short films. Make a feature, then that will teach you more than any film schools you can can attend.'”
But being behind the camera hasn’t been Mitsutake’s only contribution to the film world. He’s had a somewhat successful career as an actor in his own right, culminating with a staring role in his second feature SAMURAI AVENGER: THE BLIND WOLF. “I had a fortunate beginning as kind of an accidental actor. My actor friend who saw the short movie version of SAMURAI AVENGER, which we shot as a tool to raise money for the feature, and I was in it. I didn’t play the main character, but I played a trainer character. My agent saw it, really liked it, and before I knew it I was signed with my agent as an actor, and before I knew it I was on HEROES, I was on UGLY BETTY. I had this lucky streak of beginner’s luck, of landing on the major parts. And so I thought if I star in SAMURAI AVENGER, that might give an edge to it, like a semi-name was attached to it. So it was such a tight budget, such a tight production, it was one less actor for me to deal with and say ‘Oh, what’s my motivation?’ You know, ‘shut the fuck up, it’s me, I know my motivation’.”
As a semi-comedy, SAMURAI AVENGER still dealt with violence and vengeance, but in a much lighter vein than in GUN WOMAN. Mitsutake plays ‘Blind Wolf’, a Zatoichi inspired blind swordsman (blinded by the man who killed his family) who teams up with ‘The Drifter’ to right the wrongs done to him. The movie also contains zombies, topless female hypnotists, and faux restorations of supposedly deleted scenes. “I want to be a filmmaker who can do a lot of different genres. But I have this love for film noir. French film noir. Jean Pierre Melville, LE SAMOURAI and those movies. So this time (on GUN WOMAN) I kind of wanted to do a dark film noir with a lot of gore, so that was my idea. Also, you know the film I love is BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, so I kind of went for that dusty white sand kind of look.”
GUN WOMAN is a more brutal film in every way, right down to making it a lot harder to cheer for our protagonist this time, as the ‘Mastermind’ is only slightly less vile than the psychopath that he’s trying to kill. “I kind of wanted to make the Mastermind character, not necessarily evil, but I didn’t want to make him out to be a good guy. He’s on a mission to execute his revenge, so basically he kills off all the evidence and the associates who might know about his plan.”
And as his bloody instrument of death, Asami spends over half the film nude (albeit covered in blood) and the entire film virtually mute. “She only has one line in the movie.” Mitsutake says “I thought my mission with Asami for this picture was to show her, uh – a side of her as a performer that hasn’t been really explored. It was a conscious decision, most definitely. She’s somewhat famous for kind of a goofy, interesting, funny character on Iguchi movies and Nishimura movies. I thought my mission as a director is to show Asami’s side that hasn’t been explored. So I took away the dialogue from her, and I wanted her to really just kind of play this dark, serious character for the first time ever on the movie.” This aspect of the character was one of the things Asami herself found most attracted to about the role “I was actually thankful for the role that was interestingly challenging with no dialogue.” she says “I had to do all the expression through the gaze or the facial expression or a pantomime. I really enjoyed the challenge.”
But despite the nudity and violence, Mitsutake doesn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about GUN WOMAN. “I like to think GUN WOMAN is not an exploitation movie. I would like the viewers to think GUN WOMAN is a movie that celebrates female power and female existence and female body form.” He goes on to elaborate on his philosophy concerning both sex and violence as presented in theatrical form : “I personally think nudity should be celebrated. It’s the natural human form. Any shape, size, whatever should be celebrated. So I like uninhibited nudity in movies. I’m against censorship. I think film and fictional movies are a kind of outlet for different human desires, including the dark ones. Let us kill people in the movies as a fantasy so you don’t have to go out and do it for real. It’s like the fact that sex crime rates are low for the countries that allow pornography, and sex crimes are actually higher in the countries that don’t allow porn. So it’s kind of like people’s frustration, and we can take care of it with our movies so you don’t do it for real. I think one of our jobs is to provide that outlet for people’s dark desires so that they don’t go out and do it themselves.”
On the subject of censorship, Mitsutake says he hasn’t really run into any problems doing what wants to on motion pictures, but has run into a lot of studio control on a television series that he has in the works. “Right now I’m in development with A Japanese TV company, a major network in Japan for a kind of TV series. What they want to do is a thirteen episode TV series with a feature flick movie as a conclusion. When you start talking to Japanese TV networks, you have a lot of limitations. You’ve got to have this kind of character as the main character, this type of actor should play in it, yadda yadda yadda. So as I start to deal with bigger companies with more money, I’m going to encounter more limitations.”
Asami is no stranger to either sex or violence, with her past in the adult film industry and now her ‘mainstream’ career in hyper-violent fare such as Noboru Iguchi’s MACHINE GIRL, a film in which she played the ass-kicking mother of a teenaged son, at 23 years old (” Iguchi told me ‘you had him when you were 14, ha ha ha!'”). “(Sex and violence) are important subjects,” she says “but most of the time those are dealt with badly on b-budget productions, in a kind of exploitive way. As a performer, I can’t really pick and choose. I’m not at a point in my career where I can choose and pick the project, so I do both good ones and bad ones. But fortunately GUN WOMAN I thought was dealt in a better way.”
Asami is a fighter herself. She uses no stunt doubles, which has got her into some harrowing situations in the past. She recounts one of her most dangerous situations “I forgot what it was. It was definitely one of the lower budget Japanese films that I did. I landed on the breakable table and it was supposed to shatter in bigger chunks, but it actually shattered in small, really sharp chunks and I almost got stabbed multiple times, and that was the scariest thing.” She also enjoys fight training so much that she can’t recall how much she’s actually had .”I really enjoyed both physical action rehearsals and gun training for the movie. I tremendously enjoyed them, so I kind of forgot how much training I actually did.”
But her biggest fight might be in getting audience’s to take her seriously coming out of the porn industry. It’s a similar struggle people such as Traci Lords have had to face, and Asami believes that it is just as difficult in Japan as it is in America. “Yes, it’s very hard. I think it’s probably equally as difficult in Japan as it is in America. There was one Japanese porn actress, Ai Iijima, who actually broke into being a major TV personality. But she actually passed away early. Supposedly she got sick and died. She was 36, super-young, but it’s still a mysterious death. It might be a suicide. So it’s still tough. Supposedly she was stigmatized with her career and stuff like that.”
Be that as it may, Asami is pleased with how she’s done for herself “Fortunately with my career, I have done many of my dream roles already, but one type of role I would love to play in the future is a homeless person who’s actually an informer, or a kind of key person in the mystery, or a ‘kick some butt’ fighter or something. So I’m not prettied up, I’m a more dirty, grungy kind of homeless character with some kind of special ability.” She’d also like to transition into the US market, and says that she she has two main sources of inspiration: “One is the classic Japanese genre actress Reiko Ike. She inspires me. I don’t want to be a replica of what she’s done. But she’s a female presence in Japanese ’70’s genre movies who was willing to do parts with nudity, sexploitation kind of movies, action movies. She was kind of a genre-hopper presence in Japanese cinema. I get great inspiration from that. And also cats in general. They are moody creatures, they only come to you when they feel like it. Sometimes they ask for their space. I want to have a presence like cats.”
For both Mitsutake and Asami, GUN WOMAN 2 is a title that they’d like to be reunited on (and which is teased at the end of the film). Aside from that, Mitsutake has some other things in store. “that TV series, in conjunction with the feature length film. That idea is kind of like a domestic spy thriller. Kind of like in the tradition of 24. But it’s set in Japan and in Asia. You know, an espionage, clock ticking type of deal. That’s one thing that I’m dealing with. The other one is kind of… I’m not going to jump on the found footage bandwagon, but after film school, when I was the struggling filmmaker, well, I’m still a struggling filmmaker, but when I was starting off, I was line producer for a lot of Japanese TV documentaries. I know the real behind-the-scenes nasty details of ‘documentary’ film, it’s really not documentary. So I have this one project that makes fun of that. It’s this Japanese TV crew that follows around an American father whose daughter was brutally murdered and killed, so the documentary piece was going to be about the grieving father, but it actually turns out that he’s planning a revenge. And the film crew fights with their morality, but they decide to follow the act of revenge with this father. So again my revenge theme continues. I guess it could be a 21st century version of MAN BITES DOG.”
Needless to say that there will be harsher things than biting in both Mitsutake and Asami’s future, but they will all be justified in the spirit of vengeance.