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Sarah Michelle GellarSarah Michelle Gellar - Takashi Shimizu so successful it’s scary
By Shogo Hagiwara
Wednesday 16 February 2005, by Webmaster
It’s a story of zero to hero.
Not long ago, director Takashi Shimizu was just one of many filmmaker wannabes. He waited tables at a coffee shop and lived in a 5,000 yen-per-month apartment to make ends meet. But the horror movie "The Grudge" (Japan title: The Juon) has transformed him into one of the hottest properties in Hollywood. He tells The Daily Yomiuri how it all happened.
Upon its release in the United States in October, director Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge sent a chill down the spines of American audiences and rocked the U.S. box office rankings, seizing the No. 1 spot on its opening weekend.
As of December, The Grudge—a remake of the Japanese movie Juon, which Shimizu himself also directed—had raked in 110 million dollars, making him the most successful Japanese filmmaker in the United States.
While the film’s producer, Sam Raimi, (director of the Spider-Man series) and star Sarah Michelle Gellar showered Shimizu with praise for both his filmmaking talent and the movie’s commercial success in the United States, the 32-year-old director seems detached from it all.
Asked about his box-office success in the United States, he humbly says: "I cannot possibly imagine what those figures mean...All I know from those figures is that my movie has been seen by a lot of people, which is good."
Shimizu’s detachment perhaps has something to do with his background. Only 10 years ago, his biggest aim in life was to have one film to his credit. He believed the world of movies was such a hard place in which to ply his trade that if he could get to direct just one movie in his entire life, that would be good enough.
But back then, he wasn’t even making a movie.
"I was interested in acting and stage performances when I was a student," says Shimizu, who tells of playing in Shakespeare’s and Beckett’s works at university. "I always wanted to be a filmmaker, but I thought I could benefit from putting myself in the shoes of an actor."
But Shimizu dropped out of university and took up part-time jobs while focusing his energy on writing scripts. He then worked as assistant director on several movies, but it was not until the late ’90s that Shimizu’s talent caught the attention of prominent figures in the Japanese film industry, like director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Akarui Mirai and Doppelganger). Subsequently, he started directing television programs as well as straight-to-video films, including the Juon series, on which the movie version is based.
"Looking back at the past 10 years, it feels like a fraction of the time. I couldn’t possibly have imagined I’d become the person I am now. I thought that directing one movie in my entire life would be more than I could hope for," Shimizu says.
"I consider myself unbelievably lucky and am now afraid I might’ve used up all my luck with this movie.
"There were ups and downs along the way, but it feels really short. I had concerns and reservations—in fact I still do."
While waiting for this interview, a female reporter sitting next to me was quivering with excitement at the prospect of meeting Shimizu, but she failed to recognize him when he emerged from the interview room and passed right in front of her nose. As she later confided to a colleague, he looked totally different from what she had imagined.
Whatever image she had in mind, it’s true that Shimizu seems to be the furthest thing one could imagine from the blinding glitter of Hollywood. He’s discreet and well mannered; the sudden fame hasn’t turned his head; he’s not trying to impose a big-guy image on the people around him. He even asked the PR officer overseeing his interviews whether he had been consistent in his answers throughout.
But Shimizu’s appearance and manner can be misleading. Under the skin, there is a steely determination.
"I cannot speak English. I had never been overseas before this movie. I didn’t even have a passport. But someone like me could succeed in Hollywood, so I’m pretty sure there’re a lot more in Japan who’ve got potential to follow suit," Shimizu says, before criticizing what he regards as a passive attitude among Japanese filmmakers.
"But the thing is we Japanese still feel Hollywood isn’t within our reach. People are awestruck at the mere mention of the place. We don’t know why, but we always feel that way.
"But now that must change. There are areas in filmmaking where Japanese can excel. We should make our voice heard and presence felt in Hollywood, so that Japanese and American movie cultures can develop hand in hand."
Several times during the interview, Shimizu describes himself as lucky. If many would agree with that it’s not because there is any question mark hanging over his talent, but because, thanks to Raimi’s backing, he was given full creative freedom on the set. That’s extremely rare in Hollywood, where a first-timer to Tinseltown—whether an actor or director—is regarded as little more than an amateur, liable to be pushed around by producers and studio executives. (British actress Keira Knightley, star of King Arthur and Bend It Like Beckham, once said that the first thing she realized in Hollywood was that what she had achieved in Britain counted for nothing.)
Now, with the success of The Grudge under his belt, the offers are pouring in. "But most of them are either remakes or sequels and don’t inspire me as a creator," Shimizu says.
"I started this career because I love movies, so I don’t want to lose that feeling.
"Money doesn’t concern me. If I’m having fun making something, it doesn’t matter if it’s my money or someone else’s. I just want to continue having fun in my life."