In May of 2005, Kurokoboshi took time out of his Tokyo hustle to film a movie in Bang Pong, Thailand. The following is an excerpt from the American-ex-patriate-Tokyo-dweller’s thoughts on making movies in the hinterlands of Thailand.
I had the opportunity to act in a Japanese film entitled Habu to Genkotsu that was being shot in the Thailand countryside. It all started with a phone call from my friend Schon. He got an offer to do a movie in Thailand, but couldn’t take it. He wanted to know if I was interested. Always ready to add another chapter to my life’s story, I agreed. I had never been to Thailand. I had heard many stories about Thailand and experienced many situations vicariously through friends, and now it was time for me to share my experiences.
Before leaving I met the directors, producers, and writers of the film I was going to appear in. I was impressed by what I heard. The film is based on a true story about an Okinawan sansen (3 stringed guitar) player named Ryo and his experiences growing up in Okinawa in 1968. Ryo meets an American military solider named George, and they discover that they have more similarities than differences. The atmosphere of the film is heavily charged with discrimination and prejudice- Okinawans and Japanese (yes there is a difference-big difference in fact), US military and Japanese/Okinawans, officers and enlisted soldiers- and takes place with echoes of the civil rights movement lingering in the backdrop. I finished my gig on the Joint One Radio Show on Monday as the Kurokobushi and had three days before shooting to discover who this George was and time warp to 1968.
I left my home at 7am for Narita Airport, just before the morning rush. I grabbed my last bite of Japanese food for two weeks, boarded Thai Airlines Flight #647 and arrived in Thailand. Airports can be very deceiving. They make you think everything is okay and then you enter the real world. Outside the airport I saw my first glimpse of Japanese capitalism, a Family Mart (convenience store) and add it to the American capitalism glimpse (KFC) I noted earlier. Paul (our driver) rolled up in a mega van and it was off to the hotel in Bang Pong, our filming location. Paul spoke a little English so I drilled him for some heads up Thai. We arrived at the hotel about two hours later and I had dinner with the actors. Everyone was great especially Shogen (who is playing the part of Ryo) and Mitsuki. The hotel room had HBO Asia, but I needed internet access to see if the Spurs won game 7.
Got up early and went for a morning walk. Traffic in Thailand is like a free for all, with few lights and tons of scooters. I had breakfast in the hotel and in the afternoon went to one of the locations were the actors Mitsuki, Shogen, Ishida Eri, and Sai were filming. I couldn’t believe how much rural Thailand reminded me of my Grandma’s farm in South Carolina. Time has actually stopped in some places. I did the traditional aisatsu (Japanese greeting, bow and small talk) with the directors, and entire staff. Greetings are so important in Japan because it communicates humbleness and respect. Things are on a hierarchy scale so I had to give props to the big fish. I took care of my responsibilities.
One of the film locations had really bad karma. In one room of the house, the owner kept helmets from dead soldiers of the Vietnam War. Needless to say, everyone filming in that room felt sick and kanashibari (feeling of being bound or held down, but you can’t see what’s holding you). I met our police protection, a definite necessity when you’re in rural Thailand. He was very helpful and even let cast members ride his motorcycle. Kai showed me where the internet café was, at last I could reconnect with the world and find out who won the NBA Championship. We stayed at the internet café for 3 hours and it cost 45 cents. And the Spurs won, life is good.
I rehearsed my first scene with Shogen and the director really liked it. But there was one small problem, George smokes and I don’t. It’s funny because Shogen didn’t smoke before the movie either, but through out the day I see him smoking more and more. I practiced all night, trying to decide how George would hold his cigarette. Maybe old school like Billy Dee in Lady Sings the Blues, long drawn out puffs with that right mix of sophistication and class; or like Larenz Tate in Love Jones, where the cigarette never leaves the mouth. It just dangles like a conductor’s baton moving in sync with each word. No, I got it. Denzel Washington in Devil in Blue Dress, a southern pace, not too slow not too fast.
We headed back to the hotel and everyone wanted to have lunch in the open market near our shooting location. This was my first time visiting an open market and I had no idea what to expect. My only images of open markets were of old school James Bond movies. Reality was a little different. Now, I consider myself to be a brave individual, but the open market was too much. I try to eat as little meat as possible and this situation was strictly unsanitary. Important note: I was a member of the fortunate few that did not have any major stomach pains during the trip. I passed on lunch and went in search of fruit. I found a fruit juice stand and ordered a watermelon juice (hold the flies and bees). Here’s another small piece of advice, watch the vendor. He put ajinomoto (MSG) in my fruit juice. Yes, there was also an incident at the hotel where they put salt in the orange juice. It’s best to ask before you order.
It’s George’s debut and I’m up early to eat breakfast at the hotel. The staff was nice and they helped me with my Thai. Departure time was 10am. We were the 3rd out of 4 scenes being shot. When we arrived at the location, Ishida Eri was finishing up her scene and everyone was preparing for the second scene. I practiced my lines with Shogen and become George. It’s kind of weird, but all of the film crew call you by your character’s name, not your real name. We had lunch after the second scene and I prepared for my debut. The assistant director announced my appearance on the set. I felt like royalty. We did a couple of rehearsals and then it was time for honban (recording).
Another sunrise in Thailand and a new challenge. This time 5 cast members and I are off to see the bridge over the river Kwaii, the bridge not the movie. I learned a lot about the Vietnam War and WWII during the trip. For the record, the place is an official tourist trap. The bridge was a little disappointing, but very scary. There are no sidewalks on the bridge, just railroad ties and track. People and trains are crossing the bridge at the same time. It’s survival of the fittest. As for the bridge itself, I was expecting something bigger, as a kid I visited the Royal Gorge, and have become familiar with Japan Rainbow Bridge and Bay Bridge in Japan. This was relatively small. Oddly enough, we never crossed the bridge; we took some pictures, saw some foreigners, bought some souvenirs, and prayed for peace.
Time came for me to leave. Shooting had wrapped up and the production lights were turned off. The two weeks in Thailand went by too fast but I had a wonderful time. The people were friendly and scenery was fantastic. Thailand is a melting pot of different religions and the traffic is insane. Here’s a little bit of inside info from me to you. Bangkok’s real name is Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthrayutthaya Maha Dilokphop Nophrarat Ratchathani Burir On Udom Batchaniwet Maha Sathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. It means the city is large like the city of angels, the city houses the emerald Buddha and…