INTERVIEW: "Adrenaline" Director Shinobu Yaguchi Lets Loose
One of the surprises at the recent 29th New Directors/New Films Festival was
the inclusion of writer/director Shinobu Yaguchi's "Adrenaline Drive." Here
was a simple movie with no pretensions to art house respectability or genre
deconstruction. In fact, if it had been cast with the stars of "Dawson's
Creek" and directed by one of those Hollywood Factory schlemiels, you'd now
be catching this effort at a mall. But somehow Yaguchi has given a bunch of
very silly antics an edge. You wind up caring about his heroic nebbishes and
their slapstick adventures more than you should. You also laugh out loud
more than you should.
"Adrenaline Drive's" paladin is a self-effacing car rental clerk. He
unjustly gets blamed for rear-ending his company van into a Mercedes driven
by an extremely distasteful Yakuza. Lickety-split the attractive young man
with the backbone of a banana finds himself at Yakuza headquarters where
he's given a thorny choice: Either pay a whopping sum of money to touch up
the gangster's auto or have his digits broken one by one. Luckily, a stove
blows at that point, allowing our hero to escape with a large bag of money,
meet up with a timid but beautiful nurse, and find himself being chased from
one side of Japan to the next by a carload of vicious dunderheads.
This is not the first chase-the-money epic for Yaguchi. In "My Secret Cache"
(1996), a young bank teller quits her job and becomes a geology student in
order to secretly reclaim a suitcase containing ten thousand yen notes
that's lost somewhere in Fuji National Park. The heroine in "Down the Drain"
(1993), however, quickly goes off the tracks when she's discovered illegally
using a friend's train pass. Yes, it too is a comedy.
"Adrenaline Drive" is the last film in the Shooting Gallery Film Series and
gets its two-week run starting this Friday. indieWIRE recently chatted with
Yaguchi at an intermittently loud East Village cafe. A translator was on
hand to decipher the following conversation.
indieWIRE: I've been reading about you, and one article calls you "Japan's
Shinobu Yaguchi: Me? I'm a very mild, sweet type of person.
iW: Now many of your films deal with people finding money. Money helps them
make their dreams come true. Will money make your dreams come true too?
Yaguchi: I don't actually believe that money makes your dreams come true,
and I don't really think that's what I portrayed in my films because I
certainly have never shown any of the people who found money actually
spending it. Actually, I just use money as an element that helps to
precipitate their understanding that they can actually change and break out
of the very small, narrow world that they've come to occupy.
"I'm much more interested in people doing everyday sorts of things and
finding humor in those little everyday moments."
iW: Now your other films have never been shown in America?
Yaguchi: In Canada, they had opened. In North America, my first film "Down
the Drain" was shown at New Directors/New Films. And others were shown in
Toronto twice but never have been officially released.
iW: It's said the two thinnest books in the world are the ones on edible
British cooking and German humor. But also, at least in America, the
Japanese are not known for their great sense of merriment. But your comedy
seems so broad. Your humor seems so American as opposed to Japanese. Do you
agree or is my reaction just that of an uninformed soul?
Yaguchi: (Laughs) Actually, I very much made the film for a Japanese
audience and to provoke and encourage Japanese laughter. So even though I'm
delighted that the Westerners and Americans enjoy it as much as they do, I'm
a little surprised actually that it's crossed over so well.
iW: Do you have some of favorite American directors or American movies?
Yaguchi: One of my favorite comedies, not so much the director, but
iW: That's a good film. But what about American comedies from the thirties
and forties? The Marx Brothers? The Three Stooges?
Yaguchi: Not often. I'm actually less interested in people doing foolish
things and finding humor. I'm much more interested in people doing everyday
sorts of things and finding humor in those little everyday moments.
iW: So lots of times when you wake up in the morning and realize your bank
account is empty, you can laugh about it.
Yaguchi: (Laughs) I wouldn't laugh about that. But I think portraying that
individual who can't laugh about his empty bank account is what I excel at.
Actually you don't have to have the guy running stark raving mad down the
streets over his empty bank account. It's actually much funnier to just have
him stare at the statement. Actually, a serious reaction shot to that bank
statement is much more interesting than an overacting and outrageous
iW: Now will we ever see a change of genre in your films? Would you ever
adapt a Mishima novel or remake "Woman in the Dunes"?
Yaguchi: It's not like I have any plans to do those kinds of projects but
it's certainly not something that I wouldn't consider. I'm perfectly happy
to adapt someone else's original material. You know, working with someone
else's material is always a possibility as long as the material's
"Please forget about those old fogies called Kurosawa, Itami and Ozu.
Really, we've got lots of good independent young directors coming out of
iW: A lot of the funniest comedians in the States are known to be depressed
when out of the limelight. Are you depressed when you're not making funny
Yaguchi: Not at all. I have no stress. People often say it must be very
difficult and stressful to make films, and you must do things to get rid of
that stress, but I actually don't get stressed out. For me, my greatest joy
is being able to make the kind of movies that I really believe are
interesting and entertaining so I don't get stressed out.
iW: What is the state of Japanese filmmaking today? Is it at a high?
Yaguchi: Not very good. There are very few people in the decision-making
capacity who are able to really judge interesting material. They are much
interested in the ancillary questions: Who's going to star in it? And is the
funding ready? Than, is the material really entertaining and worthwhile?
iW: Do you hope to gain a big American audience like Kurosawa or Truffaut?
Is that your dream to be embraced by us?
Yaguchi: It's irrelevant to me.
iW: But if you become well-known, people will throw money at you.
Yaguchi: Then I'll grab the money. But I just won't do any old work for
hire. I'm not going to make a movie that I don't find genuinely interesting.
iW: So is there anything else you want to tell to your American public?
Yaguchi: Please forget about those old fogies called Kurosawa, Itami and
Ozu. Really, we've got lots of good independent young directors coming out
of Japan who aren't the slightest bit interested in teaching you anything or
communicating anything about Japanese culture per se. We're just interested
in making good movies that are entertaining. So don't go to Japanese movies
trying to learn anything about Japanese culture.