Interview: Mark Tan – director of Akira: The Kaneda Short Film

by Miguel Douglas


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Akira has stunned audiences around the world as a vivid example of what animation can offer in terms of mature entertainment. With its audacious storytelling by director and writer Katsuhiro Otomo, the speculation of a big budget live-action adaptation has been a possibility for quite some time, but has never been fully realized. Whether it’s due project scope or simply studio politics, the possibility of a live-action Akira has always been a difficult route to maneuver. With the absence of big budget studios seemingly inconsistent on the production side of the film, this has led the gateway to be opened for many adventurous filmmakers and fans to fill in the void. One such director is Mark Tan, founder of Eye Tape Productions and creator of the Akira short film. Here is an interview with him regarding the project.

How did this project come to fruition?

One day I was browsing through Akira fan videos on Youtube.  All the fan videos had inspiring qualities to them. From low budgets to low-fi computer graphics, you could tell that they all wanted to create something that would give the rest of the fan pool a taste of how a live action Akira would be.  Out of all of these videos, I felt something was missing, and it was my favorite part of the movie: the bike fights.  The raw visceral energy of lead pipes being swung at each other, playing chicken, and getting serious road rash were what really excited me.

So I set out for the next three months figuring out if this video could be done.  I started talking to an old high school friend I had not talked to in 8-9 years because I saw a video of him riding his motorcycle.  He loved to ride and agreed to help me out.  I tried getting other bikers through him, but his riding friends didn’t want to do it.  So I went on and posted a bulletin open for anyone who had a bike.  To my luck, this guy named Sergio emailed me about his interest in shooting the short.  After many emails and a few phone conversations we finally met up to shoot.  Sergio had a great looking Super Duke bike that worked really well as the villain.  So I had everything I needed, set up my two-man camera crew and went from there.

What were some of the inspirations behind the project?

Like I said in the previous question, it was something I wanted to do because I felt I could add something new to what was out there.  Some influences in the short film other than the anime include The Road Warrior and Collateral.  The Road Warrior definitely helped me imagine a clearer picture of how I could shoot each action sequence.  Collateral gave me an idea of how to capture and color treat my and digital cinematography.

Are you a big fan of the film and/or manga series?

I would say I’m a fan of the art and design of the manga, but first and foremost I’m a fan of the film.  The film’s overall visual style is what I love most about it.

Are you a fan of Japanese animation in general? If so, what are some other series/films you enjoy?

I mainly watch anime films because I don’t have time to keep up with series.  I also enjoy the more polished look of films as opposed to series.  Some of my favorites include Millennium Actress, Metropolis, Princess Mononoke, Perfect Blue, and Ghost in the Shell.

Are you a fan of Asian cinema? If so, what are some films you enjoy?

Akira Kurosawa is one of the main filmmakers I study and watch.  Asian films I enjoy off the top of my head are Rashomon (Kurosawa) , Visitor Q (Takashi Miike), Hard Boiled (John Woo), The Legend Of Drunken Master, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto), Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu), Farewell My Concubine (Kaige Chen), Yojimbo (Kurosawa), Sanjuro (Kurosawa), and To Live (Yimou Zhang).

How long did the project take to film in its entirety?

It was a process of on and off shooting through three months.  Actors and the single crewman had separate schedules.  Here’s the breakdown:

Actual Shooting: 4 Days, each day about 2-3 hours

Post Production (Editing, Sound, and Effects): Three and a half Weeks, about 6-8 hours a day

Were there any difficulties that you came across when shooting?

We didn’t have that many issues because I mostly knew what I wanted to capture before we went to shoot.  I worried a lot about shooting two bikers ride with metal pipes and not getting caught by the police (the location was about three+ blocks away from the station).

One of the biggest issues that arose during shooting was for the opening sequence.  At the beginning of the shoot when everyone showed up, it began to rain.  So we shot the scene in about an hour, less than half of the length I expected, but for the most part I got all the coverage I needed for it to work.

Where were the shooting location(s) for the film?

It was shot mostly in downtown Los Angeles, CA.  The bike fighting scenes were shot in Walnut, CA in an industrial district.

The introduction sequence with Kaneda going against the biker—what does this segment signify? The demise of Kaneda?

This is a common misconception for the opening scene because I didn’t have any dialogue or subtitles for the song in the beginning.  The character getting killed in the beginning is not Kaneda, but a member of the capsule gang.  The rap song (Seeda – Lost Heaven) playing in the beginning’s lyrics translation are:

how’s it over there, in heaven?

it’s whatever over here,

the ashtray is full of cigarette butts, the dead of night

because tomorrow doesn’t make promises to anyone

this story, heaven

So basically Kaneda’s friend gets killed by the biker from the clown gang, and he’s in the bar taking shots mourning his death.  He then goes out to get revenge.

The motorcycling montage throughout the city was fantastic, very reminiscent to the actual animated film. How much location scouting did you have to do for that particular sequence?

As a native in Los Angeles, I’m quite familiar with downtown, so I only went out location scouting for one night.  That night was more important for testing out my cameras, mount on the car, and thinking about the overall aesthetic.

What is your favorite part of the film? Why?

I think the most successful part of the film is the opening action sequence.  It was the closest to how I imagined it.

Are you happy with your work? If not, was there anything you believe you could have done better?

I think with what was available to me, I’m moderately satisfied with it.  The original idea imagined more bikers.  If I could have gotten more bikers for the city scene, or even the fight scenes, the action sequences could have been more elaborate and ambitious.

How is the public response for the project so far?

It is mostly positive. There are over 30,000 views right now in Vimeo and Youtube combined, slowly but steadily growing.

How do you feel about the various mainstream live-action adaptations of Anime that we see today? Any that you personally enjoyed? Disliked?

Live action anime/manga films I can think of are Blood: The Last Vampire, Ichi the Killer, The Guyver, Oldboy, Casshern, and Speed Racer.  Out of these movies, I enjoyed Oldboy and Ichi the Killer.  I personally think anime adaptations are a mixed bag, providing new ideas for great filmmakers and horrible crutches for other mainstream movies.  Any source material can be elevated by the people involved in the project.  It doesn’t matter if it is from a book, comic, or anime.  If the story isn’t well told, then it doesn’t matter what it is adapted from.

And finally, do you have any plans to expand the project further? A sequel perhaps? Full-length film?

Currently, all the projects I choose to take on have a variety in content and execution.  This is a stand-alone project as of now.  I was very excited to release it to the public and glad to see numerous positive reactions.

You can view the film below

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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