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Habu to Genkotsu: Japanese Movie Magic Thailand Style
In May 2005, Kurokoboshi took time out from his hometown of Tokyo to film in Bang Pong, Thailand. The following is an excerpt from an American-ex-patriate-Tokyo-dweller’s perspective on filmmaking in the hinterlands of Thailand.
I had the opportunity to do a movie in Japan called Habu for Genkotsu that was shot in Thailand. It all started with a phone call from my friend Schon. He got an offer to film in Thailand, but couldn’t take it. He wanted to know what I was thinking. Always ready to add another chapter to my life story, I agreed. I have never been to Thailand. I have heard many stories about Thailand and experienced many different situations from friends, and now it is time for me to share my experiences.
Before leaving, I met the directors, producers, and writers of the movie I was going to appear in. I am satisfied with what I have heard. The movie is based on the true story of an Okinawan sansen (3 stringed guitar) player named Ryo and his experiences growing up in Okinawa in 1968. Ryo meets an American soldier named George, and they find that they have more similarities than differences. The atmosphere of the movie is heavily charged with racism and hatred- Okinawans and Japanese (yes there is a difference- a big difference in reality), American soldiers and Japanese / Okinawans, son police and military forces- and happened with talk of the civil rights movement lingering in the backdrop. I finished my adventure on Sharing a Radio on Monday as Kurokobushi and have three days before the shoot to find out who this George is and the time warp to 1968.
I left home at 7am for Narita airport, before the morning rush. I got my last Japanese food for two weeks, boarded Thai Airlines Flight #647 and arrived in Thailand. Airports can be very deceiving. They make you feel that everything is fine and then you enter the real world. Outside the airport I saw my first sight of Japanese capitalism, Family Mart (grocery) and in addition to the American market (KFC) I wrote earlier. Paul (our driver) rolled in the mega van and he left for the hotel in Bang Pong, our filming location. Paul spoke a little English so I practiced it for some Thai heads. We arrived at the hotel about two hours later and I had dinner with the actors. Everyone was great especially Shogen (who played Ryo) and Mitsuki. The hotel room has HBO Asia, but I need internet access to watch the Spurs win game 7.
Get up early and go for a walk in the morning. Traffic in Thailand seems to be a free-for-all, with few lights and tons of scooters. I had breakfast at the hotel and in the afternoon went to one of the places where actors Mitsuki, Shogen, Ishida Eri, and Sai were filming. I can’t believe how much rural Thailand reminds me of my grandmother’s hometown in South Carolina. Time has stopped in some places. I did the traditional aisatsu (Japanese greeting, bow and small talk) with the manager, and all the staff. Greetings are important in Japan because they communicate humility and respect. Things are on the hierarchy scale so I have to give props to the big fish. I take care of my duty.
One of the movie locations was very bad. In one room, the owner keeps helmets from dead soldiers of the Vietnam War. Needless to say, every moviegoer in that room was sick and kanashibari (feeling bound or held, but you can’t see what’s holding you). I have met our security officers, the most important thing when you are in Thailand. He was very helpful and even let the voters ride his motorcycle. Kai showed me where in the internet café, I can finally connect with the world and find out who won the NBA Championship. We stayed in the internet café for 3 hours and it cost 45 cents. And the Spurs win, life is good.
I rehearsed my first scene with Shogen and the director really liked it. But there is one small problem, George smokes and I don’t. It’s funny because Shogen didn’t smoke before filming, but one day I saw him smoking more. I practiced all night, trying to figure out how George would hold his cigar. Maybe old school like Billy Dee in The Lady Who Sings the Blues, long drawn out puffs with the right mix of wit and class; or like Larenz Tate in Love Jones, where the cigarette never leaves the mouth. It just dangles like a conductor’s baton moving in sync with every word. No, I got it. Denzel Washington in The Devil in Blue, a Southern comedy, not slow not fast.
We went back to the hotel and everyone wanted to have lunch in the open market near our shooting location. This is my first visit to an open market and I have no idea what to expect. My only images of the open market are old school James Bond movies. The reality is a little different. Now, I consider myself a brave person, but the business is too open. I try to eat as little meat as possible and this situation is strictly unsanitary. Important Note: I am a member of the lucky few who have not had a major stomach ache while traveling. I skipped lunch and went looking for fruit. I saw the apple juice stand and ordered apple juice (to catch the flies and bees). Here’s another little recipe, look at the seller. He put ajinomoto (MSG) in my juice. Yes, there was also the incident at the hotel where they put salt in the orange juice. It is best to ask before you order.
It was the first time George and I got up early to have breakfast at the hotel. The staff are nice and they help me with my Thai. Departure time is 10 am. We are the 3rd of 4 scenes being shot. When we arrived at the scene, Ishida Eri had finished her scene and everyone was preparing for the second round. I practiced my lines with Shogen and became George. It’s kind of weird, but all the actors call you by your character’s name, not your real name. We had lunch after the second scene and I prepared for my debut. The assistant director announced my appearance on the set. I feel like a king. We did a few rehearsals and then it was time for honban (recording).
Another day in Thailand and a new challenge. This time the 5 cast members and I went out to see the bridge over the River Kwaii, the non-acting bridge. I learned a lot about the Vietnam War and WWII while traveling. For the record, the site is an official tourist trap. The bridge was a little disappointing, but very dangerous. There is no footpath on the bridge, only the rail link and footpath. People and trains cross the bridge at the same time. It is survival of the fittest. As for the bridge itself, I thought there would be something bigger, when I was a child I visited the Royal Gorge, and got to know the Japanese Rainbow Bridge and the Bay Bridge in Japan. This is small. Oddly enough, we never crossed the bridge; we took some pictures, saw some foreigners, bought some souvenirs, and prayed for peace.
It’s time for me to leave. The shooting has wrapped and the production lights have been turned off. Two weeks in Thailand went really fast but I had a great time. The people are friendly and the scenery is great. Thailand is a melting pot of different religions and bad traffic. Here is some inside information from me to you. Bangkok’s real name is Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthrayutthaya Maha Dilokphop Nophrarat Ratchathani Burir On Udom Batchaniwet Maha Sathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. It means that the city is like the city of angels, the city houses the emerald Buddha and…
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