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An Interview with Doug Roos, Director of Bakemono

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2023

Films directed by Doug Roos on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Bakemono - in a few words, what's it about?

 

It's really about the dark side of Tokyo: Rampant cheating, overwork, xenophobia, hostess culture, stress, suicide, isolation, alcoholism, discrimination toward "half" Japanese, gender roles, etc. And of course, the tentacled transforming monster that embodies all this as it devours the hapless guests of a short-term rental apartment. I just love monster movies, and there aren't many regular-sized non-kaiju films made in Japan.

 

What were your sources of inspiration when writing Bakemono?

 

John Carpenter's The Thing was the main one, but also Battle Royale (carnage, many characters), Ju-on, and Sicario (in terms of cinematography). But there are tons more too like Psycho and Guzoo: The Thing Forsaken By God Part 1. I'm basically mixing two sub-genres but I really wanted to make an exciting atmospheric monster movie with all practical FX and no CGI.

 

Bakemono is rather non-linear, sometimes associative, when it comes to structure - so what can you tell us about this narrative approach, and how easy or hard was it to not literally lose your plot telling your story that way?

 

Following, Memento and Pulp Fiction inspired that. I also realized there hasn't been a completely non-linear out-of-order monster movie before. It's quite rare for horror (Oculus was a great one though) and even more so for Japanese horror. The film was always conceived that way since I thought it'd be an interesting way to pull in the audience and the best way to tell this particular story. I mapped it all out since you have to really keep track of continuity, which is a challenge, but I think it really pays off for the audience with some of the later reveals. There are many hints to the chronological order scattered throughout. It is taking a risk and challenging the audience since the main character emerges gradually until you realize who it is about 40 min in, but I think keeping the audience off-balance is good for horror. Making it unpredictable where anyone can die at any moment.

 

You of course have to talk about your monster in Bakemono for a bit, and how was it created?

 

I'd love to! The word "bakemono" I actually learned when I was rewatching the original 1954 Godzilla, since that's the word they use in the film to refer to him. Then when I found out the meaning of each part of the word (bake = "transforming" and mono = "thing"), I knew it'd be perfect for a movie inspired by The Thing. But I just wanted to make something really gruesome, covered in blood, that transforms in more ways than one like its face changing throughout the film, mutations coming out of it, and of course, tentacles. I made four different gelatin masks for it, designing and sculpting them first, then I built the various mutations you see. I have a ton of behind the scenes covering all that for my Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns. It was a crazy amount of work, and doing all those special effects made filming take forever (we shot for over 80 days although I was the only person doing all those days whereas the max of other people would be 14 days or 7 days depending on the group of actors), but I love practical FX so I was happy to do it.

 

What can you tell us about your movie's approach to horror?

 

I like what John Carpenter said before about the originalCat People. He talked about how in that film you really don't see anything like in the classic pool scene, but these days that really won't work so you have to show something. I think he's absolutely right, and with low budget horror, people assume if you don't show something, it's because you can't, not that it was a deliberate choice. That said though, you don't have to show everything. Just show enough to get the audience's imagination going and build suspense. Really you see the monster quite a bit in this film along with its mutations, but its face is always different and even when you see it, it's still somewhat hidden by blood and shadow. I think darkness is really important in horror but you have to deliver the goods so it's finding a balance, using a range of light and dark, and just making the illusion work. I wanted this to be a really FX-heavy film though with FX all throughout it but still have good characters and a good story like The Thing.

 

A few words about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

Even though this is a monster movie, I wanted to put in all these real details around it to help give it a sense of realism. I really try to make the acting feel real too. But for example, the picnic coolers, which are also an indicator of where you are chronologically in the story (less at the beginning, more at the end). A recent Japanese serialkiller called the Twitter Killer would put the body parts of his victims in picnic coolers with cat litter to hide the smell, so I used this in the movie, and many stories of the characters are real like the neighbor who has a mental problem (a Chinese guy I knew here in Tokyo actually had a neighbor who would come home all alone and scream at inanimate objects in her apartment), the Hawaii story, needing a man for a BBQ, the wife asking her husband to learn Japanese in case something happens to her, etc.

 

Do talk about Bakemono's key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Since the film is really about the dark side of Tokyo, I wanted to basically show the societal makeup of the city: Salaryman, schoolgirl, ojisan, a Japanese couple, college girls, and the foreigners that are so rarely seen in Japanese films but actually do live here: a German model, IT guy, English teacher, a Korean, etc. I've been living in Tokyo for 6 years myself but oddly, people don't think foreigners live here. It's also pretty rare to see a foreigner in a Japanese film speaking Japanese. But when I was doing casting, I met and interviewed a lot of different people in Tokyo. I knew the characters I wanted and the cast based on how well they reflected the theme. I love Japan and I love Tokyo but I think the dark side of it is really interesting (it's quite hidden too... like the monster). Plus, it's also perfect for a horror movie although I do have a couple characters say positive things about Tokyo - but since it's horror, it can't be all rosey and the reality of it isn't either. I got super lucky finding Takashi Irie and I think he's the real star of the movie. He has a lot of experience and he's a phenomenal actor.

 

You of course also have to talk about Bakemono's main location, and what was it like filming there?

 

That was actually my apartment. It was difficult shooting there since it's so small (you can't really tell onscreen but there isn't much space). Since the location is used a lot in the film, it was challenging too to keep it visually interesting so I always tried to change the way I filmed it with different angles, different lighting, steady or handheld, curtains opened or closed or one open with the other closed (again a continuity nightmare), etc. Really shot every single part of that apartment but then there are many scenes outside too at the two nearby metro stations (Koenji and Nakano), the bridge over the train tracks, the area around the apartment, etc. Plus, a second house location.

 

What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

It was a very long shoot for me, but for the actors, we tried to keep it light on set. People would make jokes. A bunch of smiling behind the scenes. There was a lot of blood, which can be uncomfortable at times (it's very sticky), and we were filming in the winter so it did get cold. That was best for the monster suit actor because it can be hot inside that but due to sound, you can't really run the heater for other actors (although we did turn it on sometimes between takes). Outside got quite chilly too. I hurt my ankle somehow one day so I couldn't walk on it much for a week or two after.

 

The $64-question of course, where can Bakemono be seen?

 

Its world premiere will be at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco on Dec 9th at the 4 Star Theater, and I'm sure it'll play other festivals after that but there is a new Kickstarter where backers can get an exclusive crowdfunding-only cut of the film on Blu-ray with more practical FX and nudity (I'm still shooting more for this actually and editing it). A lot of behind the scenes too to show how I did the FX. That's available here (releasing August 2024):

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dougroos/new-monster-movie-bakemono-no-cgi-horror-film

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Bakemono?

 

The festival director told me, "What an awesome and trippy film. Very well done. This will definitely go far." The reviews are just starting to come in so I'm not sure but I know from the private test screening I did, even die-hard horror fans jump, which makes me happy. I know some people don't like jump scares but even The Thing had them like in the blood test scene, which was perfectly executed. Another reviewer praised the practical FX a lot, but his review just reminded me of the early reviews for The Thing in 1982. He seemed too shocked by the gore and FX, missing the story and characters, which was a bit disappointing to me since I care so much about those aspects. Making it completely out of order is taking a risk and challenging the audience plus the way the main character is not completely obvious from the beginning but he's all throughout that first act even in the very first shot. I'm surprised the large cast throws some people since Battle Royale easily had a lot more characters.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

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I'm working on more practical FX monster movies. I'm quite deep into the next one I want to make here in Tokyo, which will be a big challenge in terms of FX.

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

Bakemono Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dougroos/new-monster-movie-bakemono-no-cgi-horror-film

My Twitter: https://twitter.com/bloodontheblade

The film's Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bakemonomovie

 

Anything else you're dying to mention that I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

The film really has a lot below the surface that I hope people pick up on. I may do a chronological version of the film too like Memento did.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thank you very much! I really appreciate it!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.

 

There's No Such Thing as Zombies
starring
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry

 

directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke

 

now streaming at

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Robots and rats,
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