Taking The Blows: An Interview With Koizumi Norihiro

All of 27, Koizumi Norihiro began making films while in high school. On graduation from college in 2003, he joined the Robot production company in Tokyo and in 2006 directed his first theatrical feature, Song Of The Sun (Taiyo No Uta ). That was about a girl with a rare skin disease that makes exposure to the sun fatal. Starring singer-songwriter Yui, the film earned more than ¥1 billion at the box office. Gachi Boy Wrestling With A Memory, his follow-up film, is about college kids’ obsession with pro-wrestling. It was released on March 1.

Both Song Of The Sun and Gachi Boy feature heroes with a rare disabling illness. That wasn’t an accident was it?

No, it wasn’t an accident - I’m really attracted to people who struggle with difficult situations. It doesn’t have to be a disease, though. Next time I might make a film about people who fight political authority.

Watching Gachi Boy I had no idea that it was based on a play. Was that one of your goals?

I didn’t intend to cut off the film from its theatrical origin. Instead, I tried to make the best of the good qualities of the original, to expand on the world created in the theater. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to tell the film was based on a play.

You use no CG, no stunt men, no wires. Was that a choice you made from the beginning?

That’s right, because one of the themes of the movie was that even if you forget in your brain, you can remember with your body. To stay true to that theme I thought we shouldn’t use anything that would falsify what’s on-screen. No CG, no wires, no stand-ins, no lies.

There’s a lot of realism in the wrestling scenes. I thought I might see an outtake reel at the end showing all the injuries, like a Jackie Chan movie …

I didn’t think about that, because I wanted the world of the film to be contained within the two-hour running time. Maybe it’s my ego as a director, but I didn’t want the audience to feel the presence of the production team. I wanted them to think the characters could live actual lives in the real world.

In Jackie Chan’s movies, a lot of the impact comes from knowing he’s really risking his life. Not that your actors were risking their lives, but they were pushing themselves to the limit.

Yeah, they didn’t use any stand-ins. It might be OK if I include some scenes (of them getting hurt) as a DVD extra. (laughs)

Sato Ryuta did a good job as the hero, moving easily from comedy to tragedy.

For me, comedy and tragedy are a hair’s breadth apart. So to move from comedy to tragedy all you need to do is remove that hair. But it was tough for Sato. (laughs)

Did you have Sato in mind to play the hero from the start?

Yes. I thought he was the only one who could handle that role. In real life he’s a very sensitive person. He often plays happy, sunny characters, but he himself has a more thoughtful side, so he was just right for the role.

The actors trained hard at wrestling, I hear.

For two months before the start of shooting the actors were trained by the Michinoku pro wrestling group. They did everything from stretching to learning how to take blows.

Did you train with them?

I was going to, but I heard about this guy who was making a pro-wrestling movie. He was goofing around, trying to mimic the rope work, and ended up breaking his collar bone. So I thought, No, I won’t do this!

Mark Schilling