“Ben-Joe”
Undercover Report on Filming & Production (2)
【Report by Taku Inagaki

2nd day of coverage

【Among the food props and hyperventilating】

The best "culinary team"

Early in the morning at 5:00 a.m., when I get up to use the restroom, there is already a figure in the staff room. Mr. Kutsuzawa, the photographer, was dozing off in front of his computer. I was told later that this is a regular occurrence. He is editing the footage that has already been shot every night until morning. He then checks the footage at the staff meeting before shooting and makes a plan for the day's shooting. It is rare for a cameraman to be asleep on the futon, so the Mikawa Film staff is to be feared.

Shortly after I returned from the restroom, the cast and crew began to get up one by one. They greeted each other with a "good morning" and began to get ready for their respective roles. In the makeup room, all the actors were shaving their own heads with safety razors in hand, and it was a bizarre sight to see four actresses shaving their own heads in a row. Ms. Iwai, who was shaving her own head one after the other, was also having a hard time. In the kitchen next door, the director and cameraman were standing, shoveling down a bowl of rice with eggs in their hands.

While I was thinking that they should sit down in the living room to eat, the staff started a meeting to check the footage, and as soon as they finished, they went off to the set.

As we too were in a hurry to finish our breakfast, the dining table was already filled with homemade food by the locals, prepared by Ms. Sugita, the chief of production. He had prepared breakfast just for me. The local Tsugu area is known for its tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and eggplants, and many dishes using them are on the menu. There are no convenience stores here in Tsugu. As someone who usually eats only convenience store bento, it seems like a luxury to be able to eat homemade food for all three meals every day.

P7147486.jpg

While we are eating, the production chief is flitting about on the phone in his headset. According to what I hear, today's scene requires a large amount of “*kiemono”. They need more than 60 ryotei (Japanese-style restaurant) platters. They said it was impossible to prepare them in one day, so they had been cooking with local people and stocking up on dishes in preparation for this day. The two refrigerators at the camp were full to the brim. On this day, too, a cooking team of local people had been formed, and their members came to the camp one after another with cheerful greetings and food offerings. Before I knew it, the kitchen was on fire. The finished dishes were cooled and packed in Styrofoam boxes for transporting fish, along with refrigerants. The cooling agents were prepared in piles in a large basket, which was also apparently a sponsored item. The cooking team carried the Styrofoam boxes filled with food to the set. Ms. Iwai, a make-up artist who had finished her make-up work, was also helping to carry the food.

As I headed toward the set, I saw a huge oval dining table on the set with a variety of dishes lined up on it. Filming had already begun, and the crew was battling flies. It is only natural that flies would be attracted to such a large array of food in the middle of summer. The flies were flying all over the place, making it difficult to proceed with the photo shoot as planned. Insecticides were sprayed everywhere, as the food was not to be eaten. As we proceeded with the shooting, the room was filled with insecticide, and the interior became slightly hazy, making it difficult for me to breathe. As expected, a number of staff members went outside to get some air. Flies and humans. It was a battle to see which would fall first. When the insecticide was beginning to seep into my eyes, Mr. Arakawa, the assistant director, forbade the staff from wrapping the staff in insecticide. Mr. Arakawa himself seems to be very weak against insecticides, and I guess he could not stand it any longer. He suggested that they catch flies with their bare hands instead of using insecticides. The director laughed at his words and said, "That's impossible," but to his surprise, Mr. Arakawa caught the flies one after another with his bare hands. As Mr. Arakawa caught flies at a pace comparable to a chameleon, the staff and cast members began to applaud each time he caught a fly.

Bloodstains plague the shoot

P7147452.jpg

Then a whole cake was delivered to the set to be used for the shoot. Since it was hot, the cake was prepared in two pieces to prevent it from losing its shape during the filming. The cakes were so gorgeous that I couldn't resist eating them, but they were also sponsored by a cake bakery. The chef made the cakes this morning and drove two hours to deliver them to the set. The chef was not a direct acquaintance of the Mikawa Eiga crew, but rather a friend of Tsugu's who heard a rumor that the assistant directors were discussing what kind of cake to use for the shoot and asked his friend to make it for them. Mikawa Eiga, whose previous film "Happy Endings" also had more than 1,000 people in the end credits. The connection with people is indeed impressive.

Because of the heat, the food was spoiled severely. After each cut, the food that was not on screen was put back in the styrofoam box, and if it was to be shown on camera, it was taken out of the box and placed on the table. The cooking team was in a hurry to get the food in and out of the boxes. Ms. Takahashi, the assistant director, with her smartphone in hand, gives detailed instructions on the position of the dishes, referring to the photos she took of the dishes when they were first laid out.

In the midst of all this, the filming of the scene in question begins. Amidst the tense atmosphere, the whispering voices of the staff members in discussion with each other echoed in the background. The pressure to say only the bare minimum of words is in the air on the set. Director Iwamatsu says to Ms. Ishikawa, "Let's go when you're ready to feel ready. She gave a small nod, but after about five minutes, she remained silent and said nothing. The staff members were also staring at her with bated breath. Watching her, I realize that I am not breathing, and I hastily take a breath. More time passes, but the tension remains and Ms. Ishikawa makes no move. In the stillness, a deep sigh escapes Ms. Ishikawa's body. No..." she mutters, and walks toward the director, who was standing by the camera. After a word or two with the director, she collapsed into a chair in a corner of the set.

Fighting Flies and Frogs

P7168159.jpg

When the lighting and sound crew members saw what was happening, they walked off the set and took a deep breath, perhaps because of the tension or because of the insecticide. Meanwhile, assistant director Mr. Arakawa was, as usual, capturing flies. Ms. Takahashi, the assistant director, was moving suspiciously in a corner of the set, so I approached her and found that she had caught a frog that had entered the set and was letting it go outside. Upon closer inspection, I found that there were frogs stuck everywhere on the set wall by the window. I was taken aback. Ms. Takahashi told us that for some reason, frogs come into the set in large numbers after 11:00 p.m., no matter how many we let out, they keep coming in. He said that he was getting so worried because the frogs kept coming in no matter what he put out or not.

Meanwhile, the heroine Ms. Ishikawa returns to the set. Seeing this, the crew members silently get into their shooting positions. This is the moment when the Mikawa Film crew members seem to be in synch with each other. The director looks at her silently, saying, "You can start shooting anytime you want, and when you are ready, you can start the play at your own timing. Once again, a sense of tension envelops the entire set. I, too, was standing by the wall, anxiously watching for the frog, waiting for the play to begin, but no matter how long it took, the play did not start. I took a closer look at Ms. Ishikawa, who was frozen in place, and saw that she was trembling slightly. His breathing gradually became deeper and deeper, and eventually his breathing became more and more intense. Ms. Iwai, the makeup artist, rushed to her in a panic. Ms. Ishikawa was hyperventilating and in a state of panic. Ms. Iwai is trying hard to expand the fist that Ms. Ishikawa is clenching. The reason is that in her clenched hand, the part of the palm where her fingernail hits the hand has been cut and is soaked with blood. Seeing this, Ms. Takahashi, the assistant director, put a plastic bag over Ms. Ishikawa's mouth to help her breathe easier. I was so upset that I was at a loss as to what to do, and when I looked at the staff, the cameraman was rolling the making-of camera. The cameraman must have instinctively decided that the footage would be useful later. How frightening. The director goes to Ms. Ishikawa and talks to her about something, but she shakes her head. The director seems to suggest postponing the shooting, but Ms. Ishikawa is eager to continue filming. She herself knows best that if she doesn't overcome this obstacle, she won't be able to act out this scene," she says, watching Ms. Ishikawa closely next to the camera. I feel that they have a deep trust between them that we outsiders cannot understand, and that they are fighting together.

Filming may be over, but filmmaking is not...

P7157872.jpg

When the camera finally started rolling after the top (midnight), Ms. Ishikawa's face was swollen from crying so much. When filming ended, she collapsed and left the set. A look of relief came over the staff. The clock struck 3:00 am. Thus, the second day of the undercover report came to an end, and Tomo was relieved. But it was not to be. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard the crew discussing while putting away equipment and props, and then I heard that an hour later, at 4:00 a.m., they were going to test the blood glue. I was afraid that I would collapse if I kept up with the pace of the Mikawa Film crew, but I could not afford to miss a single moment of their guts. With this in mind, I resolved to stay with the film crew as long as I could.

Around 4:00 a.m., as scheduled, the blood-glue test began. Two 20-liter jars were prepared at the site, to which thick hoses were connected. The end of the hoses were attached to the bodies of the *stand-in staff members, and when a large amount of blood glue was poured from the jars, it would flow out of the actors' bodies. A camera mounted on a crane aimed straight up at the scene. The camera on the crane is aimed directly above the actors' bodies to see how well the blood glue spreads and flows. Will the camera be able to capture it without missing it? Would the actors be able to withstand the shooting? The purpose of the test was to check these things. After repeated tests, the equipment used to pour the blood glue was improved each time. By the time the test was over, it was already light outside the set. Although the test was successfully completed, Ms. Iwai was in a panic, saying that they had used too much blood glue than expected in the test and ran out of blood glue for the actual performance. Since a large amount of blood glue will be used in the production, he says that if he does not make the blood glue now, he will not be able to make it in time for the shoot. There was no time to sleep. However, perhaps the tension of the shooting had gotten to me, and I didn't have the strength left to continue the interview. With Ms. Iwai standing beside the set with her head in her hands, I gave up on the interview and slipped into the futon at the training camp.

*kiemono Things that the performers actually eat and drink during the program and then run out.​

*stand-in A staff member takes the place of a cast member during rehearsals when the cast member's standing position, camera position, etc. has not yet been determined.