Tokyo, Male Love Dolls, beautiful Japanese girls…. Tell us all the interesting bits about the production please. What were the main challenges?
This was undoubtedly the most bizarre and fun-filled video I’ve ever been involved in.
Getting my sweaty hands on the male love doll was by far the biggest challenge with the tiny budget and limited time-frame we had. Japan is the world’s top manufacturer of silicone sex dolls, so I mistakenly assumed it would be easy to rent/borrow/buy a male doll locally. Apparently nobody in Japan has even heard of male love dolls and they seem completely grossed out by the concept of one.
Akira Tanaka, one of my producers, and I scoured the seediest adult shops and S&M clubs in Tokyo searching for a lead – people looked at us like we were sex pests. While another friend Takayuki Kuribayashi contacted all of the local manufacturers in Japan to no avail. I even signed up to all of the online love doll forums – they all pointed me to California.
In the end, I spent all my personal savings buying one online and getting it express couriered from California to Tokyo. Due to Japanese censorship laws (which prohibit anatomically correct depictions of genitalia) I had to get his detachable penis shipped separately, to avoid any hold ups in customs. Miraculously, my love doll (we named him Yoshi) arrived two days before the shoot in a 55kg coffin shaped box. The penis got lost in the mail, so poor Yoshi still has a hole where his junk is supposed to be – and now the most expensive thing I own is a male sex doll without sex organs.
Shooting with a love doll came with all sorts of unexpected difficulties; Yoshi is 53kg of dead weight and although he has a movable skeleton, it takes three people and 30 minutes to change his wardrobe. We also had to roll him around on a wheelchair, which always attracted plenty of strange glances while shooting in public. I think he may have psychologically scarred some small children whilst shooting in the Asakusa Hanayashiki theme park.
Yoshi is freakishly lifelike and detailed; his silicone skin is so soft and he has hand plucked body hair – he seriously is a beautiful work of art. Initially, he was really creepy to be around and I worried that it would be really weird and awkward for Kozue to perform alongside him. So in the days before the shoot I spent time hanging out with him, I gave him a back story and a personality – I wanted the crew to treat him like a person rather than a prop. By the end of the shoot, we all had a strange affinity with him – Yoshi became a friend.
Did you collaborate closely with DCup – or was it your suggestion for the Japanese narrative? How did that evolve?
Duncan (DCUP) put a lot of trust in me from the very beginning. He had a few loose ideas for the video but he allowed me take it in my own direction – he mostly just wanted a synchronised dance scene and for the visuals to match the feminine and fun tone of the song.
I was already heading to Japan for a holiday, but I suck at taking holidays, so I decided to shoot the video over there instead. After listening to an early demo of the song on repeat for a few hours, I had this image of a gorgeous woman trying to create her perfect artificial man – kind of like a gender flipped ‘Weird Science’. Then I started researching male love dolls and my eyes were opened to a whole new world – my google ad placements will never be the same.
A lot of my inspiration came from being in Tokyo during springtime; seeing impossibly cute couples having idyllic picnics in Yoyogi park, getting my mind blown at the robot restaurant in Kabukicho and soaking up the amazing variety of fashion in Harajuku.
Kozue Akimoto was my dream lead from day one; she has the most strikingly beautiful face and a very strong personal style. She’s the daughter of one of Japan’s greatest sumo wrestlers and is very famous in Japan for her modelling and TV appearances. She also has a cult following in the west through her work with the likes of fashion designer Jeremy Scott. I never thought I’d actually be able to book her for the video, but we somehow managed to score a meeting with her management and she was really into the concept!
In fact you seem to have quite a strong relationship with Japan – how come?
I’ve had an interest in Japanese film, music, food and culture for most of my life but last year was the first time I ever visited Japan. I was invited to create a short branded film for one of Japan’s top universities, Keio University. It was a dream project to be involved in – I was flown over to Tokyo for two weeks of concept development and location scouting and then returned for five weeks of shooting and editing.
There was a series of completely serendipitous encounters during my first time there; one time I got drunk and sang karaoke with a bunch of monks and one of them gave us permission to shoot in his temple. Another time, a guy on the street was wearing the same t-shirt as me and we got chatting – he let his shoot on his rooftop (and his wife is a hair and make-up artist who totally crushed it in the DCUP video). As I didn’t have any friends in Tokyo, Akira (my producer) would take me out for dinner and drinks every day and we grew very close. Although I stayed in a tiny shoebox hotel room for the entire duration (and consequently lost my mind), I got to know the city really well and it began to feel like a second home.
I was really sad to leave Japan after completing the Keio film and eager to return as soon as I could. When I flew back for my holiday / music video shoot, what was supposed to be a two week trip stretched out into two months. I lined up a few meetings and got commissioned to direct a short documentary about a violin maker who has created instruments from tsunami wreckage. I was shooting in the tsunami ravaged region of Tohoku during the day and purchasing a male love doll from California at night – it was a really strange contrast.
I’ve recently been represented for work in Japan by Kirameki and just completed my first commercial with them. My relationship with Japan is still very fresh, but I’m making so many awesome friends there and I’m really excited about spending a lot more time in Tokyo in the near future.
You’re based in Melbourne but seem to have developed an art for leaping around the world filming. How does this work – do you take a DP with you and what kind of kit are you were working with? What’s the craziest travelling shoot you’ve done?
I live in Melbourne but the vast majority of my work happens overseas. I’m probably away about four or five months a year.
Every trip is very different; occasionally I work alone but more often than not I collaborate with DP Liam Gilmour. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the past two years and have developed a really great working relationship. He’s got an amazing eye for detail and brings a very different creative mindset to my own. Most importantly, he keeps it calm and fun in the most stressful and sleepless of productions.
We shot the DCUP video on Liam’s Red Epic and a set of old Zeiss Super Speeds we rented in Tokyo. If it were feasible, I’d love to shoot everything on a kit like this. However, a lot of my work involves multiple flights, minimal crew and very little time on location. For these types of shoots, we bring a much more lightweight, stripped back kit.
Just recently we shot a commercial for Subaru across five countries. It involved 14 flights over 14 days and very little sleep in between. We would land in a new country and drive directly to our first location. We were shooting with real Subaru owners and their cars, and didn’t have any ability to properly scout our locations before we shot. There were plenty of challenges and frustrations along the way, but I did have my first ever Octocopter and Cineflex experiences!
Do you edit all your own material?
Yes, I do edit my own work. I actually really enjoy the editing process. My work isn’t usually set in stone with specific storyboards. So for me, editing involves a lot of trial and error with different ideas. I feel I’ve inadvertently developed my editing style into a very fast-paced percussive aesthetic and I’m trying to mix that up a bit more. I’d definitely like to work closely with a professional editor in the near future.
How long have you been directing?
I made my first short film when I was in high school and went on to make a few more at university in a Creative Arts degree. The course was really broad and inconsistent so I came out of school with these grandiose dreams of being a director but I had no knowledge or experience to back it up. The dreams eventually got lost in the real world of crappy jobs, toxic relationships and paying rent. I only started taking directing seriously in 2011 when I moved into a studio with some artist friends and began writing again – my first actual directing role was a no-budget music video for my neighbour’s band.
So you’re a new director then? What’s plan A?
I’m still very new to this and I consider myself very fortunate to be doing the work I do. Like most directors, I’d like to eventually work on features but I definitely don’t see this happening for a long time.
I don’t have any definitive plans, but in the next 12 months I’m wanting to self-fund a short film I’ve been slowly developing for a couple of years – I want to shoot it in Mexico.
At some stage I also want to make a big, crazy J-pop music video and experiment with some VFX driven ideas. I’d love to keep doing commercial work that involves some more exciting locations and interesting concepts. I should probably also consider seeking representation in the western world so I can keep some geographical variety in my work. I’ve always wanted to live overseas before I turn 30 and I’m running out of time now. So maybe in the next couple of years I’ll move my life to Japan or America or wherever the vibe takes me.