Exclusive interview: ABCs of Death director Yudai Yamaguchi (J is for Jidei-Geki)

Fans of extreme Japanese cinema know the name Yudai Yamaguchi, but the rest of the movie-watching globe likely doesn't. Yet. The director of such oddities as DEADBALL and YAKUZA WEAPON will be introduced to a much larger audience thanks to his participation in THE ABCs OF DEATH, the 26-part anthology that offers short horror tales from all around the globe.

Yamaguchi directs the segment "J is for Jidei-Geki," a truly unusual tale about a samurai who is tasked with executing a fellow who can't seem to contain his laughter. In typical Yamaguchi style, this escalates into an effects-heavy splatter-fest. Arrow in the Head recently had a chat (via interpreter) with the director about this quirky short and found out a few things about his involvement with the ambitious project and how his bizarre concept came to life.

Incidentally, this interview is part of a multi-site promotion; 26 different sites spoke to 26 THE ABCs OF DEATH filmmakers and all the interviews are posting today. That officially makes this ABCS OF DEATH Day; aren't you lucky?!

Note: This is not Mr. Yamaguchi

How did you come to be involved with ABCs OF DEATH?

Tim League, who always helps out our films at Fantastic Fest film festival, and Marc Walkow, who I worked on the Sushi Typhoon label with, were involved as producers, and they told me that there was a project bringing together horror filmmakers from all over the world. I was very honored to be able to participate in it.

Were you assigned your letter, or were you able to choose one?

I picked three top choices, and from those, "J" was selected for me.

Once you secured the job, how long did it take you to come up with a story? Did you have a deadline? Were you free to do whatever you wanted, or did the producers contribute ideas?

Because I was assigned "J", at first it occurred to me to do "Japan" for my entry. But then, when I realized that directors from around the world would be participating in this project, and I felt a strong desire to make something that only a Japanese person could make. So I changed to "Jidai-geki," a story involving Japanese samurai. I initially confirmed with our producer Marc Walkow whether he thought foreign audiences would be able to understand and appreciate a samurai-type ritual, but otherwise there was no interference or anything like that from other people.

For those of us who are unaware, what does "Jidai-Geki" mean? Did you come up with the idea, or the title first?

It refers to a period drama, or put more simply, a samurai film. We had a couple of possible story ideas for that title, and we chose one that we could realize within the budget.

There are some really amusing make-up effects in the segment; can you discuss the creation of them, and the concept behind some of the bizarre faces we see?

Along with a special effects makeup artist I have a lot of confidence in — Taiga Ishino from Higemegane Studio (formerly Nishimura Eizo) — I considered and discussed a lot of bizarre and funny facial expressions. From these, we came up with some faces that would be a humorous mismatch when combined with the formal, high culture of the samurai.

Have you seen all of the other segments? Do you have any particular favorites?

My particular favorites are the segments from Jason Eisener ("Y is for Youngblood") and Xavier Gens ("X is or XXL"). Both were made with a really high level of quality, yet their stories are both simple as well as really powerful.

Was working on ABCS of DEATH a positive experience overall? Would you like to contribute to a similar project in the future?

For me, one positive aspect of working on an omnibus film like this is for audiences who aren't familiar with my other works to learn about me and my previous films. If some of those audience members are curious enough to watch those films, it would make me really happy. If there's another chance to do something like this again, I'd be very excited to participate.

What can we expect from you next?

I have a new film opening this year in Japan called ABDUCTEE. It's a mystery story about a man who's been confined within a container and can't escape, and unlike other films that might be about similar subjects, it unfolds in a more surprising and unexpected manner. Please take a look at it if you get a chance!

Pre-order ABCs OF DEATH on Blu-ray right HERE or the DVD right HERE. It hits home video on MAY 7th.

Extra Tidbit: THE ABCS OF DEATH is now available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, Xbox Zune and Playstation; it hits theaters starting March 8th.

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