On the set of “Cut”

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The new film by Amir Naderi wrapped a few days ago. Here’s a report from a visit to the set a few weeks ago.

Another sweltering day in the hottest summer on record for Japan found me at the Hashimoto station. On the western edge of Tokyo’s sprawl, Hashimoto claims a few highrise buildings near the station, quickly turning into acres of warehouses fanning out toward the hills beyond the Sagamigawa. I met with Eric Nyari, one of the producers of Amir Naderi’s Cut, and an investor down by the Macdonald’s at the street level of the sprawling station. 10 in the morning and well into the 90s. We were off to visit the set, located in a nondescript warehouse deep lost in a sea of nondescript warehouses about a 15 minute ride from the station.

We pulled up to the warehouse, got out of the car and walked into a large dimly lit space. A boxing rink commanded the center of the room. To the left a barroom set, to the right a wall covered with pictures of fighters, score sheets underneath them. Behind that wall a set, the room of small gambling room, the ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts. The far exit of the room opened to a wall of dingy fight gear, gloves, weights, other mysterious athletic stuff and large and lumpy punching bag hanging from the high rafters midway between the wall and the rink.

Toward the back of the large  space, on the left, was another room. This was the set for a yakuza boss’s office. Dim, in shades of dark brown and green. Simple Japanese style, that still reflected a certain underworld tastlessness. And at the far back to the right was the set where the shooting was happening today – a rundown men’s room at the end of a hall festooned with old fight posters.

Naderi’s Cut is the second production by Tokyo Story, a new production outfit headed by Nyari and his pals, Engin Yenidunya and Regis Arnaud. Their first outing, Cast Me If You Can, is a sweet and gentle relationship comedy that’s hitting Japanese screens this fall. The second film is from a completely different cut of cloth.

First of all, Cut is set in the brutal world of small-time yakuza. It’s also directed by the passionate and indefatigable Iranian-American auteur, Amir Naderi. Naderi is most famous for his 1989 breakthrough film, Water, Wind, Dust – one of the first films of the post revolutionary Iranian New Wave to hit European and American screens. Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami may be more familiar names, but Naderi worked with them and is instrumental in defining the look, the concerns, the style and feel of contemporary Iranian cinema. Naderi tends toward small stories that work with big metaphorical import. He’s brilliant with casting faces and types and bringing out intense emotion with minimal dialogue.

Cut features Hidetoshi Nishijima as a young man who offers himself up to be a human punching bag for a gang of yakuza thugs in order to pay off his dead brother’s debts – debts from monetarily unsuccessful film productions. Naderi’s take on the yakuza genre also allows him to make some bigger, grander statements about his main interest, film.

The morning saw Naderi, cast and crew rehearsing a scene where Nishijima gets a particularly brutal beating, the thugs getting more and more excited as Nishijimi continues to accept the blows, pulling out 1000 yen notes for each punch. The gangsters each have different motivations and reactions to their brutality. Some are downright drunken and dangerous thugs fulfilling their violent tendencies. One is tight little guy, who visibly emotionally suffers with each blow he gives. He give the impression of a man wracked with some hidden guilt that can only be expressed by violence. At the end of his session, he bows with stiff politeness to the man he has pummeled.

Three cameras running simultaneously catch the action. One from a window behind our protagonist. The other two from behind a removable wall on the set. One filming a long shot. The other getting detail and midrange profile shots.

The room is way hotter than the 90 or so degrees outside. Naderi works feverishly, darting among the crew and cast for quick confabs with the cameramen, Nishijimi or the group of distinctive character actors. His intensity, coupled with the genuinely intense scene and the rising heat keep everybody on their toes. He cajoles. He yells. He talks softly when necessary. He works the crowd like a ring master, keeping his eye and his hand on every little detail and nuance that he can pull out of the scene.  Rehearsal. Shoot. New angles. More rehearsal. More shooting. Well manipulated by the maestro, the actors show more thugishness, more brutality, more anger. Nishijimi himself, by the end, drooling, bruised, staggering, yet still with this come-at-me-again look in his fiery eyes, keeps a controlled vehemence and hate barely beneath the surface.  The final take of the morning leaves everyone a bit dazed.

And then it’s over. Naderi gives a heartfelt thanks to his crew. Everyone applauds for a morning’s work well done and it’s off to lunch and cooling down a bit.

Cut is due to be released in 2011.

Link – Facebook site for Cut















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