Someone recently asked me where I got the idea for KAISHAKUNIN.
I stammered as I wrestled with a response.
The asker assumed my struggle — my hesitation — to answer indicated that I wanted to avoid admitting that I was ripping something off. But the truth is…I don’t know where the idea came from.
Was it from a dream? Was I watching YOJIMBO and thinking it would be better with a supernatural element?
I don’t think so.
I’ve always admired martial arts. I’ve always loved horror films. The combination of genres seemed a natural fit. But when did that realization strike me? I honestly couldn’t say.
I can say this though: I didn’t set out to write an action-packed martial arts masterpiece filled with the undead. (If I had, then the person who questioned me could have rightfully accused me of plagiarizing THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES…or several other films.)
In an earlier draft, the story was going to feature samurai vs. zombies. But it felt so…derivative. I wanted something quieter. Something that allowed me to focus on characters. On dialogue. On a story that might leave the audience with more questions than answers.
As a viewer, I love films that challenge me. As a writer, I strive to make those films (with varying degrees of success).
So, in the end, the film became the story of two men talking about a ghost. One man is a samurai. The other is an older, lonely man. As a storm approaches, they discuss the legend of a vengeful spirit who roams the nearby forest. But is the legend a lie? The truth? Or something far, far worse…
Inspirations And The Thought Process
Did other films influence me? Of course. How could they not? I sat down with my co-producers John Iwasz and Sanj Surati (the masterminds behind Small Basket), and we watched RASHOMON. The film examines the power of perception — as four characters recount a single event that involved them.
But every story is different — often twisted by a character’s desire for a reality that simply isn’t real. Only one story is accurate — and it’s the one told in secret. It’s also the one that haunts the man who witnessed the truth.
I explore similar themes in KAISHAKUNIN — examining the nature of truth, the consequences of decisions, the influence of myth, the ability to accept what is and what isn’t. The story goes a bit deeper too — tackling the concepts of honor, commitment, and (ultimately) responsibility.
I may have also veered a tad toward KWAIDAN territory. The Japanese have contributed plenty to the horror genre — from kaiju to scary girls with long black hair — but I have always admired some of their more subtle efforts. KWAIDAN, a collection of stories based on Japanese folk tales with supernatural elements, is a fine example.
In KAISHAKUNIN, I attempted to create a similar vibe: a ghost story that feels like a fable, discussed by two different men from far different classes.
Someone Has To Pay
Having produced a few short films, I have a sense of how much they cost. When I write a script, I can’t help but think of potential expenses, and sometimes I scale back ideas that would be prohibitively costly.
As you might guess, you don’t need a huge budget just to film two men sitting in a room and talking. That isn’t necessarily the case with KAISHAKUNIN. Yes, a small cast in a dialogue-driven film won’t normally break the bank.
But if you decide to set the film in feudal Japan…
As I was writing KAISHAKUNIN, I didn’t think, “Wow, this could be expensive to do right.” I was thinking, “I like this. I really like this.”
To be frank, when I wrote KAISHAKUNIN, I assumed it would never survive outside of my hard drive. There aren’t too many indie horror filmmakers working on samurai ghost films — and for good reason. Authenticity costs. But writers don’t always work on scripts with the expectation to get the films made. They write the scripts because the scripts demand to be written.
So, yeah, I got KAISHAKUNIN out of my head, down on the digital page, and prepared to move on.
The Stars Are Right
John, Sanj, and I met on the indie festival circuit, and we’ve become good friends. We get together regularly for dinner and discussion — generally sharing our ideas and talking about projects. During one such dinner, I told them about KAISHAKUNIN. Later that night, I sent them the script and…well…here we are — nine days away from shooting.
To call my relationship with John and Sanj fortuitous would be a gross understatement. Working with them has raised the bar for serendipity.
In the beginning (way before pre-production officially started), I thought we would have to find a Japanese restaurant willing to rent out some space. But John and Sanj managed to connect with someone who built a Japanese teahouse in his backyard. What are the odds?
John and Sanj also managed to find candidates for the perfect cast. In a day and age where Hollywood is regularly called out for yellowfacing, I was keenly aware of potential problems with the casting of KAISHAKUNIN. In the world of indie filmmaking, you generally take what you get (and can afford) — always hoping for the best, of course — but there is always the need for compromise.
(To give you an example: In the first draft of KAISHAKUNIN, the film was set in a restaurant. We changed the location to a teahouse…for reasons mentioned above.) I never would deliberately set out to hire Caucasians to play Japanese characters, but I didn’t know what choices I would have.
Great ones, it turned out.
An amazing location, a perfect cast. All thanks to my co-producers — whom I swear are more dedicated to the project than I am.
Which is not to suggest that I’m not dedicated. KAISHAKUNIN will be my directorial debut, and I will work for perfection. Once again, I’m lucky to have John and Sanj in my corner. In my head, I see a beautiful black-and-white film. I hear unsettling noises and crisp dialogue delivery. But it will be John and Sanj and their friend and collaborator Shmoolie (aka Spencer Lerner) who make that vision a reality — providing cinematography, audio, editing, music, and sound design.
A Show Of Support…and A Humble Request
Collectively, John, Sanj, and I are producing the film. We have roughed out the budget — taking into account travel, costume, hotel, food, and location costs. To help offset expenses, we launched an Indiegogo campaign. We are hoping to raise $2,000, and as of this writing, we’re 22% there — one week in with three left to go.
Anyone who runs any sort of crowdfunding has probably felt a tinge of disappointment, waiting for the numbers to climb. But I’ve been here before, and I know what it’s like. Many people run these campaigns, and friends and family can’t finance everything. I get it. I do.
So I’ll close by asking a small favor. Through our Indiegogo campaign, ten dollars is the lowest denomination you can donate to receive perks. But I’m not going to ask you for ten dollars. I’m not even going to ask for five.
I’m going to ask you for a buck.
With Indiegogo, you can donate as little or as much as you want. So you have the ability to donate a dollar. You can even do so anonymously.
You may wonder why I’m making that request. Even if 100 people donate a dollar each, we’d still be well short of our goal. So what’s the point? The point is…it’s not about the money. It’s about that feeling of support. That feeling of faith.
Sanj, John, and I are dedicated to this project. We believe in this story. We believe in our ability to deliver a great film.
If you donate a dollar, you’re saying, “I believe in you guys too.”
And that would mean a lot.
To jump back to the beginning, I don’t know where the idea for KAISHAKUNIN came from. But I know where it’s going.
No matter what, Sanj, John, and I will make this movie. We’d love to think that you’re waiting for the end result.
Because it will be special.
And we won’t let anyone down. Ourselves. Our cast.