Addison Heath is a multi-award winning writer, director and editor from Melbourne, Australia. After returning to Australia from a trip to Japan, he developed his early interest in filmmaking by creating the early shorts Brethren and Drive-By which got him noticed in the underground Australian film community. Moving on by directing full-length efforts Under a Kaleidoscope, Mondo Yakuza and The Perfect Nonsense, he honed by his skillset and his reputation for relentless and confrontational genre-bending efforts which pegged him as one of the most intriguing artists to watch in the scene alongside his jointly-owned production company, Black Forest Films.
Jasmine Jakupi is a multi-award winning production designer and producer born & raised in Melbourne, Australia. Whilst studying her Bachelor of Design (Interior Design) at RMIT, Jasmine started to focus on the medium of film. She is since known for her multi-faceted work on feature films Under A Kaleidoscope, Mondo Yakuza & The Perfect Nonsense. Jasmine has spent the past few years honing her craft with her joint production company Black Forest Films. In January 2017, Jasmine will embark on her directorial debut ‘The Viper’s Hex,’ a Japanese language horror feature film.
On the occasion of their recent release “The Viper’s Hex” screening at Japan Film Fest Hamburg, we speak with them about their early influences, their unique approach to filmmaking and the shooting of the film.
Asian Movie Pulse: Welcome, and thank you both for agreeing to this. We’ll start with the beginning in what influenced you to start a career in filmmaking?
Addison: When I was 10 years old my Dad gave me his camcorder. I had an interest in films from a very young age, around 5 but it was really getting this camera that pushed everything forward. Dylan Heath (Producer) and I started making shorts and the love of film has just grown from there.
Jasmine: My parents owned an electronics store and my dad was a cameraman for hire, so from a very young age I was exposed to cameras and gaining an understanding of the technical side. I also made short films with friends and family as a child.
AMP: What were your favorite films growing up that pushed you into the film business?
Addison: I love answering this question as it’s very clear for me what films had an impact and subsequently pushed me into making films. The first memory I have of falling in love with cinema was Terminator 2. I was 4 years old and saw it at a cinema and it completely blew my mind. I was the perfect age for it and made my parents and family take me to see it multiple times. My 5th birthday cake was a T2 cake. It’s still one of my all-time favourite films. When Dylan and I started making films we saw Lloyd Kaufman’s The Toxic Avenger and that was hugely influential. It’s a wild, violent comic book of a movie that is really timeless.
Jasmine: I’ve always been a film fan but it really wasn’t until my teens where I started discovering Asian cinema (& falling in love with it). A few films that come to mind are Oldboy, Ichi the Killer and Battle Royale. After watching those films for the first time, I knew I had found my calling.
AMP: Your style so far has showcased a remorseless, oppressive atmosphere as it’s main driving feature on the technical side. Did that evolve from any influences you were exposed to as a young filmmaker?
Addison: Definitely. The extreme Asian works of Park Chan Wook, Takashi Miike, Sion Sono were all really influential on us. I think the two films that tonally are inspiration are Trainspotting and the Australian masterpiece Chopper. Both films that marry extreme subject matter with pathos and black humour. American Psycho is another film we both saw early and has served as an inspiration.
AMP: The majority of the films in your catalog are known for a wild array of influences, including drama, action, cyberpunk, and horror. Do you find working with these elements liberating for your creativity?
Jasmine: Yeah absolutely, we never wanted to be pigeon-holed. We watch an array of different films from around the world and really are interested in all types of cinema. We always try to mash genres and see what works but at the end of the day it’s always about the characters first and foremost and I think we’re just interested in the darker side of life.
AMP: What is the typical process to approaching your newest project?
Addison: It always starts first with the type of character we want to write. In Mondo Yakuza, we wanted an almost silent killer, taking beats from Seijun Suzuki’s work. In The Perfect Nonsense, we wanted to make a film about a female gangsta rapper. So Jasmine and I start planning interesting situations to put those characters in.
Jasmine: The Viper’s Hex was a somewhat different approach. The first idea really was to come up with a Japanese female revenge story. So we started reading into old Yokai tales and found the story of Kiyohime and Anchin. It’s a beautiful story about a scorned woman and that kind of pushed forward what we wanted to do. We like to think of The Viper’s Hex as a modern remix of that Yokai tale.
AMP: When looking back at your early shorts and first features, what is the biggest difference in your style from then to now?
Jasmine: I’m not sure that there are too many differences. Our newer films certainly look and sound better than our earlier works. We were fortunate enough to work with Roar Digital, a local post-production house on The Viper’s Hex. So there’s definitely a jump up in quality on those fronts. I also think we’re probably more focused on the storytelling elements now. The earlier films had a somewhat improvised nature, particularly on Mondo and Nonsense whereas Viper was 100% on script. It allows us to focus on the visuals as we were lucky to have an amazing cast.
AMP: What is the most rewarding aspect of making these films? Do you find any particular aspect of creating more rewarding or more enjoyable?
Addison: Definitely the editing and post-production is the most rewarding element for me. Seeing scenes come together and work is extremely satisfying but there’s also the problem solving when a scene isn’t coming together and figuring out ways to make the scenes work. It can be a nightmare but it’s definitely a very creative time in our studio. It’s fun.
Jasmine: I agree, post-production is the most rewarding. However, personally speaking, the most rewarding part of making Viper was watching the daily’s in our tiny cramped Tokyo apartment with the crew. We all felt like what we were doing was something special and for us, it is.
AMP: As for your most recent film, ‘The Vipers’ Hex,’ where did the initial concept for that come from?
Jasmine: It was a few things. We love Saya Minami and wanted to work with her and get her involved in a lead role. Addison is obsessed with stories of vengeance, so that definitely comes from him. Addison, Dylan and I had been visiting Japan yearly since 2010 and had made friends with some amazing people who were cool enough to want to help us make a film over there. When we found that Yokai story, that definitely helped get the beats together for what would be the plot.
Addison: This is also the first time we have used supernatural elements however we wanted the film to be a social horror film. Society is the threat, the spirit is there for guidance. Typically a spirit will be the horror and will be there for jump scares but that has been done to great effect in other films. We were more concerned with showing an oppressive world that our lead inhabits.
AMP: Where there any specific life-stories or experiences that fueled the storyline of the film?
Addison: Not really. This was really written as a revenge fantasy. My first film Under A Kaleidoscope is still my most personal film and there are some life-stories in the first film I wrote, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla. After those films, I decided to stay away from real-life stuff. It’s not as fun to watch for me.
AMP: Was the role of Kiyo written specifically for Saya Minami considering how successful she was in your previous film ‘Mondo Yakuza?’
Jasmine: Absolutely. The Viper’s Hex would not exist if it wasn’t for Saya. We had such an amazing time working with her on Mondo that we knew we had to do it again.
AMP: How did she take to the role on-set with all the bleakness and extreme situations her character went through?
Addison: It was understandably very tough for her to shoot. Other than the obvious fact that it was freezing cold and we had her in a maid outfit at night for a lot of the shoot. It’s the subject matter that really affected her and the entire crew. It was an incredibly emotional journey for everyone and especially Saya. However, she is a total professional and was with us on this ride from day one. Viper is the film we’re most proud of and heaps of that has to do with Saya. She’s the best.
AMP: In general, how was the camaraderie between the cast and crew during filming? Do you prefer working on a laidback-but-professional shoot or an efficient, quiet type of set?
Jasmine: The Viper’s Hex was made with next to no budget, with a skeleton crew. It was freezing conditions, incredibly long shooting days (upwards of 14 hours) and shot entirely over a month. The crew that helped us make this are genuinely my favourite people on Earth. They were paying for themselves to be there because they believed in the film that much. We owe a huge debt to all of them. We really couldn’t of asked for better people to join us.
AMP: Can you tell us about the location where the film was shot? How was the shooting like, any memorable stories, good or bad?
Addison: Tetsuya (played by Yoji Yamada) runs a bar in the film and that is actually our best friend Shin-chan’s bar (Half Moon Bar in Harajuku – go there!!). We have been going there for years and it was a total pleasure to shoot there. The crew have a lot of fond memories of that place. We shot a majority of the Tokyo scenes around Harajuku and it was great. It’s a very busy area so we kind of blended in mostly. No issues there. We were nearly shut down in a neighbouring suburb but we got through that. Nagano and Hakuba were very wild places to film. Snow looks beautiful on camera but is really a nightmare to try and shoot in. Especially on a microbudget. Everyone’s patience was tested there but we were very pleased with the results.
AMP: Did shooting the film in Japanese present any kind of unforeseen problems when filming started?
Jasmine: Not really. We were fortunate enough to have bilingual actors on set at all times so that made life a lot easier.
AMP: Now that you’ve worked with the Japanese style and setting for several films now, is there a comfort to working in that culture?
Jasmine: I think so, yeah. Our biggest influences are Japanese films so we knew we always wanted to work there. It’s really a dream come true and we hope to keep making films over there. We have a lot of amazing friends in the filmmaking scene in Tokyo, Katsumi Sasaki and Yuki Hatayama are both brilliant new voices in Japanese cinema. We got to meet them last year and now are happy to call them friends. We want to continue building a filmmaking bridge between Australia and Japan. That’s always been the plan.
AMP: The two of you are also working on an upcoming film, ‘The Shinjuku Five,’ what can you tell us about that film?
Addison: The Shinjuku Five is a multi-chaptered crime saga set in Tokyo and Sapporo. We have cast a fair few people from our previous work and are incredibly hyped to shoot it. We teamed up with local producer Lucinda Bruce from Lady Of The Light Productions to help us get this one over the line. The budget is going to be considerably bigger than our previous films so it requires that extra help.
Jasmine: We can’t wait to get back and make The Shinjuku Five. It’s an action film and will be lighter in tone than Viper but it definitely packs a punch. It will be a violent, fun ride.
AMP: Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers? Thank you both for your time and opportunity.
Addison: Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to chat about our work. We hope you enjoy The Viper’s Hex and stay tuned for The Shinjuku Five!
Jasmine: We can’t wait to screen The Viper’s Hex at the Japan Film Fest Hamburg. Playing with our bunch of heroes – Sion Sono, Sakichi Sato, Makoto Shinkai. We’re stoked!