Real life events shaped the making of Schoolgirl Apocalypse and in some ways continue to affect its life-span and reception in the real world as well.
It wasn’t long after we finished filming and were in the process of production that the great earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan. During these events along with the looming threat of a nuclear apocalypse hovering at the edges of the capital city, we continued to struggle to meet our post-production deadlines in order to release the film on schedule for its premier at the Puchon Fantastic Film Festival several short months later. No need to go into how this impacted the efforts at finishing the film in this posting, but suffice it to say that we fell more than three weeks behind schedule due to all the communication issues that followed. On the other hand, especially in one particular scene that happens just at the opening credits, real life events that occurred during the tsunami affected elements of our soundtrack amongst other things.
We heard of the story of a lone Japanese woman, Miki Endo, who was in her mid-twenties who had saved many lives by continuing to make announcements for everyone to flee to higher ground as reports of the tsunami were relayed to her post. With immense bravery, she “womanned” her post until the deluge came and took her life. Many were saved, possibly up to 7000 people, because that young woman bravely stayed behind and continued to announce for everyone to get to higher ground, her voice echoing across area from the local loudspeakers until it was so abruptly cut off when the black wave hit. If you watch Schoolgirl Apocalypse and notice at about fifteen minutes in that there is a woman speaking on a loudspeaker, imploring others to stay inside and await further announcements – the decision to add this to the sound-track was made after hearing about the heroic announcements made by Miki Endo.
On a different topic, as the film was released to the Western world at the end of 2012, it just so happened that the two words that were most searched for on-line were “Apocalypse” and also the name of another truly brave, truly amazing Schoolgirl heroine named “Malala Yousafzai”. So the world’s concerns fell upon the threat of an eventual Apocalypse and also a certain brave schoolgirl. You can see more about this zeitgeist here. For this reason many people have happened across the film in a rather indirect manner. Odd how things cross over really.
If you watch the film you’ll find out that it is about a young woman surrounded by the threat of men who’ve been turned into bloodthirsty zombies intent on murdering any woman they see. When the director prepared the actress Higarino during the rehearsals for her role in the film, one of the ways he instructed her was to imagine herself having been in a plane that crashed in an area of the world where women are not tolerated to be visibly wandering outside on threat of a penalty of death. How would a young woman in such a real circumstance even walk or go about doing regular things such as searching for food and so on. Such a fear would be a constant psychological burden for her. We had no idea that a person such as Malala Yousafzai would arise some two years later, standing up to the aggression surrounding her with such a brave heart.
In the top panels you’ll find my original and rather goofy version of the antagonist, Aoi. When Aoi was finally interpreted by the incredibly talented and beautiful Mai Tsujimoto, it went leagues beyond what I had imagined. Hope you can see the film at least for her performance.
In the lower panels, once again you’ll find a scene that was cut from the film but remains in the novel. The Japanese phrase, which can be translated as “NEVER GIVE UP!”, is written lipstick on the front window of an abandoned car next to the corpse of a woman who has hung herself. Read the book to find out how this scene plays out. It was a sequence of the story that was unfortunately excised from the final film due to budget and location restraints. It really would have underscored the intense isolation and paranoia of the schoolgirl Sakura’s plight. Oh well…
Another lost sequence cut due to budget constraints was a scene where Sakura finds her dead grandmother just prior to losing all hope and maybe her mind as well. In that part, in exchange for a grandmother she gets a cat. Fortunately the scene and its cat didn’t make it into the film or book because they were just red herrings – unnecessary and cheap devices to pluck at heart-strings. Although we broke the “never film with children” rule, we didn’t break the “never film with animals” one for anything other than a very strange looking worm that the prop department came across. If you freeze the worm part and look very closely you’ll find that it is a worm that actually has legs. When the prop department showed me it the first time, it actually gripped my finger with those little slimy legs.
Yes, even more of these hapless sketches for your viewing pleasure. Someday when Joss Whedon finally realizes the amazing remake potential of Schoolgirl Apocalypse then these beauties might sell for a pretty penny. Until then they’ll have to continue to collect dust in a moldy file folder waiting for their inevitable Sotheby’s auction.
This phenomenon falls into the category of “uncanny but true”, but in a very odd manner, the storyboards actually did become reality. Many people remarked how similar the actress that got the part. Higarino, actually looked like Sakura, the character in the storyboards. To her credit, Higarino has an incredible range and I think if you see the film from start to finish it will be quite clear that she is one of those talents who can resemble many different types of people. She is one of those actresses who will probably avoid typecasting and end up in a number of different genres of films, from comedy to horror to drama – at least I hope so.
Another actress who looked nothing like the character in the boards when we chose her was Mihoko Watanabe. I noticed during a rehearsal that she took one look at the sketch of the blind character, Okamoto, (you can find her in the first storyboard posting) and then, miraculously, when we started shooting with her, she somehow brought that image perfectly to life. This process was of course enhanced by the excellent wardrobe and make-up handled by the professional supervisors but at base it was really her acting prowess.
Most surprising of all was the physicality shown by Mai Tsujimoto when playing Aoi. Mai is such a nice person it was nearly inconceivable that she could bring the evil Aoi to life. Now, everyone who meets her after seeing the film can’t believe it is the same sweet person they are witnessing in real life.
These were more MOOD BOARDS than STORYBOARDS since there was no storyboard artist.
Making the horror film in Japan was no easy thing, particularly with communication issues causing loads of confusion. Early on in pre-production it was decided that the director should make some images showing the “look and feel” of the film. Although it only marginally helped when shooting action sequences, it had some surprisingly good benefits overall. When working across several cultures and languages, pictures definitely work better than words, even if the pictures aren’t so professional. What you might call “Naive Storyboard Art” done by an untrained hand.
Color did actually turn out helping even though most storyboards don’t waste time with such things.