One of the films that surprised everybody at last year’s Monster Fest was the brand new film by Melbourne independent filmmaker Addison Heath. Heath has really been making a name for himself in film circles as the director of Under A Kaleidoscope and as the writer of Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla. While the Australian film industry waited with baited breath to see what the talented filmmaker would decide to make next nobody expected Mondo Yakuza – a low budget yakuza movie filmed in Melbourne.
As a film Mondo Yakuza is destined to become a cult classic in the same way films like Turkey Shoot and Wake In Fright have in the past. Dave Griffiths sat down with Addison to talk about the work that went into Mondo Yakuza.
I start out by asking what started him on the road to being a filmmaker and how did he first fall in love with cinema. “I first fell in love with cinema at a very young age,” he explains. “I think I was about five years old and I saw the film Terminator 2 and basically that changed everything for me. That was something that made me realise that from that point on that was what I wanted to do, that I wanted to make films. I was never interested in anything in front of camera I was only ever interested in ‘how did they do that.’ So when I was growing up I was always trying to get information on how things like effects worked and things like that. So that was definitely the film that made me fall in love with cinema and made me want to make films. That’s where it started and then I’ve been making films with my friends all through high school for the fun of it. Then in 2012 I got to work with Stuart Simpson on Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla and that was the first project I got to work on where it actually did anything and that kind of opened the doors for me to be able to make my own films.”
I follow up by asking Addison where the idea for Mondo Yakuza came from. “Basically after Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla and Under A Kaleidoscope we kind of just wanted to take our next films, Mondo Yakuza and A Perfect Nonsense, in a very different direction focus on making films that were just for entertainment purposes. They weren’t being made for money, we were done with dramatic elements etc. We did that on the first two films and I just wanted to move away from that and make something that would just be really fun to watch with in an audience, something that could deliver a fun gorefest. I always have fun when I watch a film like that so I wanted to try my hand at that kind of stuff. So I brought in my love of Japanese cinema and my love of 1960s yakuza films. It just felt great because I had always wanted to make a black and white yakuza film. So a lot of it just came down to the fact that this was the kind of film that I wanted to make for a long, long time.”
Some of Mondo Yakuza’s more violent scenes were filmed not only on Melbourne’s streets but also in and around landmark buildings like Trades Hall, so how did Addison and his crew go about getting those shots? “Yeah… um… I guess I really only put that down to luck,” he says with a laugh. “We never had the Police come to a shoot, we never had anything like interruptions from the public we were just lucky. We shot a lot during the week and I guess with other films we’ve filmed on weekends which is normally when people are out and about and the Police are around, but if you are shooting at say 10am on a Tuesday morning there just aren’t as many people around. I guess we just licked out by shooting at just the right times, especially when we would have somebody pull out a weapon… we would just makes rue that there was nobody around.”
One of the things that really hits you when you sit down and watch Mondo Yakuza is the wonderful and talented cast that Addison has been able to put together for the film and he said a lot of that really came down to luck as well. “We really did luck out with that,” he admits. “I had the connection with Glen Maynard from working on Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla and he’s briefly in Under A Kaleidescope, so he and I had worked together before and we are really close friends so he was the obvious choice to play the main antagonist in the film and I had already worked with Kenji Shimada, so we did get back some of the people we had previously worked with. For the rest it really was just holding auditions and realising just how many amazing local actors that there are. They were keen and passionate and wanting to make interesting films so it was about holding auditions and discovering the right people for the parts.”
Addison is also very quick to talk about actress Skye Medusa when I mention that the character of Cassidy Arizona is one of my favourite characters from the film. “Skye I had worked with on Under A Kaleidoscope and I had become friends with her through the local horror scene and festival circuit so she was my first pick for the role. With the role I almost wanted to call her One Eye and I had the idea of a yakuza movie, eye-patch, big shot gun and I thought that would be cool. As soon as I thought of that I thought who would look the coolest and who would deliver the coolest performance and immediately Skye was the first person that came to my mind. She is such an awesome person to work with. I mean Kenji’s part was written for him, Ryan Beckett was definitely written for Glenn and when it came to Cassidy Arizona Skye was always the person that was always going to play that role.”
Now of course as Addison mentioned earlier Mondo Yakuza is a film that is designed to be a gorefest and there was one scene that not only had the audience squirming in their seats at Monster Fest but also shocked the foreign investors behind the film. “Yes, we have a scene which involves genital mutilation, or without spoiling too much, something happens to a guy’s genitals in the first ten minutes of the movie,” explains Addison. “It really was just a case of them not really expecting to see that so early on in the film. So immediately they were concerned and I guess it was a little bit irresponsible on our behalf in the sense that they knew there was going to be a torture scene, they knew something was going to happen to the guy at the start but they weren’t fully aware of where we were going to with that so we had to add some pixilation to the area in question and I think it actually becomes a lot funnier because of that, it becomes more of a nod to Japanese pornography. That to me is really funny, so if you get that joke you will find it funny. If you really do want to see it though on the DVD you will be able to see the Western version so you will be able to see it in all its glory.”
This leads to the question of how does a writer come up with new ways to torture someone or kill them when it comes to a film like this. “I wish I could take full credit for that scene in Mondo Yakuza,” says Addison with a laugh. ‘That actually comes from a true crime story that really happened. Basically it was something that the Snowtown killers used to do to their victims. I read that in a true crime book about seven or either years ago and I remember feeling so sickened by it and I remember thinking I’ve never heard of anything that sounds worse, it sounded like the most painful and horrible thing that you could do to somebody.”
Mondo Yakuza is now available on DVD through Monster Pictures.