Daisuki Toku recently had the opportunity to speak to Bueno, creator of Garage Hero, an indie movie group based in Tokyo, Japan. They specialize (but are not limited to) tokusatsu content and focus on creating original characters and stories.
Since immigrating to Japan in 2006, Bueno’s been busy. Instead of only watching tokusatsu, Bueno’s been a suit actor in the stage shows Kamen Rider Kabuto and Lion Maru G. He’s also learning from toku vets. He’s trained with suit actor Takaiwa Seiji for the past two years, studied VFX from Kiyoshi Hayashi, who is doing the CG for Kyuranger, Ultraman Geed, and Kamen Rider Build, and learned a bit on how how production is done by suit actor and producer Koichi Sakamoto. Daisuke Komatsu, who formerly worked with major tokusatsu shows, created the suits for his current project.
We spoke to Bueno about creating original tokusatsu, teaching others how to create original productions, and most importantly, his current project Strega.
Garage Hero has launched their Indiegogo campaign for Strega. Visit the Indiegogo campaign here.
Do you feel that indie toku is more accepted in the East or the West (or neither)?
Bueno: In Japan, there’s a sub-genre of tokusatsu called “Goutouchi Heroes” or “Local Heroes”. These are usually indie and are reduced to taking place in a small part of Japan or even a shopping street as opposed to protecting Japan or the world like the mainstream shows do.
In Japan, people see much the indie toku as the same level as “Local Heroes” and not as their own thing. This is much due to the production value that they’re only able to afford. Meanwhile in the west, people will just see indie productions as a copy of Sentai or Kamen Rider because those are the only mainstream shows at the moment. The only thing they can do is compare something with something else because something different from mainstream stuff is outside their element.
Whether it be East or West, it’s hard to be accepted by either because no matter what, an indie production is NOT going to have the production value that the bigger productions have. Hence, what’s more important (at least to me) are the people who actually give your title a chance and enjoy it for what it is. Indie Toku is never going to please everybody, but it definitely will be accepted by somebody.
Did you grow up watching kaiju and/or martial arts films? What were some films that inspired you?
Bueno: At least once a month they would show Destroy All Monsters on late night TV in Canada. My brother and I loved that movie. But I watched Kamen Rider Black when I visited the Philippines and was addicted. Nothing pumps you up more than a guy kicking a monster in the face and making it blow up.
As for Martial Arts Films, I would always go to this Chinese video store in downtown Winnipeg and rented anything from Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, or Donnie Yen. Throughout the 90’s I became a bigger fan of Jet Li’s movies not because of Jet Li, but more because of the person who directed his movies, Corey Yuen. From that point on, Corey Yuen became my favorite action director and heavily influences much of the way I direct action.
Garage Hero seems to focus more on adult themed works. Would you ever consider making a series for kids?
Bueno: Oh definitely. A lot of people enjoy our stuff for its “immaturely mature content” and its actually easier for us to do that kind of stuff because that’s just the crowd of people that we are. But the next challenge to us, would be to make something for a more general audience yet is able to maintain the entertainment value that our past works have had.
It’s going to require a lot of application, trial, and error but it would definitely helps us expand the range of productions we would be able to make.
Besides from movies, do you want to expand Garage Hero into any other media, such as video games, manga, anime, etc.?
Bueno: Manga/Comics looks like something that would be doable in the future. But if we were able to expand into anime be it 2D or 3D, there would be no hesitation. As for video games, I’m a bit of a gamer. So should the time come when someone asks me if I would like for them to create a Strega video game, we’d jump for it like Kris Kross.
From watching your Tokusatsu Film School series, we know there’s an emphasis on creating original work over fan-characters. Do you have any encouraging words for toku fans who are too scared or worried about the costs (money, time) to make their own series?
Bueno: Your first attempt at ANYTHING will be absolutely terrible. Even now, I take a look back at my first Toku film, Gun Caliber and think to myself “if we had the knowledge and resources that we have now, this would’ve looked way better”. But the fact is that it’s done and over with. And that’s a good thing. Because its shows proof of how much you’ve grown.
The important thing is to GET STARTED. So what if your first Toku is crappy? Get it over with, mess up, and learn from it. Then you repeat that again and again until you come up with something that you’re satisfied with. Start with something small like shooting action figures and practicing CG with that. Then move onto shooting real people. And then suits. And if you’re scared of spending money, you probably shouldn’t be making movies (laughs) because you’re basically throwing your money away unless you actually have a plan to eventually sell your film to people. Which even then is a gamble in itself. But it’s both scary and exciting at the same time.
Another thing that we get a lot of, is a bunch of people wanting to make their own Kamen Rider or Sentai. Sorry to take a dump on their dreams and all, but it’s something that is beyond anyone’s reach. Bandai owns the rights/names of these properties and aren’t gonna give em’ up to anyone. So you’re better off making something that’s “similar” to it yet doesn’t use the name Kamen Rider or Sentai in the title. Doing so would result in the big mega corporation that you love so much, suing your ass for copyright infringement. So save yourself the trouble and come up with something else that doesn’t bank off of name value.
The movie reviews on Garage Hero are often more critical of toku and the people behind the scenes. Do you feel that production companies like TOEI and Tsuburaya are doing anything right in progressing the tokusatsu genre?
Bueno: Not really. Because to them it’s just work. The fans don’t see it that way because they just care about what they see on the screen. If you mention someone like Koichi Sakamoto who can make really great stuff, maybe 5 out of 10 fans will actually know of him and follow whatever he directs. Meanwhile, the other half doesn’t care about who directs or produces it as long as they get to see Kamen Rider in the title. Toei banks off of this as it’s the only way to keep the series going for as long as they can. But it’s starting to become obvious that the creative sides are running out of ideas.
There’s 4 major players in the production of these shows. In terms of Kamen Rider, you have:
- Bandai, who produces the toys and funds the show
- Plex, who designs the toys/characters for the show
- Toei, who produces the show
- TV Asahi, who syndicates the show
Shirakura (The current head CEO of Toei) used to produce great shows like Ryuki and Faiz, but now, it’s obvious that he’s jaded with his own show yet can’t let go of it because that’s
one of the only things that makes money for the company. Hence, Toei isn’t willing to try out new things because it depends on name value as opposed to focusing on make a
decent tokusatsu. Super Hero Taisen is a prime example of it. Mindlessly throwing characters on the screen for no apparent reason. The pangs of being a slave to your own devices.
Hopefully that’ll never happen to us at Garage Hero. Although if it DID happen, we’d blow all our profits on mink coats and live it up a little. (laughs)
Strega is your current work-in-progress. Though he’s the main character, he’s not a toku hero for kids. Can you tell us a bit more about the main character?
Bueno: If you’d like to know more about the main character, I highly recommend everyone to watch Gun Caliber first:
It gives you a good idea of what kind of superhero he is. But he’s basically like a blue collar worker in a cape. The only reason why he’s a superhero is because it pays for his addictions and the bills. He hates old people, he hates kids, yet he has delusions of grandeur. Think of your next door neighbor that thinks they know everything but you can tell that they really know nothing at all. That’s who he is. (laughs) But it comes time to fight evil, he’s skilled at it because he’s been doing it for so long. Sometimes gets even a little too cocky and ends up having an Al Bundy/Hellboy type moment.
Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Bueno: Garage Hero is still small. We filmed Gun Caliber for two years and finished it in 2012. It took us 5 years to get the movie onto home video. So as you can see, we don’t exactly pump these things out every year. The only way we’ll be able to continue doing what we are doing is with the help of you, the fans. Tell everybody about us. Who we are, what we do, and where we do it. Tell your friends, your cousins, that one cool teacher at school who shows you movies in class instead of actually teaching you anything. Anyone.
We really hope that you look forward to Strega as it’s going to be twice as crazy as Gun Caliber was. And if any of you are in Tokyo, let us know. We could use the extra slaves…uhhh, I mean…Production Assistants!
Thanks again Bueno for allowing us to interview you. We wish you the best of luck with Garage Hero and look forward to more Strega news!
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