Friday, November 8, 2002

Filmmaker Aaron Yamasato's "Blood of the Samurai" won last year's Hawaii Film & Videomaker Award and a Telly Award.


An award-winning samurai movie that
once got boos gets rave reviews

By Gary C.W. Chun

'Blood of the Samurai'

Playing at Wallace Art House at Restaurant Row today through Thursday

First, I must admit, this amounts to a public apology to filmmaker Aaron Yamasato. His samurai/martial arts/action flick "Blood of the Samurai" was torn into by yours truly in a review last November when the movie debuted at last year's Hawai'i International Film Festival. And even though I was trying to sound as over-the-top as Yamasato was with his movie, in retrospect, it was tough to find the sense of humor intended in the comments I made back then.

The movie went on to win the festival's Hawaii Film & Videomaker Award, so what the heck do I know?? The darn thing has also gone on to win a Telly Award, was nominated for a best action sequences award and won an achievement award at The B-Movie Theater Film Festival in New York, just screened at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, and will play an Argentinian festival next month.

And now, "Blood of the Samurai" makes its triumphant return to Oahu for a week's engagement at the Sony Video Theater at the Wallace Art House in Restaurant Row, starting today.

In trying to find that one blurb of a word that would aptly describe this ambitious, low-budget spectacle, Filmmaker magazine described it best, so much so that Yamasato uses it on his movie poster: "BOMBASTIC!"

In telling the story of two friends possessed by the spirits of a couple of ancient samurai swords and pursued by a mysterious vigilante known as the Hunter, the melodrama meter goes off the scale, the expertly choreographed fights are frenetic, and the fake blood and body parts fly hither and yon. It's all very much in the spirit of the late-night chop-socky flick genre -- and all done on a mini-DV camera, a $1,000 budget and a lot of sweat and commitment from Yamasato, his cast and crew. Most of it was shot on his uncle's property in Waipio and Mapunapuna.

And with all the local screenings "Blood" has gone through, Yamasato has constantly fine-tuned the movie from its original cut, "finding out what works and what doesn't, with the audiences that have seen it," he said.

"It feels really good, because I've been able to tweak it and add more depth in the story in terms of dialogue and subtitling the Japanese portion of the movie, plus adding more what you could call 'gratuitous violence.'

"I got lucky making this movie," he admits. "I usually got what I wanted on the first or second takes." That small number, however, would grow when choreographed fight sequences were shot. Yamasato seemed to have gotten every angle conceivable with his digital camera, to the point where he often asked his battle-weary actors if they wanted to take a break.

YAMASATO originally thought he would have to go strictly through the underground film festival circuit to market his movie. "I never expected to get into HIFF," he said, "and, actually, I have to thank my sister for that. She works in an office building in Bishop Square downtown that HIFF has an office in, and she pitched executive director Chuck Boller when they just happened to be sharing an elevator."

And while several of his cast members -- Bryan Yamasaki, Shawn Forsythe, Colleen Fujioka and Stephanie Sanchez -- had already made names for themselves in Lisa Matsumoto's popular pidgin fairy-tale theatrical productions, with "Blood" on their resumés, people like Sanchez and Michael Ng have found local TV commercial work. (Ng has even starred as a featured extra in the John Woo wartime film "Windtalkers.")

Before the freelancing Yamasato delved into live-action filmmaking, he worked in stop-action animation, something he used to teach at the Children's Discovery Museum on Kauai. While most of his animated shorts were along the lines of one boldly titled "Godzilla vs. S---zilla," he did one specifically for his "Titanic"-loving wife called "Iceberg," which tells of a budding love between a penguin and a seal. That short will precede the screening of "Blood of the Samurai."

Yamasato also said he's in pre-production on a new project, but it's still hush-hush.

(I can't wait to tear into that one!)

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