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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 8, 2002

Local director's film, made on a shoestring, is taking off

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

From left, Michael Ng, Shawn Forsythe and Bryan Yamasaki are among the cast of "Blood of the Samurai," a locally filmed, ultra-low-budget feature that gets the big-theater treatment at The Art House at Restaurant Row today through Thursday.
A year after winning the 2001 Hawai'i International Film Festival's Aloha Airlines Hawai'i Film & Videomaker Award, Aaron Yamasato's "Blood of the Samurai" — a shocker that combines the gore of horror films, the high kicks of the kung-fu genre and chambara samurai classics — is drawing new blood.

"It's pretty amazing and exciting that the movie has new life," said Yamasato, 32, who wrote and directed the feature with a $2,000 budget.

The movie, which still has not recovered its cost, opens a commercial run today — the first in a series of features that the Sony Video Theatre at The Art House at Restaurant Row will showcase. In the weeks ahead, video presentations on Beta SP and DVD can now be exhibited in a commercial house, thanks to Sony Hawai'i, which has provided the theater with a 3500 lumens projector and Beta SP tape player, enabling video presentations on DVD and Beta SP tape to get that commercial pop.

"We think it's important to provide access for local filmmakers, to present their work in a commercial venue, and hope to serve as a focal point to galvanize future production within the community," said Don Brown, programmer at The Art House.

"I went to see a movie at The Art House and bumped into Don Brown," Yamasato said about the film buff and manager of the independent film complex. "I wondered if he would be able to show my film, but at that time, they didn't have the equipment. But now they have that video projector."

The equipment was first used during The Art House's recent Italian Film Festival. So a series of similar "problematic" features — available only on video or DVD — can now be screened with a large, bright picture and digital sound almost indistinguishable from standard 35 mm film, Brown said.

Seeing his movie in a real theatrical run is, yes, super exciting.

"The first commercial showing is really a big thrill, since we've only been seen at film festivals," said Yamasato, who grew up watching samurai classics with his father and loved sword-action movies on KIKU-TV here. "We haven't been in (legitimate) theaters before."

"'Blood of the Samurai' was a project of passion, paying tribute to the early films I loved," he said. "It was a bunch of us friends, eager to make a fun, entertaining movie, in the line of the samurai classics and ninja movies. I never dreamed we'd get a film festival award-winning quality."

It was a shoestring production from the get go.

"Everybody worked for free," he said. "All my main actors — Michael Ng, Shawn Forsythe, Bryan Yamasaki, Colleen Fujioka, Stephanie Sanchez — were from Lisa Matsumoto's plays. I had some friends working on 'The Princess and the Iso Peanut,' and they invited me backstage to meet the actors. Amazingly, they all agreed to do the movie. It was good fun seeing these actors, normally as sweet, singing characters, turn into foul-mouthed, intense, butt-kicking action heroes."

He was so low on money that he had to borrow a camera. And Yamasato did the whole film with that one camera, so it was not unusual for the actors to do 16 takes to get the various angles of a multicamera shoot.

"For the high shots, we'd go up on a ladder or a forklift, and we didn't have a studio, so my uncle let me use his shipping company warehouse — but only after hours," he said.

"And we could only afford three lights. Then one broke. Then the second. We worried if we'd end up with no lights."

Caterer? "My wife made bento, my mother helped bring spaghetti to the set, things like that."

Largest expense? "A trip to Los Angeles to shoot a scene with Screaming Mad George, my childhood hero and a dream come true. When I was a teenager, I used to watch all the horror films of the '80s, like 'Nightmare on Elm Street,' 'The Fly' and 'Big Trouble in Little China.' The special effects all were done by Screaming Mad George (who does business as SMG Effects Inc.). I found out he was Japanese, which really inspired me."

George shared some trade secrets. "You know how heads split open, and blood gushes out? Bug sprayers, filled with water and red dye, pumped out. And gooey blood? Karo syrup with red coloring."

Yamasato has begun work on a new project, but can't reveal specifics as yet.

"Besides, we've still got a few more film-festival screenings coming up," Yamasato said. "Blood" was shown at the Vancouver, British Columbia, Asian Film Festival this week, and the movie has a date at the Cinencuadre Fantasy Horror Festival Dec. 11-15 in Argentina.