‘Beyond The Movies’ – Behind The Scenes + Full Interview

‘Beyond The Movies’ is the title I’ve been using for the last few years on my Facebook film-related albums which feature mostly shooting locations but also include screenshots, memorabillia, exhibitions, toys, events and anything which takes the reader beyond the surface of that particular movie. These albums include Star Wars, James Bond, Jason Bourne, Terminator, Back To The Future, Mission Impossible, Super Heroes, Tokyo, Kansai, Asia, The USA, Australia, Europe, The UK and so on.

I often (well occasionally) get asked how I find out the details of each shot which I take so here, by way of a recent online interview I did, is a sneak-peak behind the scenes look at how things fall into place at the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Tokyo.

 

Here is the full transcript of the interview which will no doubt be edited down quite a bit when it finally sees the light of day later in the year.

How did this obsession come about? I’ve always been interested in seeing such locations but after years of travelling and seeing the usual stuff like waterfalls, beaches, churches, temples and so on I became a bit bored of just doing the sights when I visit a place so hunting down these famous filming locations allowed me to see places in different ways whilst getting off the well worn and proverbial beaten track at the same time.

Do you choose your holiday destinations based solely on films shot there? Apart from maybe Tunisia I have never solely gone to a place just for locations but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t play a major part. Its usually a combination of a few things.

What were the first filming locations you went to? The first one I really remember was one of the Fijian islands which was used in the Tom Hanks survival movie ‘Castaway‘ but that was way back in 2002. It wasn’t until a trip to Phuket in Thailand in 2008 with my mate Ethan that I realised I was more interested in seeing the island from the James Bond film ‘The Man With The Golden Gun‘ and the hostel and beach from ‘The Beach‘ rather than your typical usual touristy sights. Of course a couple of those places I’ve just mentioned are sights in their own right but the hostel certainly isn’t and that was fun.

What has been your favourite location? There have been many. Something like Petra in Jordan which featured in ‘Indiana Jones & the last Crusade‘ was great but that’s a famous sight in its own right so I’d have to say that its the Star Wars stuff in Tunisia. Random places completely unknown by locals who have never seen the saga.

 

What’s been the most difficult one to find? Some of the ones here in Tokyo actually. I needed help from a couple of Japanese people to help me find locations from ‘The Grudge‘ as there was nothing in English and my Japanese skills don’t quite stretch to searching pages and pages of information written in Japanese kanji.

Have you ever failed to track down a place? Yes and I’m still a little gutted about it as it was a big important one. My driver and I just could not locate the igloo in the south west of Tunisia which was the exterior of the Lars Homestead in Star Wars Episodes IV and II.

What preparations do you make in advance? I watch the film with a notepad and pen taking notes on the time of the scene and using the pause button regularly. I then draw a rough sketch of the scene I want to replicate. The end credits of the film sometimes give a bit of fairly vague info on the locations or who the producers thank can give a helping hand. Basically I utilise the DVD extras to maximum effect by watching ‘making of…’ documentary, deleted scenes & listening to the directors commentary. Computer-wise I used to copy photos of scenes from the web if they were available and then printed them out for comparison shots. In recent times I have become a bit more modernised and use my iPad or iPhone to store the pictures on which is far better than a badly printed screenshot picture. I have also used my PSP in the past for ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and ‘Bourne Identity’ stuff but the UMD format is basically a failed one so isn’t going to be so beneficial as very few films were released as a PSP video.

  

What resources do you use to help you? Having decided where I want to go to on a trip I cross-reference that place with ‘The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations‘ (Tony Reeves) book and website which is the grandaddy of filming locations information. Furthermore, I search Wikipedia, YouTube and the net in general where other movie fans have posted their stuff online but its not always so easy as certain ones, particularly the ones here in Japan, are not detailed well. Imdb can sometimes be as vague as just saying the country name but its filming locations section occasionally if I’m lucky goes much further in detail and even gives addresses. I also search out books and programmes with Mark Dermul’s Star Wars books in particular assisting me for finding the exact points which George Lucas used.

You appear in a lot of your photos so who takes them for you? Apart from a few trips with friends the vast majority have been taken by myself using a tripod and timer. For the record I appear in my pictures to stop people wanting to steal them off the internet and pass them off as their own…and of course because I’m very vain! haha!

Where does the name Tokyo Fox come from? Well my team Leicester City, who play in the league below the Premier League, are nicknamed the Foxes and I live in Tokyo so there you go.

What kind of person looks at the Tokyo Fox website? Good question! Apart from my parents, who themselves probably skim over all the film stuff, I know of very few of my family or friends who regularly look at it. I get a lot of hits for the Star Wars, Bourne, Back to the Future, James Bond, Terminator locations in particular from like-minded fans scouring google in search of these places which have played a part in movie history. Of course theres other stuff on there about Japanese life and travel etc which is quite popular too.

Do you have any plans to release a book? Well I’ve certainly considered it a few times and did start work on a Japan filming locations title but as ever these things get put aside while other things in my life take over. I’d like to pull my finger out one day and get something published but whether it will happen I don’t know. Watch this space…

 

What locations would you like to see in the future? Hmmm, not too many must-sees left but I am going to New York next month which has more films set there than anywhere else. Other than that then maybe Guatemala to do a Star Wars shot and maybe some of central america may be of interest. I still have places to see in London and it would actually be nice to travel my own country a bit more in the name of shooting locations.

TF Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

I’ve been complaining for years about Japan always being last to see films released but every so often the tables are turned. I’ll be honest and admit that I probably wouldn’t have gone to see this if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was to have its worldwide Premiere in Tokyo followed by limited advance screenings a week ahead of its national release and two weeks before the UK and the USA.

When it was announced that the aptly named Marc Webb was making a new Spider-Man movie my initial reaction was inevitably that of “why?” given that there had already been three Spider-Man films in the last 10 years. However, as time moved on this seemed to be less of a problem and I was really looking forward to my evening out in Shinjuku with friends Andrew, Rina and Yuka. I even worked my way through the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy from the last decade in the days before as part of my preparation for this viewing and enjoyed the simplicity of them.

Andrew Garfield is the youthful looking (he’s a 28 year old playing a 17 year old high school kid!) American-born British actor portraying the latest Spider-Man incarnation and he does a fine job in the role though I do think his Peter Parker is a bit too cool at times with all the skateboarding tricks and just his overall style. At 24 the very cute Emma Stone is also playing a girl way younger than reality but can just about get away with it.

 

Spider-Man is the only teenage superhero out there (is that really such a claim?!) and doesn’t really hide his alter-ego at all from his acquaintances in this film. His adversary Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), later ‘The Lizard’ is an intrigueing character to begin with which may just be down to him only having one arm but yet again in a Spider-Man movie I really wasn’t too keen on how such a villain came about.

This was actually the 1st time for me to see a movie in the 3D format and as I expected I wasn’t that fussed about it. Sure there were some great effects but the glasses are not comfortable for me to wear and gave me a bit of a headache. When a film is 136 minutes in length I need all the help I can get in being comfortable, and though the seats were the best in the house, the special glasses didn’t aid my comfort.

Don’t get me wrong for I have probably come across as quite critical here but I did really enjoy this slightly darker, grittier re-boot which is also quite light and frothy in places. Its a good action film and will keep you entertained but I really don’t think this re-telling  adds too much to the original trilogy as we know about his dead father, the spider bite, being bullied and the consequences that lead to his uncle being shot.

Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Barbarian And The Geisha’ (1958)

You Only Live Twice‘ or ’Walk Don’t Run‘ may be the more famous of the older films set in Japan but I recently encountered one from nearly a decade before those. Of course I was very much aware of John Wayne as an enduring American icon before watching this but I had never seen any of his films in full and it seems that this particular one was a little different to his signature ones.

Chatrooms here in Japan are often full of foreigners living here complaining about all manner of things but if they think they are sometimes discriminated against then its nothing compared to the enormous hostility that Townsend Harris (John Wayne) and his helper Henry experienced when he was sent to 19th century Japan to serve as the first U.S. Consul-General in this country.

To the directors credit the film doesn’t do what many international films set in Japan do and have everyone speaking English all the time. There are significant amounts of Japanese dialogue with a voice-over updating the story throughout and Harris relies on his sidekick Henry to translate which is a common way for foreigner visitors to communicate here yet rarely used in films.

As the title implies the barbarian Harris attracts the attentions of a Geisha and sure enough we see the Geisha in performance; dancing, singing, playing the koto and entertaining to the sounds of the mysterious Orient. Her initial hostility and dislike inevitably turns to mutual respect and love. However, this human story only plays a small part in the scheme of things for the bigger picture is of the clash and conflicting interests between Japan; a traditionalist, internalised, isolationist country and the externalised rising nation of America.

 

There are some dramatic scenes regarding cholera epidemic and the destruction of the town which results in Harris going to Edo to convince someone or another to open up the country. Japan just wants to be left alone but Harris, being a man who gets things done through the power of words and persuasion rather than brute force, tries to convince Japan that it is a nation importantly located at the crossroads of international shipping.

With the film being set long before the accelerated growth in the country it is quite nice to get a glimpse of Japan from a different era to what I know. The film was a bit of a box office flop and its maybe easy to say why as it’s plot isn’t too strong and the romance of the film isn’t exactly gonna set your heart racing. However, it does cover the intended topic with relative ease and the visual elements of the picture are sufficient enough to help you get through the 100 minutes without reaching for the remote control.

 

Tokyo Filming Locations Pt XI: Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2006)

Of course this site focuses mainly on the locations of foreign productions but from time time we go off track whether it be soaps, dramas or even books. This time I hunted down a couple of pivotal locations from Japanese language film ‘Ju-on: The Grudge 2‘ as I had a long break in Hibarigaoka a couple of months ago so I went one stop (by express train on the Seibu Ikebukuro line) to Tokorozawa in Saitama.

Usually I document the locations in chronological order but this time its probably best to do them in the order of finding them so first up is the bridge which features in the films dramatic final chapter on 82 mins. This was really easy to find despite there being very little on the internet (in English) about its whereabouts. If you take the west exit and go down the steps you will see a Koban (Police box) and Seiyu department store to your right so go down that road following the tracks for about five minutes. There is one crossing before the out of sight bridge so you will have to turn left before hanging right after only about 10 metres. Go down that road until you hit the bridge. Its address is 16-11 and it really couldn’t be any easier.

                   

Now for the trickier location which has mystified many. Head down the road with the steps directly behind you (and the two tall apartment blocks in the distance in front of you) and you will soon come to a small car park area (below left). Turn left and go through it sticking close to the left side and you will see a very narrow alley (below right) which you go down and round a couple of corners and then you will see it. 

I couldn’t get an address for the house but it is in block 14 which if you don’t know anything about how Japanese addresses work will mean nothing to you! I should thank a blogger called Rachel as, even though she didn’t give directions on her site, she did show enough pictures for me to go on and find this house which is part of Japanese horror film history. It first appears after 8 mins and again on 34 and 64 mins.

         

The great thing about both locations is that they are in a quiet area and so with few people around you can (if you want!) take the kind of photos I did without too much embarrassment. I have a tripod which is recommended if you want to actually take a peek over the tall white fence as I did below left. The photo next to that is of the back of the house.

 

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ (2006)

I decided to watch this again a few days ago having just taught a student who this week is going to visit the island of Iwo-jima which is actually part of Tokyo albeit a long, long way south (750 km) of the mainland. Most of the scenes weren’t actually filmed there though but on the black sand beaches of Sandvik in the south-west of Iceland. Clint Eastwood directed this film straight off the back of the less successful ‘Flags of our Fathers‘ in order to give the Japanese perspective and when I originally watched it on its release in 2006 I admittedly wasn’t expecting anything more than just being able to tell students that I had seen it. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

This Hollywood production gets full credit first and foremost for not going anywhere near the usual Japanese stereotypes portrayed in most other films. It is clearly distinguishable from all the other films set in Japan with no need to rely on any stereotypical images of Japanese society and is supposedly scripted with excellent research into Japanese society at that time. Secondly, it used nearly all Japanese actors rather than American-Japanese or other Asian actors. This doesn’t bother me so much but its something the Japanese often get worked up about in the name of authenticity. Finally, all but about five minutes of the films 141 minute length features Japanese dialogue but despite the length and need for subtitles I was captivated throughout which for someone like me, with a short attention span, is very rare.

The main characters all have interesting stories to tell which are shown via a few flashback scenes. Ken Watanabe, by far the most famous Japanese actor (if not the only one) known overseas, may be the lead role but the true star of the film is the baby faced Shingo; the baker with a pregnant wife, who is called up to fight for his country. He is a frightened, anxious man full of hope and battling against the harsh regime of the Japanese army. He wants to realise just one dream which is to get home to see his daughter.

 

The film starts off in the present day with someone discovering the letters on the island and then its back to 1944 as the film really draws you into the caves and makes you a part of the Japanese soldier’s life. We see them basically defend the island to the death which General Kuribayashi (Watanabe) says is of utmost importance. The utter hopelessness of their situation is quite a recurring thing and time and time again we hear of the soldiers dying with honour and courage in the line of duty against the American invasion and we even hear that it’s “our fate to find our place at Yasukuni Shrine.”

Overall, I was thoroughly engrossed throughout this emotionally powerful movie and I’d probably even go as far to say that it’s one of the best war films out there and Clint Eastwood deserves all the accolades that came with this picture. The ironic thing is that it is he who has made this film rather than the Japanese themselves and if you didn’t know anything about the production you’d naturally assume it was not a domestic production.