Indie Film Spotlight: Writer/Director Kurando Mitsutake’s Karate Kill
If you are unfamiliar with the work of writer and director Kurando Mitsutake, it is time for you to remedy that situation. Kurando has directed four films – Monsters Don’t Get to Cry (2007) , Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf (2009, and Kurando plays the lead as well as doing the writing and directing duties), Gun Woman (2014) and Karate Kill (2016 but just had its United States release on July 18 of this year) and each film is better than the last, as you would expect as he gains experience.
Karate Kill is the story of Hayate (played by real-life Karate Master Kenji), a Japanese man who has been sending money to his sister Mayumi in the United States to help her realize her dream of becoming an actress. Hayate has been working several jobs, but suddenly he loses contact with her. After a month of not hearing from his sister, he quits his jobs and travels to Los Angeles to find her, setting into motion a chain of events that Hayate could not have possibly predicted. One of the best scenes in the film is the job quitting montage. in which Hayate is shown to be moving in slow motion for the majority of his “real life” scenes. This seems to be a visual representation of his emotional state as he slogs through daily life while awaiting word from his sister.
After showing up at Mayumi’s last known address, he gets into a confrontation with the apartment’s new occupants as he tries to find out where his sister has gone. As he attempts to question the man now living in Mayumi’s former residence, the man continually attacks Hayate, despite getting soundly beaten over and over again. The scene ends with the man finally divulging some important information and, after Hayate leaves, the man makes a phone call to an unknown person. He tells the person on the other end of that call a crazy person may be on their way.
Hayate gets to show off his martial arts prowess in a variety of fight scenes throughout the film that is as well-choreographed as any you’d see in a major Hollywood action film. One thing Kurando mentioned in a recent interview with Jeremy McFarlane and Martin Davis on the Atomic Age Media Podcast about how Kenji is not trained in the nuances of movie fight scenes the way say, Jason Statham, is. As a result, Kenji asked that the other actors in those scenes try to hit him for real. At first, the actors were hesitant, but they learned exactly how good Kenji really was; according to Kurando, he wasn’t hit once. The reason the fight scenes were done like that was that Kenji only had experience in real fighting and when they tried to choreograph the fake fighting, it really threw off Kenji’s timing and his ability to block incoming attacks. I know that sounds odd but I can understand why that would be. Basically, you’re waiting for an attack to come at you, not to the side, and that’s how you’ve trained your whole life. Adapting to a totally new style of fighting and trying to learn on the fly is very difficult, especially considering the tight filming schedule.
We learn that the Club Manager (which is how the very talented Noriaki Kamata is credited) where Mayumi has been working is $700,000 in debt to the leader of a terrifying group known as “Capital Messiah” that broadcasts horrific crimes via live streaming like snuff films, and to settle that debt Capital Messiah’s top operatives go into the club, kill one employee, threaten and assault others and then abduct Mayumi. The entire time they are live streaming the murder and abduction, showing their not only their faces but the depths of their depravity. The best way to describe this group, in my opinion, is “internet cult”, and their leader, Vendenski (portrayed incredibly well by Kirk Geiger) is a Manson-like figure that has a similar following as they are willing to do whatever sick, twisted thing he wishes imposed upon an innocent victim.
Capital Messiah is an incredibly dangerous entity, and Hayate is unprepared to fight them on his own, despite his willingness to do whatever it takes to save his sister. Enter Keiko, portrayed by Asami. If you are unfamiliar with her, allow me to quote Kurando himself, “She’s a force of nature”. If you saw her work with Kurando’s previous film, Gun Woman (available to stream on Netflix) you would understand that quote, and I strongly suggest that you do so. Keiko has a unique knowledge of the Capital Messiah compound that is revealed through conversations that she and Hayate have. Granted it is expositional, but it isn’t forced. Kurando is exceptionally skilled at writing dialogue and showing flashbacks that accentuate and complement the writing. It’s an underrated skill that many directors attempt but few can achieve; filmmakers that come to mind are Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino.
The final confrontation scene is a thing of beauty. Starting off there is a fight scene inside a moving trailer being hauled through the desert roads outside the compound, which is amazing enough, but when you factor in that the walls are lined with barbed wire, it becomes one of the best set pieces in recent memory. It seems simple, but it’s complex enough that it keeps your interest with the fantastic fight choreography combined with the tension of the things happening all around them as the unarmed Hayate tests his mettle against a man with a samurai sword.
After Hayate escapes the fight in the trailer, he then has to do battle with the rest of the compound’s occupants. This is a long, beautifully drawn-out scene that is highlighted by some excellent stunt work, some great martial arts and an incredibly tense final standoff in which we get the true measure of Vendenski’s character. The final shot lingers on an open-ended finale, leaving you to decide what exactly occurred in the climactic end scene, one of the best shots in a film full of great visuals – another one of Kurando’s innate talents; there is a scene that was shown to be occurring at sunrise, and that was the culmination of twenty-four hours of shooting, showcasing not only the resiliency of the cast and crew but also their dedication to their craft.
Kurando is a very down-to earth, a fan-friendly guy who genuinely cares about his fans and their experiences they have with his films. In the aforementioned interview on the Atomic Age Media Podcast Kurando got in-depth about films that influenced him, how he got into filmmaking and the difference between working with the same actors more than once and working with actors for the first time. It’s a very well-done interview, and Kurando has a very fun and enjoyable personality, so do yourself a favor and give it a listen on either iTunes or Stitcher Radio.
Speaking of Kurando and podcasts, he will also be joining a live podcast, Trick or Treat Radio (hosted by the eclectic collection of Johnny Wolfenstein, Dynamo Marz, Monster Zero and Michael Ravenshadow), on July 26th as part of their fifth-anniversary show. He will be taking live questions as well as questions through email and voice messages sent to the show, so if you’re a fan of his work, or just want to know more about him, send in your questions or thoughts to Podcast@TrickorTreatRadio.com and check out the live show at TrickorTreatRadio.com beginning at 9 pm EST.
In case you aren’t able to fit that into your schedule, or you just can’t get enough of him, Kurando will be making yet another podcast appearance on the Throwdown Thursday Podcast (hosted by Patsy the Angry Nerd, Agent Nicole and Ashes von Nitemare) which will air on August 24th. You can send in questions or comments to him at ThrowdownThursdayPodcast@gmail.com and of course, you can follow Kurando on Twitter, @MKurando.