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Sushi Typhoon – Part 1: The Art of Export

April 16, 2011

“…our films don’t have love affairs or crying scenes. Instead, we’ve got nothing but assholes & violence!” – Yoshinori Chiba

Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s Europe was the promised continent of cheap horror films and sci-fi rip-offs. The Italians, who dominated the genre, came up with the strangest way of financing films. They sold distribution rights to the Japanese before filming had even started. Japan was hungry for cannibal horror and zombie hyper-violence, and the Italians would deliver.

This was the time long before Japan’s press and general public became to despise ultra-violent films that, according to some silly tabloids, could be behind Japan’s (non-existent) crime statistics. Relatively speaking much of the Japanese entertainment remained semi-bloody, but the real extremes became a no-no. The 1990’s nearly killed cinematic ultra-violence in Japan

Yet, against all odds, Japan soon found itself emerging as the new Italy. Films like Fudoh (1996) and Versus (2000) were major hits – not necessarily in Japan, but in the United States and Europe.

The next batch of such films – Death Trance (2005), The Machine Girl (2008), and Tokyo Gore Police (2008) – were not really Japanese films to begin with. It was the US Company Media Blasters who financed those films, with Japanese collaborators. Ever wondered why these films hit the DVD in the States before Japan? Now you know.

Take a brief look at the Japanese side and you’ll notice someone behind the ocean had caught the drift… right from the beginning. Producer Yoshinori Chiba. From the five films listed before, his name appears in the credits of four. It was no surprise that when Nikkatsu, Japan’s legendary action film studio gone pink factory and then forgotten by the world, established their new cult film sub-label – Sushi Typhoon – Yoshinori Chiba was appointed as the head of it.

“Saw a sequence from the upcoming YAKUZA WEAPON that’s the closest a movie has ever come to making my eyeballs pop out in disbelief.”– Patrick Macias

Sushi Typhoon was first brought up in news towards the end of 2009. 18 months later, Chiba-san had completed 6 movies – a lineup that really speaks for itself: Alien vs. Ninja (2010), Mutant Girls Squad (2010), Cold Fish (2010), Helldriver (2010), Karate Robo-Zaborgar (2011), and Yakuza Weapon (2011). The seventh, Deadball (2011), is currently in production. Takashi Miike’s upcoming entry hasn’t been announced yet.

The titles are outrageous, the poster arts even more so. Nikkatsu is almost bringing back the VHS days, with cover arts to die for. The thanks go to Yoshiki Takahashi, a brilliant graphic designer (among other things) responsible for much of Sushi Typhoon’s printed look. His earlier merits include such eye catchers as The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police artworks.

Catchy posters and wild titles are part of the game. Ink and imagination are cheaper that (digital) film – an old exploitation film wisdom. And Yoshinori Chiba isn’t exactly the new Stanley Kubrick. The most kick ass Chiba since Sonny he may be, he’s not making Oscar winners for the grand audience. He’s making is films about sekuhara-aliens and mutant girls splitting each other’s heads with chainsaws.

“Even as bargain basement intentional trash, MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD is totally unwatchable garbage. My entire row walked out.” – JacobSHall

Sushi Typhoon productions are not for all audiences, especially in Japan, where the market for new wave cult films is very small. I nearly missed big screen Mutant Girls because I was living in Hokkaido, Japan, at the time. Despite it being distributed by a major company, Toei, Mutants never landed the damn island and its near 6 million non-potential viewers.

I did catch the film on a festival later the same year. In Finland of all countries! With an enthusiastic audience. Alien vs. Ninja, too! Cold Fish played a bit later. In Japan, Alien vs. Ninja hasn’t even seen the theatrical light yet. The film has been out for a year. But that was to be expected. Sushi Typhoon films are decidedly export entertainment, and Chiba-san knows this. That’s not saying the foreign audience is terribly big, either, though.

The lack of market for good movies is not Japanese specialty. Tarantino and Rodriguez couldn’t make their Grindhouse a money maker. What chances could a crazy-ass Japanese producer who lacks home market have? Well, some, actually. With the money Tarantino and Rodriguez made one film, Chiba-san could make 249. With $200 000 left over to blow on sake and hookers!

– “What the hell’s wrong with you guys?” – NYAFF MGS Q&A
– “I am actually a professional filmmaker” – Noboru Iguchi

Still, it’s true Sushi Typhoon productions aren’t as technically competent as those of Tarantino and Rodriguez. The mainstream viewers who never saw a low budget film in their life will be jumping out of windows. They out to stick to Tarantino and Rodriquez – the bigger budgeted, less fun pseudo exploitation movies.

That is not to say every Sushi Typhoon film is standardized in terms of budget. Certain topics are more commercial than others, and you’d be taking a good guess saying the tokusatsu update Karate-Robo Zaborgar was far heftier financed than Nishimura’s world record bloodbath Helldriver. The latter was shot for $200 000, with a filming schedule of two weeks. Karate-Robo Zaborgar enjoyed more than 10 times that budget, and has notable mainstream success potential in Japan, where tokusatsu superhero films have always been popular. The film was even made somewhat family friendly by Japanese standards. That being said, Helldriver is by far the more typical Sushi Typhoon production in terms of content, budget, and production schedule.

“I won’t even have time to pee! Tomorrow’s the same!”– Noboru Iguchi at the Mutant Girls Squad sets.

What Sushi Typhoon excels with, aside balls, some of which were on display at this year’s Yubari Fantastic Film Festival, is a collection of incredibly hard working power plants going by names such as Yoshihiro Nishimura, Noboru Iguchi, and Tak Sakaguchi. And the girl who ran from her manager to see Tetsuo 3 in cinema. More about all of them in the next post.

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2 comments

  1. Woah … awesome post!
    Very interesting read, indeed. Looking forward to the second part!


  2. Thanks. Feedback always motivates to write more.



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