Just wanted to plug this new book called “Domesday” by a Japanese author named Kei Urahama. It was actually written in the apocalyptic-ly auspicious year of 2000 but is released as an English version during another Mayan-ly auspicious year of 2012. It is just as relevant this year as it was over a decade ago.
I was fortunate to meet the author, Kei Urahama, while assisting on the translation of a script he was working on with Shion Sono several years ago. Although that film project was looking very promising at first, receiving awards at the Pusan project market, it hasn’t moved forward since then. Luckily this novel, Domesday, has progressed to the international stage. I was honored to be able to be involved even in a small way in preparing this book to be published outside Japan. It won a very illustrious Japanese award called the Komatsu Sakyo award that is the Japanese equivalent of the Nebula or Hugo awards.
I never gave much thought to Japanese science fiction – most of us have been avid J-horror fans or anime fans over the years, and although there are often elements of sci-fi in Japanese anime and manga, for the most part we don’t pay much attention to their sci-fi novels. As you might imagine though, there is a long, rich tradition of sci-fi literature in Japan. Domesday is definitely a book worthy of note since it stands out even among its peers in J-Sci-Fi.
Why does it stand out? First and foremost, it incorporates many elements that both Eastern and Western sci-fi often avoid. There is a major character who is a religionist and hence directly refers to and quotes from the Bible. Those who’ve had the good fortune to read the book are commenting that it has a lot of relevance to current events and trends in America. We are often astounded at how authors of ‘speculative fiction’ can predict the future. Well I’d say Kei Urahama was prescient of future events and trends by about a decade. I’m definitely not one to talk about the plot and ruin it for you though. Check this book out and see what I mean.
Although… should I say it? Yes, there are ZOMBIES – but these zombies don’t follow any of the cliches that I’ve ever come across. This horror element to the novel will definitely keep you on your toes as even the characters compare and contrast the zombies from their own personal hell to those from the classic films and video games. Self-reflexive zombies? What next?
Not something you think about every day (unless you’re a psychopath or a serious fan of zombie movies) is what kind of creative new tool would a killer use to snuff someone out in the most spectacular way.
Can you believe there’re people sitting around all day thinking up such things? They’re called horror film scriptwriters.
Basically the financial success of “Saw” generated an unavoidable domino effect where everybody and their rich uncle tried to make knock-offs with titles named after every tool and implement imaginable. It got ridiculous enough to have the character Christopher on The Sopranos produce a movie with funding from his rich uncles entitled “Cleaver”.
As an aside, does anyone have a list of all the film titles spawned by the “Saw” phenomenon? Here in Japan the B-film distributors change the names of films to whatever they think will cater to Japanese tastes so I have no clue the plethora of titles that must exist outside the archipelago. I’m curious to hear from someone on the other side of the world who has a savant’s mind for useless trivia. Help me out here and leave a comment if anything comes to mind…
My own little zombie film being based in Japan, there came a time I needed to do research on what makeshift weapons your average countryside Japanese might find on hand to defend themselves during the apocalypse. So I made a little field trip to the local hardware store and here are some of the beauties I found.
Japan’s local hardware store is a western martial artist’s wet dream, right? I bet those guys who hang out on street corners swinging around nunchuks would probably pay a pretty penny for the gardening implements above. Maybe I should start a side business to support my expensive film-making habit.
Of course everyone knows that martial arts the world over come from oppressed farmers whose overlords prohibit them carrying around conventional weapons. Something tells me I don’t want to be oppressing farmers carrying any of the above tools.
But maybe I shouldn’t be writing about this at all. On the one hand there are those who question the need for these horrible slasher films sucking up all of Hollywood’s lower tiers of talent. What does it say about our world that especially single men linger in the “Horror” aisle of their video stores obsessing over which movie will truly shock and thrill them out of their humdrum socks.
On the other hand there are those who say these films are a kind of cathartic exorcism that allow us to get our darkest fears out in the open and hence overcome them. I don’t imagine people from either side of the argument really enjoy horror films to start with though.
Me – I don’t have a clue. I just love watching a good scary movie with a good story.
Nothing is more important in zombie movies than the hideout location.
In our pre-production location search and before we found the perfect hide-out for my film, I was at my wit’s end as none of the tunnels seemed to be working out. If you think hard about it, there are not actually many good places to hide during a zombie apocalypse. You could probably fill up volumes on the subject and I would venture a guess that a few zombiephiles have already done so. The film commission manager finally found a place that did look promising so we headed out once again to check it out.
We had to park the car at a gate as the road beyond thinned out – the first bad sign that no matter how cool the tunnel might look we probably wouldn’t be able to schlep the gear that far anyway. We made our way down a thin country trail for about five minutes to finally reach a large culvert. It was about two meters wide and two and a half high and creepy as hell. It was designed to capture and channel the torrential rains that ran off the mountains beyond. It was quite long and although you could see light at the other end it dropped off to impenetrable darkness about ten meters in leaving most of its span an unknown. A whole circus of troglodytes could have been cavorting in there and we wouldn’t have a clue.
At this stage in the game there were more staff there – about five or so in all including the assistant directors, and I felt I had to be “the director” and plunge right into that darkness before anyone else just to show how brave a leader I was. I got nervous as I realized I didn’t have a flashlight of any sort. The first assistant director was clever enough to have his own little mini-maglite but it didn’t penetrate far enough ahead to cover my ground. I knew several of the group were following behind him as well, but gradually their voices and footfalls grew silent and I was pretty much moving in an odd silent darkness with just a small disk of light ahead to keep me from skewing into the way. I guessed everyone except myself and the first AD had opted to remain behind.
The floor kept getting more and more wet until my shoes were splashing deeper than I’d imagined they should. At this point I began to wonder what possible location would be so good that I had to get to the other side of the tunnel in the first place. No way we were shooting this far out anyway. It was already about an hour’s drive from where the crew would be staying – much too far to relocate and shoot unless we planned to lose an entire day on the hide-out scene.
Finally the light started to brighten up and I made it to the other end. There I found… nothing. It just ran into an immediate stand of trees that hardly allowed room for a tripod. I turned and looked back down the tunnel but saw the view was just about the same as the front end – nothing spectacular. I checked my shoes and legs for mountain leeches then plunged back into the darkness to get back to the rest of the group. Only the first assistant director had come all the way out of loyalty I suppose, the rest being too wise to trudge all the way down the tunnel knowing they’d just have to go back anyway.
I slogged back to the other side. Yes it was pretty creepy but not in a way that you could transfer to film. That happens. The creepiest of places have a symmetry that can’t be captured on film. It takes a good DP or director to really instill fear into an image, one who understands how shadows and darkness should crowd into a frame leaving much to the audience’s imagination and some negative space for the soundtrack to resonate with.
Everyone together again at the front end, we began to head back for the cars when we noticed something odd in the hillside next to the tunnel about ten meters further up the road. There were three holes dug into the slope. They were almost perfectly round and two of them were about a meter and a half in diameter with the third being a little smaller. Hmm… what could that be? The first AD went up to the first hole and shone his flashlight inside.
I was a bit too far back to see whatever it was that he saw, but it made him lurch back like it was full of snakes. He said something to the rest of the group in Japanese that I couldn’t make out but it seemed like everyone was walking just a tad faster toward the cars.
Curiosity getting the best of me I slowed the AD down and asked him what he saw in there. “There were people living in there,” he said. To this day I’m not sure if he actually saw people or their clothes and bedding but probably he isn’t sure himself either. But who was going to go back and take a second look to make sure. That would be what some idiot in a horror film would do, right?
Sounds very much like a “The Hills Have Eyes” rip-off but this really happened. It’s ever-so-slightly troubling to think of that place even now. It was at least forty-five-minutes-drive from anything you’d call civilization. Who would opt to live out there? What did they eat? How many of them were there?
Questions that we weren’t ever going to find the answers to. Thankfully we didn’t end up shooting the film anywhere near there. Let’s make horror films, not live them, right?
If you’d like to learn more about trogs, watch here.
Schoolgirl Apocalypse was listed as “highly recommended” by the Hamburg
Japan FilmFest and played to a full house at the main-stage Metropolis
Cinema. One of the few zombie movies shown but widely liked.