September 27, 1997
Up early, I took the 'Rapit' train over to the Kansai Kokusai Kukou, a multi-billion dollar airport resting on an enormous reclaimed island just off the Japanese city of Osaka. In its insufferably large departure/arrival building I met up with associates Eiichi Yaji from Asatsu inc., the coordinating company for the Biohazard 2 commercial, and Keiji Inafune, Capcom manager and producer of the Biohazard 2 commercial.
As a boy I used to love flying. Like a dog in a car, its face out the window and tongue waging in the air, no one was more eager to take to the sky than me. Used to be I would sit by the plane window, my face pressed against the glass pane positive I would catch a glimpse of some ultra-rare atmospheric phenomena or, if really lucky, a UFO. Today, with several hundred flights under my belt and the knowledge that atmospheric disturbances only increase your chances of a plane crash and alien encounters that hint at nothing but "cavity" probes, I've come to detest flying. It's really nothing more than a chore to get from point A to point B. And the flight this day did little to win me back. In fact, as if to make the ten hours feel even longer, I was unlucky enough to get stuck between a non-communicative girl and a man who was, to put it nicely, flowing over the shared arm rest.
With that said, it should come as no surprise to hear that I arrived at LA's international airport feeling no where near rested. My eyes were like dried raisons, the lids like loose flaps of leather. But as much as I hungered for sleep, I couldn't; I hadn't been home in the states for nearly a year and was too full of excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead to simple pass out like an old lady. I was going to stay awake if I had to stick my house keys up my rear in order to do so. Besides, being a working trip, we had a meeting to attend almost immediately.
Waiting at the exit were several people from the American based production company, Size Inc. An hour before, a flight from Tokyo had brought in others involved in the project. With our arrival the 'gang' was complete. Brief introductions were made around. People bowed deep, which I found annoying because it made me feel as if I was still in Japan. But these were Japanese, and customs are a baggage not easily left behind.
Under an unusually steaming LA noon sun, the crew that would spend almost every waking hour over the next week together loaded into a van and set out for the Size office. First up was an orientation meeting. People and their titles were announced; business cards were passed around. At this point we totaled nearly fifteen. We then gathered in a room to the side where Yaji produced three gun props he brought from Japan. Built by model maker Tokyo Marui, though pellet guns in actuality, they were large, lethal looking weapons that wouldn't be out of place on the side of a T-100.
Unfolding a padded shipping blanket, the property master at Size revealed several real guns: a rifle, a couple of pistols and an old M-16. Beside the guns he placed a dozen boxes of hollowed out shells. Guns like these -- real ones -- are impossible to acquire legally in Japan. The Japanese ran their hands over them, basking in the voyeuristic illicitness of the moment. Yaji's super gun was for the commercial's main character, Leon, to carry around, the others were just props for a gun rack to be seen on a far wall during the commercial.
Attention turned to getting a computer link going to the Capcom office back in Osaka. Still obsessing over the guns yet not realizing that while the shells were emptied of pellets gunpowder still rested in the casings, Inafune loaded up the rifle. He pointed it at the ground and pulled the trigger. A deafening crack dispensed throughout the room and the blanket burst into flames with a hole blown square in its center. For any of us in the room still feeling the effect of jet lag this was enough to significantly rattle out brains into the reality of Pacific Standard Time.
After the buzzing in our ears subsided it was time for costume inspection. The costumes were reproduction of the uniforms worn by the video game's two main characters, one male (Leon), and the other female (Claire). The Capcom higher ups, perhaps feeling their presence in LA needed justification, passed around a few useless comments. In the end, the uniforms were given unanimous approval.
Around five o'clock, we piled into the plush van and drove over to the studio of make-up man Screaming Mad George. Hired to produce the zombies for the commercial, SMG was a real godsend for the production. Originally from Osaka and in America since the 1970s, SMG was fluent in both Japanese and English.
I was familiar with some of SMG's work as it has appeared in dozens of TV commercials, music videos and films such as, 'Big Trouble in Little China', 'Re-Animator 2', 'Space Balls', 'The Guyver' (which he co-directed) and the then recent 'Space Truckers'. Partly owing to his fondness for the art of Salvador Dali, Mad George's work is a kaleidoscopic hell-descent of twisted faces and mismatched body parts. Because of this, I found his work more reminiscent of 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch than the flamboyant Spanish painter. SMG's work maybe grotesque at times, but its artistry is undeniable and is visually engaging.
His studio, part of a small, nondescript industrial park, lies not far from the Hollywood hills. Inside his staff was busy preparing zombies for Biohazard 2 as well as effects for upcoming Puma and Adidas commercials. The shop was littered with drying zombie masks, ceramic face molds, cans of paint and various unidentifiable tools of the special make-up trade.
Mad George took us through a tour of the zombies he had created for the commercial. Everyone was impressed and pleased with the work. We were also treated to a peek at his display room. There, he had gathered many impressive props from past jobs. The one I was most excited to see was the floating eye creature from 'Big Trouble'. It was suspended off the ground looking much as it did in the film.
Returning to Hollywood, the group had dinner at a well known deli in town (had it really been four years since I last had a roast beef sandwich?) and then back to the hotel, where I quickly fell asleep in my clothes.