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The Duel Project: When drunken wagering leads to great filmmaking

Use my shampoo again and you die, BITCH!
by Brian Mckay

PRESENTED BY THE SAN FRANCISCO INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL AT THE ROXIE THEATER: Imagine, if you will, two Japanese directors who meet at a film festival, each familiar with (and appreciative of) each other’s work. Then imagine a night of binge drinking that leads to the gauntlet being thrown down - a little friendly competition to see who can make the best “Duel to the Death” film. Then throw in a few rules like 1) The script can contain no more than 2-3 characters 2) The film must be shot in seven days and on a small budget 3) the film can only take place in one setting, and most importantly 4) at least one character must die. Thus, the Duel Project was born.

The directors in question are Ryuhei Kitamura (known for Samurai action spectacles Versus and Azumi) and Yukihiko Tsutsumi (Keizoku, Chinese Dinner). Mr. Kitamura, who was in attendance for the San Francisco Indie Fest’s presentation of the Duel Project, discussed his first encounter with his soon-to-be-rival.

“We first met at a film festival in Germany. We had each seen and respected each other’s work, and so that night we started drinking and talking about filmmaking. As is traditional with Japanese directors, the drinking soon gave way to fighting about who could make the best film about a fight to the death. So we agreed to do the Duel Project, and made up a few simple rules for it.

“But Tsutsumi’s a selfish guy (Kitamura says jokingly). He doesn’t return my calls about the project for three months, then calls me up one day and says ‘Hey, I already started filming mine, so you may want to put together a script’. Then he says ‘oh, and mine is going to be about two attractive young ladies, so maybe you could make yours about a pair of old men?’ So I told him, ‘Hey, if you’re going to use good looking young girls, at least let me use a couple of good-looking young guys. Besides, I’m afraid to use old men for the wire work – I might kill one of them.”

And so the Duel Project chugged ahead, with each director producing a respectable entry despite the ridiculously short time in which they had to write the script and complete the shoot. Kitamura chose a traditional Samurai theme with elements of Japanese mythology for his film Aragami, which he described as “A practice run for Azumi” (by all accounts so far, Azumi is his most violent film to date, and I can’t wait to see it). Meanwhile, Tsutsumi’s 2LDK takes place in a contemporary setting, as a pair of at-odds female roommates end up in a catfight royale that is as hilarious as it is brutal.

At the end of both films, audience members were asked to deposit their ticket stubs in the appropriate ballot box for the film of their choice – and both films did surprisingly well, considering that 2LDK won by exactly one vote. When asked what the prize for the contest was, Kitamura responded, “We didn’t really come up with a prize, other than respect for the winner . . . but I think the loser should have to shave his head and serve as the winner’s assistant director on his next film. Oh, and he should have to act in his next movie, too.”

Winning and losing aside, the Duel Project provided an excellent venue for the filmmakers to rise to the occasion and create films that are surprisingly good for having been shot in a week. Granted, a lot can be cleaned up in post-production, but still – filming movie full of stunning action sequences in a week is no task to be scoffed at. And while the rules imposed for the Duel Project are nowhere near as restrictive as, say, the Danish Dogme’ manifesto, the two directors have started something which will hopefully blossom into a regular occurrence. Who wouldn’t want to see more epic mano a mano combat, from both Japanese and international directors alike, with the added bonus of audience participation to declare the winner? (not me, that’s for sure).

As for which one I enjoyed more – it was as tough of a call for me as it was for the audience. 2LDK boasts a pair of lovely and talented actresses, with plenty of twisted amusement as they bludgeon each other with many household objects. But although I’m a sucker for a good catfight, I’m even more of a sucker for a really good Katana fight, so Aragami wins by the Samurai edge. With any luck, the Duel Project will be coming to a festival near you and you can decide for yourself, and with a little more luck, Aragami and 2LDK are only the beginning.

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=988
originally posted: 02/09/04 18:45:35
last updated: 09/23/05 03:30:55
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