Friday, April 24, 2009

Interview With Takeda 3 Creator And Magitech Founder, Ming-Sheng Lee

Ming-Sheng Lee is the founder of Magitech, producer of what many consider to be the most historically accurate and true-to-life Japanese and Chinese PC strategy games. He graduated from Taiei City College of Business in the late 80's when he and a few college friends were thinking of getting into the computer game industry. Since none of them possessed sufficient programming knowledge, Ming then attended Polytech University in New York to get a C.S. degree and then founded Magitech. Ming continues to be involved in all aspects of Magitech's operation, from research, coding, and troubleshooting to marketing and customer feedback. Ming took some time off from working on Strength And Honor 2 to talk about Magictech's latest release, the Sengoku strategic/tactical simulation Takeda 3 (in the following interview, SA is the Samurai Archives while ML is Ming-Sheng Lee).

SA: You founded Magitech in 1993. What prompted you to form your own company rather than work for an established developer?

ML: I guess I was young and didn't know that earning money can sometimes be more important than the passion. I was naive to think that working for other companies would prevent me from making my own games, so I jumped in, created my own company and started this journey.

SA: How did you develop a love for computers and an interest in Japanese history?

ML: I got in touch with computers in the early 80’s. I was fascinated by the new Apple II (6502) personal computer and started working on simple animations for the ground works of gaming. I remember my first animated character was a Japanese Ashigaru infantry. Speaking of Ashigaru, the Japanese theme of Takeda was seeded even way earlier when I was in elementary school. My father took me to Japan several times to visit my grandfather. The castles and the samurai were my bed time stories.

My addiction to tactics and strategy came from my father also, who always told me fascinating stories of history. Not just battles, but finance, economics, and life experience as well. I use the same tactics and strategies I learned from history in the stock market, which other than strategy games is my other hobby to explore my passion for strategic thinking.

SA: All of Magitech's releases to date have been historical simulations, and they have been far more true to history than similar games from other companies. Was the emphasis on historical accuracy done to differentiate the games from other products, or out of a desire to produce a 'simulation' and not just a 'game'?

ML: OK. You got me. The emphasis on historical data isn't really meant to differentiate from other games, but it is my desire to make a historical simulation rather than just a game. Many times I was struggling to change the design into something more suitable for the game market, but there is a part of me that always pulls me back to focusing on the simulation. The balance between game play and simulation is always a challenge for us.

SA: Can you give us a general outline of the different steps taken in the development of a game? What all does it go through between the initial concept and the final release?

ML: First we have a meeting about the concept of the game. If it is a sequel, we discuss features that we would like to add to the game. Normally we write a two-page outline document. We tried a fifty-two page design document once, but it ended up being too complicated. Then we assign tasks and have the team start working on the project. This part is the easiest, but we always have to go back to the design sheets and make some adjustments. Then we have to integrate the other aspects such as the art from the artists and the music from the musicians, more or less putting every piece of the game together. After that, we can start balancing, testing and fine-tuning the game. Part of the team will continue to work on the interface and fix bugs while the other part of the team will start testing all aspects of the game. After we finish the initial testing, we will start working on demo versions for publishers and do localization when a deal is signed with foreign language publishers. It actually takes a lot to finish a game. Coding is the easiest part.

SA: Even with an emphasis on history, compromises always have to be made for the sake of play value. What in your opinion was the biggest compromise Takeda 3 had to make that sacrificed accuracy for playability?

ML: There are many features we have to give up for the sake of game play or due to a lack of resources to expand a feature such as the number of castles, the number of generals, or the scale of the battles. The biggest one I would say is the death rate of a general. Since Takeda 1, we have tried to create a connection between the generals (the game characters) and the players. To achieve this, we make the characters 'die' at a more realistic probability. The player will need to make a decision between saving his/her favourite general(s) and winning a battle. In Takeda 3, however, we are short of portraits. To lose a general at a realistic, historical probability, the player will run out of characters pretty quickly. Thus we have to tune down the 'death rate' so the players are able to finish the campaign.

SA: Takeda 3 features graphics that are much more detailed and impressive than those seen in Takeda 2. The 'Multiplayer/Online' aspect from the original Takeda also makes its return. What other improvements and new features have been made to the game?

ML: Takeda 3's new improvements are really focused on the castle battles. We've made some breakthroughs in path-finding which allow the units to go through mountain roads in fairly complex terrain and castle layers. This really allows us to make the castles look much more realistic than in our previous games.

We also resized the map to show an army’s path more clearly to the player, and we now allow players to build facilities around a castle. These facilities have a direct impact on the player's military and economic strength.

SA: In games such as 'Shogun: Total War' or 'Nobunaga No Yabou', an unskilled player can win by simply outproducing the computer and crushing them with sheer weight of numbers or by using oddball ahistorical superunits like 'sword saints', 'battlefield ninja', or the infamous 'geisha assassin'. The Takeda series, on the other hand, has proved difficult for many players to beat because it stresses the role of commanders, proper formations and tactics, morale, and especially supply. Careless players who use reckless all-out attacks soon find themselves with all their capable generals dead, losses of horses and guns that far outstrip their production, and huge desertion rates attributable to not keeping an eye on their supply lines. In fact, it's easily possible to win a battle that ruins your chances of winning the game. It makes the game an extremely helpful learning tool for explaining just how difficult it would have been in real life to unify Japan. What sort of tips would you give to someone sitting down to play Takeda 3 for the first time to help them lay down a strong foundation for success early in the game?

ML: Watch out for the riflemen/teppo (sorry, I still don't know what to call them properly)! For most veterans of Takeda, mastering a field battle shouldn't be a problem if they properly manage capable generals. The campaign may run into deep muddy ground if the enemies build up strong defences with a high number of riflemen/teppo guarding the towers, however. As for a beginner, I would say carefully plan out your strategy regarding diplomacy. Winning a battle is one thing; but winning a war is another. Choose your allies carefully and watch out for their relationships with one another. You can't make friends with everybody because your friends will fight against each other later and you will be caught right in the middle. You also need to arrange political marriages to cement alliances.

For beginners on the battlefield, try to select all your good generals and put them into one army. That should give you a good start. Eventually, you will need to split your army as your territory expands, but by then you should have mastered the battle system.

Most RTS players will create a lot of armies to outnumber the enemy. Players might want to keep a few castles to use as supply depots, however, instead of creating armies from every castle.

SA: The portraits of the historical figures in the new game are small works of art-detailed, sharp, and colorful. The artist is particularly talented in his depictions of women. Who was this talented individual and how did you end up using them?

ML: The artist’s name is 練任 (Lian Zan). Though I have not personally spoken with him, he is a good friend of our Taiwanese publisher. Alvin Hwan, who works for our main publisher in Taiwan, believes in the potential of Takeda's engine and sponsored our Sango project's portraits with his own money. After that, we liked the style of the portraits and decided to upgrade all the portraits for our upcoming games.

SA: Speaking of women, Takeda 3 includes dozens of female characters-far more than any other Japanese warfare sim to date. Many of them historically were involved in defending castles during sieges. Game wise, they’re of course useful for 'marriage politics' but also for transferring supplies and troops from one castle to another. What prompted you to include this often overlooked aspect of a woman's role in samurai culture and give them a greater part in the game?

ML: It was a time in which women didn't really have the same rights as men in Japan. After researching a few historical records and legends, I decided to include many of the exceptional stories of women in Takeda 3 to tell their stories which unfortunately often get left out of history books.

SA: Unlike 'Shogun: Total War' or 'Nobunaga No Yabou', Takeda 3 replicates the actual terrain, layouts, and look of castles taken from historical records and blueprints. They showcase to good effect how even a small force inside a well laid out castle can hold off and decimate a huge attacking army. Were there any castles you had problems finding documentation for, or that had to be substantially altered for the game?

ML: We researched many books and sites and included as many details as we could. Almost every castle is based on some sort of historical reference. Sometimes we had only a small piece of a picture or layout from the historical records, but we tried our very best to show what it would look like based on the picture. In many cases, we can only show a corner of the castle. It wouldn’t be possible to present a whole castle like Odawara in the game. Sometimes we have to take out or reposition the gates or rivers to make the castle fit the battlefield. We mostly studied how each castle was taken in historical battles and we tried to present it in such a way that the players can re-visit the history and experience how the battles were actually fought. The biggest problem we have with the castles is the limit of the attacking army's units. Due to the speed of most computers, we couldn't have that many units on the attacking side which sometimes makes attacking a castle very difficult. Although we can reduce the number of defenders, it would create some other game play issues in world mode.

SA: The individual biographies for each of the 600+ historical figures in the game are another nice extra feature. From what sources did you gather the information for these?

ML: We did the research about the characters in the game mainly from our in-house library books. Most books are imported from Japan directly. I have a personal interest in the history of Feudal Japan so we put a lot of effort into discovering information about each character in the game. There have been some translation errors when we finalized the descriptions, however, and we were fixing some of the errors right until the last few days before the release of the game.

SA: Magitech has published games in China and Russia as well as Japan and North America. Which country seems to be most receptive to your games and what do you attribute this to?

ML: From the sales side, the Russian market seems to be the most receptive, and China seems to have many players playing our games as well. We are very pleased that we are able to get into Japan's market with a localized Japanese version for them. It shows a great recognition for the hard work that we put in to make the game historically accurate to Japanese history.

SA: The staff of Magitech not only develops the games but also plays and supports them once they’re released. This takes the form of answering questions from gamers on the Magitech forums, releasing patches to enhance and expand gameplay, incorporating suggestions from players in future releases, and even taking part in tournaments and online battles with the player base. Does being actively involved with the people who actually play the games help with designing future efforts? Do players ever come up with tactics and strategies that surprise you and weren’t factored in while designing a game?

ML: Basically, we love what we do here. It is my passion as well as the team's desire to make these games fun and historical. We feel bad when the game doesn't work as we expected and we try our very best to fix or improve the game in every way that we can. Our friends from the forum do help us a lot in finding bugs that we fix, giving us feedback and suggestions for future developments or improvements, and encourage us to continue the titles even when things don't really work very well. It's because of these friends that have made it this far.

When I designed Takeda 1, I expected to see players lose generals and fall into different ending paths. After the game was released, I found out that some players would play the same battle fifty times just to save a generals' life. In the game Sango 1, I accidentally had a general with no skill but setting up fires in the battle of Chang-Ban Po. There were players using this character with one of the best horses in the game to set fires everywhere and turn an impossible battle into a total victory for the player. It is amazing to see players develop their own strategies and tactics using something even the developer didn't think of.

SA: What are some of the other games Magitech has produced? What are you currently working on for future release?

ML: Other than the Takeda series of games, we also make the Sango series, similar to Takeda but set in China's Romance of The Three Kingdoms' era, and the Strength & Honor series which is set during the Roman era with a map that spans from China to Britain. Different from Takeda and Sango, Strength & Honour is more focused on empire management than battles. An empire's internal conflicts are much more emphasized. Strength & Honor 2 is our latest game in development and shall be released in the summer of 2009. In the future, however, we are thinking of making casual games and iPhone platform applications.

SA: Thanks, Ming. We at the SA wish you and Magitech continued success in the future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Animeigo's 'The Loyal 47 Ronin' DVD

Animeigo claims their recent DVD release of Daiei’s ‘The Loyal 47 Ronin’ (1958) represents the best and most representative version of the dozens of 47 Ronin films and TV shows that have been released over the years-and it would be hard to argue with them. Produced during the ‘Golden Age’ of Japanese filmmaking, it features a cast loaded with familiar genre names, excellent color cinematography, and the gorgeous sets and costuming one expects from Japanese films of this era.

The film is solidly in the vein of traditional tellings of the 47 Ronin legend as performed in puppet plays, novels, and kabuki theater rather than attempting to portray the history behind the ‘feudal drive-by of lore’ (where the Ronin outnumbered Kira’s sleeping guards 47 to 3). While it’s beyond the scope of this review to detail the substantial differences between the legend and the reality, it shouldn’t diminish the enjoyment of viewers (even though the real story would probably make for a far more complex, multilayered, and entertaining film). For those who aren’t familiar with the legend, it’s the tale of the loyal retainers of a daimyo (Asano Naganori) sentenced to seppuku after he makes the mistake of attacking a corrupt Shogunal Minister Of Protocol (Kira Yoshinaka) inside Edo Castle. When Kira goes unpunished, many of the retainers band together under the leadership of Asano’s Chamberlain, Oishi Kuranosuke, to correct this imbalance of justice and avenge their lord. Director Watanabe Kunio infuses this version with more energy than most, making its central character Oishi a master swordsman who engages in several battles with Kira’s ‘hit squads’ and ninja agents during the course of the film. Kira is even more obnoxious, nasty, and spiteful than usual, and Asano more virtuous, long-suffering, and upright (quite unlike their historical reputations). Oishi’s feigned descent into womanizing and drinking along with several sidestories (mostly fictional and lifted, again, from kabuki and puppet theater) involving the other Ronin take center stage-many of which involve the Ronin trying to keep their composure when public opinion turns on them for not avenging Asano in a timely manner. It seems the entire population of Edo is aware of the ‘secret’ planned raid and continually egg on and encourage the Ronin to punch Kira’s ticket to the Pure Land! The emphasis is squarely on a samurai’s duty to his lord and bushido-all other duties, including those to wives, parents, siblings, children, in-laws, and friends, are shown as inconsequential when measured next to this. In turn, these slighted parties willingly and sometimes enthusiastically accept their fates. We found this approach an interesting contrast to more recent efforts involving the Ronin, such as the episode of ‘Abarenbo Shogun’ that features the single member of the 47 not sentenced to seppuku-Terasaka Kichiemon. In this episode, Terasaka roundly condemns his fellow Ronin and everyone connected to them for bringing so much tragedy and hardship to their families and those left behind. But this was 1958, and tradition was still a strong draw at the box office-The Loyal 47 Ronin was Japan’s highest grossing film for that year. It’s hard to imagine another film doing the ‘samurai honor’ angle better and more effectively. The film is even left on an upbeat note when the Ronin are shown marching with Kira’s head to Asano’s grave at Sengakuji-completely leaving out the not-so-glorious aftermath when they paid for their crimes with their lives.

For most samurai film fans, the big attraction here will be the cast. Genre favorites Ichikawa Raizo and Katsu Shintaro both make appearances and the rest of the cast features equally famous Japanese actors (who just aren’t as well known in the west). For example, Kurosawa regular Shimada Takashi (the leader of the Seven Samurai) has a role as Otake Jubei, the father in law of one of the ronin. Raizo turns in his usual solid, if abbreviated, performance as Asano Takumi-no-kami (Asano here is referred to by his title rather than name). He conveys well the increasing outrage and panic Asano feels while being insulted and fed misinformation by Kira in the course of learning proper etiquette and procedure for receiving the Emperor’s envoy. For those whose image of Katsu is the jovial Zatoichi, he’s almost unrecognizable as Akagaki Genzoemon (Genzo to his pals), one of the leaders of the Ronin who is disowned by his brother after stating that the former Asano retainers have no intention of pursuing vengeance (which, of course, is just a lie to keep the plot secret, although it seems everyone and their brother in the movie are aware of it). But by far the best performance in the film falls to Hasegawa Kazuo, who portrays Oishi. He brings just the right touch of pathos, steadfastness, tragedy, and even comedy to the role. When he commences his ‘cowardly drunken womanizer’ act in Kyoto in an effort to throw Kira’s spies off track, you’ll find yourself hating him even though you know it’s just a ruse. While he isn’t afforded the wonderful stirring pre-raid speech that Oishi usually gets in the live all-day versions of Chushingura, he still manages to dominate every scene he’s in.

As always, Animeigo has done a great job with the translation, packaging, and extras. Among the extras are trailers for Animeigo’s other 47 Ronin film (Ichikawa Kon’s 1994 effort) and one featuring a group that took their visual cue from the Ronin (the Shinsengumi, in Mifune Toshiro’s ‘Shinsengumi: Assassins of Honor’). There’s also an image gallery of b/w and color stills and publicity shots. An extensive cast and crew section gives biographies for the myriad of well known actors along with the director and composer. The historical notes (always a favorite feature of Animeigo releases among SA members) are the most extensive Animeigo has done to date for any DVD. While it regrettably uses Wikipedia’s largely inaccurate account (based on plays and novels rather than history) of Chushingura as a jumping off point, it redeems itself with a large helping of cultural notes and other historical background that explain plot points that might not be readily apparent to a Western audience (such as the significance of Buddhist funerary tablets, worldly and posthumous names, the personal nature of medicine caddies, etc).

With an all-star cast, first rate production values, the definitive version of a classic story, plenty of action, and Animeigo’s attention to the little things that fill out a well-done DVD release, The Loyal 47 Ronin should be on every samurai film buff’s shelf. At nearly three hours, it’s also a good value, being twice as long as the average film. It’s available through most major DVD retailers and also on the SA Store. Watching it will fill your heart with the samurai spirit, and you won’t even have to commit seppuku afterwards!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

An Interview with Brick McBurly

Love him or hate him, or maybe you’re like one of millions of people outside of Japan whom have never heard of him let alone see one of his films or TV show, Brick McBurly is not only just a real person, but he’s celebrity and a loyal member of the Samurai Archives Citadel Community. We were lucky to have a chance to sit down with the fun-loving star of the Japanese TV Show “Abarenbo Gaijin” and more than a dozen films for an interview over two sittings in bars in Tokyo and Kyoto. As always, hanging out with Brick was a wild and rollicking adventure, and thankfully we were able to get the digital MP3 recorder to work for transcription purposes after Brick accidentally dropped it into a bottle of Mexican beer, thinking it was a lime wedge. So without further ado, let’s get to the interview.

OK: How did you get into show business?

Brick: While attendin' the University of Cincinnati back in the early '90's, the Brickster found hisself in need of some spendin' money. Y'see, when I was young, we were so poor that folks used to call me Patches, so there wasn't a whole lot of money left over for me to live on after tuition, room, and board was paid. One of the coeds I was datin', Trixie, was strippin' at bachelor parties for megabucks and mentioned that some friends of hers were lookin' fer an actor who could perform under pressure. Well, I figured that all the storytellin' I was layin’ on her and my other gal pals qualified, so I went to meet these guys. Turns out it wasn’t the type of performin’ I thought it would be-they was shootin' some soft core adult films, but I couldn't dream of anythin' I was better suited for. Hell, I was still gettin' Trixie's goodies, but now I was gettin' PAID for it! That's how the Pizza Delivery Guy series of films got started (‘Our guarantee-you’ll come in 30 minutes or less’), and eventually I got into the more respectable horror genre by appearin' in low-budget vampire films, poundin' my massive stake into nubile soft girly vampire flesh.

OK: Who were your greatest influences and whose work are you a fan of?

Brick: Well, tops on the Brickster's list is Hollywood's greatest untapped natural resource, Bruce Campbell. The man can play anythin' and pull it off with aplomb-whether it's Ash from the Evil Dead series, Old Fat Elvis from Bubba Ho-tep, or his own bad self in My Name Is Bruce. Sure, he’s givin’ the same performance for every character, but he’s so good at it that it don’t matter. Then there’s Rudy Ray Moore-his Dolemite character was a HUGE role model. Man, what a snappy dresser that guy was! Kurt Russell and Roddy Piper also had a big impact on the development of the Brickster’s on-screen persona, particularly Russell’s performance as the clueless hero of Big Trouble In Little China. Stephen Hayes’ breakthrough role as the Dutch sailor who falls outta the riggin’ into the ocean in the Shogun miniseries is a must see for anyone interested in real ninjitsu. Annette Haven and Kristara Barrington starred in the first AV films I saw, and I must be their biggest fan-even though they’re both prob’ly pushin’ 50 by now, I’d still love to co-star in a film with them. On the Japanese side of things, there’s Katsu-shin, who had the role of a lifetime in the Hanzo the Razor trilogy. I love how Tsugawa Masahiko takes over every film he’s in and really makes his characters larger than life, whether he’s playin’ Tokugawa Ieyasu or Chiyo’s uncle in “Komyo Ga Tsuji”. And everyone already knows what a fan I am of Uchiyama Rina (the only reason to watch the Musashi taiga) and Oshida Reiko of the Delinquent Girl Boss series. Reiko’s in her 60’s now, but the memory of her peddlin’ down the street on a bike in her miniskirt lives on. And she’s STILL smokin’ hot. And of course, I’m a big fan of my wife Koyori’s performances. It must suck for her to always be in the Brickster’s shadow.

OK: And your favorite top five jidai-geki movies are?

Brick: Besides my own? Well, right at the top of the list is Bohachi Bushido. It's the yardstick by which all other jidai-geki films are measured and come up short. I mean, a horde of big-boobed naked kunoichi rollin' on the ground, whippin' out shuriken from god knows where, and jumpin' up on a guy's shoulders for the old head twist-like you’d really mind dyin’ that way? All that AND Tiger Tanaka? Then there’s Samurai Resurrection. You got undead historical characters brought back to life only to get whacked by Yagyu Jubei. Monsters and samurai-it’s a tried and true winnin’ combo, the Reese’s Cup of filmdom. Not to mention Jubei ain’t the only one-eyed actor in this little drama, if you know what I mean. American Ninja-Mike Dudkoff and Steve James are some smooth pimps in the movie bringin’ it to the man as only they can. This movie proved there’s no reason a Westerner couldn’t become the master of Japanese genre films. Kunoichi-Lady Ninja had the single greatest effect in film history-electric nipple magic. I’d like to see ILM try to pull that off. And it also featured a different chick whose sekrit dreaded ninja power could only be activated by havin’ sex. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve used the ‘ninja test’ on some sloshed Brickster groupie in a bar to maximum effect. Then there’d be Sukiyaki Western-D’jango. If the Brickster can play Japanese samurai and Chinese actresses can play geisha, then why can’t the Japanese be cowboys? And the critics loved it. You didn’t see bitchin’ about ‘why don’t they cast Americans as cowboys’, and no one complained about the gaijin in the cast (Tarantino) like they did with Tom Cruise or Christopher Lambert.

OK: Why is it that the original print of Samurai Sexecutioner is missing? Do you know what happened to it?

Brick: After its initial release, the Studio didn't know what a hot property they had and used the master print as part of a giveaway at the theme park. To quote the brochure, with your ticket, you got a strip of 'original collectible 35mm film from the master print of one of our many smash hits'. Of course, bein' the Studio's token gaijin most of the films were mine, so's after that the only master copy of the film belonged to Koyori-she had videotaped it with a handheld off the big screen and was sellin' bootleg copies on Japan Yahoo auctions. So’s when the demand to release it on DVD overwhelmed the studio, her dad had to come hat in hand with his wallet out to get her copy. She ain’t only gorgeous, but brilliant too.

OK: Is this the reason that it was never released outside of Japan?

Brick: Nah. It was kinda the same thing that kept Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah from bein' released in the US for years and years-political correctness. The Studio thought it would be politically incorrect to export a film to America that showed an American behavin' like yers truly. They'd obviously never seen an epsiode of Springer. For that matter, none of my films have ever been officially released outside of Japan. I think the Studio views ‘em like Paramount does the Friday The 13th series-they love the money it brings in to produce the A films no one goes to see, but they’re embarrassed to admit that they did ‘em. It’s kinda like havin’ sex with an ugly broad.

OK: In Samurai Sexecutioner II, the prosthesis you wore to enhance the size of your manhood, was it functional? Because it sure seems like you were actually doing it with some of your female co-stars. And if so, how does Ko react to it? Can she brush it off as just acting because you, as Brick, are emotionally devoid of the people you are interacting with while your character maybe isn't?

Brick: Huh? What the hell are you talkin’ about? Well, the prosthesis was of course our tribute to Teh Man, Hanzo The Razor. No regular mortal can measure up to the legacy he set, so we had to go for artificial enhancement. And no, it wasn't functional-unless you count the effect it has on gals when you wear it to a party. Chicks are flat out mesmerized by it, like it was a spittin’ cobra or somethin’, and it’s way better than usin' a rolled up sock. Since I have no clue what the rest of your question means, why don't we ask Ko?

Koyori: Obenjo-san, all of the sexual relations in our films are simulated. It is to the credit of our special effects master, Kondo-san, that they look so real to our viewers. I will pass on your compliment to him. There is also the matter of Brick realizing that were he ever to engage in an unfortunate improper relationship on the set or away from it, my daddy knows many fine men with tattoos who would be pleased to help him find his way back to the righteous path. Yes, it is indeed fortunate that many eyes are constantly on my darling Brick to aid him in behaving correctly.

Brick: Uhhhhh…yeah, what she said. And it ain’t like I’m smart enough to employ a Brickster Kagemusha to throw private detectives off the trail or anythin’ like that, freein’ me up for a night on the town.

OK: We all saw some of the stills from Samurai Sexecutioner III. Wasn’t this supposed to have been released already? I don’t remember seeing any ads for it at the theatres.

Brick: No, yer thinkin’ of SS II. III is still filmin. If you’d been readin’ McBurly Monogatari on (the Official Website of the Brickster, complete with a filmography, reviews of other samurai films, and purchase links for official Brickster merchandise) you’d know that we had to suspend filmin’ in December to get my New Year’s specials done. Now, as you know, B-movies in Japan usually go straight to video but the Studio wanted to establish SS II as a theatrical release. After the gala premiere, it showed fer a weekend at the Lucky Star Theater so they could market it as a ‘big screen blockbuster’.

OK: Oh, so SS II went to DVD after a one-weekend run at a theater in Kabuki-cho. Well, I haven’t even seen the disc on sale in shops. Who is distributing the DVD? As a matter of fact, I haven’t been able to find any of your SS series of films on DVD. The copy of the first film that I have was burnt on a disc for me by a friend.

Brick: Well, like I said, most of the stuff I film is direct to video or fodder for the Studio’s Samurai Action Channel on cable. And like a lot of B films, big chain stores don’t carry it and many times the specialty stores stick it in the ‘adults only’ section, which I’m sure you never venture into, Benji. Things are complicated further by the fact that unlike in the US, Japanese film companies only print up the amount of DVD’s they think they can sell. And they ALWAYS lowball my films-I think they still find it hard to believe that someone would rather watch Samurai Sexecutioner than a wuss film like Hana, or Ballad Of Narayama which spotlights a guy bonin’ a dog. I know you can get SS II at the Studio Store in the theme park, YesAsia, and other fine online retailers. The SS I boxed DVD set was produced in very limited quantities and was an instant sellout. It sometimes shows up for a King’s ransom on eBay and Yahoo Auctions. The old VHS copies that have a butchered cut show up sometimes, too. Yer lucky you knew someone with a copy of the DVD, even though ya really shouldn’t be acceptin’ stuff from video pirates. Bastards.

OK: You once said that you try to inject a little historical realism into all the jidai geki you make. Assuming you weren’t talking about injecting something into your female co-stars, how so? Would you care to elaborate on this?"

Brick: Well, for example, recently on “Abarenbo Gaijin” I was put in the situation of havin’ to disguise myself as a woman to blend in with Hideyoshi’s version of the Ooku. Now, one of the Taiko’s servin’ girls was shown bringin’ a tray of raincoats to him, but I balked at that when I saw what the prop department had done. They were your typical garden variety Trojan brand-and I refused to film the scene until they substituted Taiko-enz, which history has recorded were the only brand that Hideyoshi would use. Another example took place in Samurai Sexecutioner II, where Orugasuma Eito seduces the wife of the 47 Ronin’s leader, Oishi Kuranosuke. The script called for a straight up session, but since historically Oishi’s wife preferred it magatama style on the kitchen floor, I insisted we do it that way.
That’s not to say I’m an anal-retentive history geek like you guys on the SA. If it’s somethin’ minor that the viewers will like, such as givin’ Wakizaka Yasuharu an early version of a nuclear sub with a ninja strike force led by Stephen Seagull shot out of the torpedo tubes to deal with Korean Admiral Yi, that’s OK. Never let a small detail get in the way of a good story, except when it turns out Seagull is too fat to fit in the torpedo tube.

OK: After you are dead and long gone, what do you think your acting legacy will be? How do you want to be remembered?

Brick: Like most actors, I just want to BE remembered. Hopefully, people in future generations will still be entertained when they boot up the 3-D virtual reality interactive version of Samurai Sexecutioner. If I can provide a few laughs, a few thrills, a few shivers of delight for the ladies-I’ve done my job. If nothin’ else, I hope to still be able to do mall openin’s and memorabilia shows after I’m too old to act. Celebrity in Japan truly is fleetin’-today’s Idol is tomorrow’s Soapland employee. But as long as I’m married to the Producer’s daughter, I have confidence that my career’ll be long and productive.
More important is my legacy as a human being. That’s why I take such pains to use my celebrity to perform good works within the community-like the ‘Brick McBurly Valentine’s Day Hot Tub Party’, or the traffic safety promos I do with Hikonyan. It’s important to be a role model for the kids. I love how their little faces light up when I’m makin’ an appearance at their school and tell them that lyin’ is always wrong, unless it’s necessary to get you out of a tight spot. And that the Brickster was just helpin’ their mommy out when she wasn’t feelin’ well, and nothin’ was really goin’ on there, really. When the little ones hear that violence never solved anythin’ but that a six-iron to the groin provides a nice temporary fix from the neighborhood bully, it really means somethin’ to them comin’ from the Brickster.

OK: You once told me, as you were getting up to use the toilet after draining a six pack of warm Shibata Premium Draft, that in your films, you aim to please. I remember replying, “I hope you aim, too, please.” ‘Aiming’ just doesn’t seem to be one of your strong spots, does it? As a matter of fact, I seem to recall you were recently apprehended by the police for showering Sean Penn from a balcony at Roppongi Hills as he was stepping onto the red carpet for the Japanese premier of his film, Milk. Was this just really a publicity stunt, as you later claimed in the press? After all, is the Japanese designer, Nigo, who was scheduled to unveil a new line of clothing called “A Bathing Brick” And what was it that you poured on Sean Penn?

Brick: That is one damn long question. Well, it was a joke between me and Sean Penn. I poured the contents of a milk carton down on him, while yellin', “Love milk?” Me and Sean Penn became friends while filmin' was rollin' for Fast Times at Ridgemont High. My cousin Stone played one of the guys in the van with Sean’s character, Jeff Spiccoli. I was allowed to visit durin' filmin' and met him on the set one day and accidentally spilled a glass of milk on him. In typical Sean Penn fashion, he slugged me. Since then, it’s become a bit of a tradition between me and him. As I was up on the balcony, I figured he’d have a hard time sluggin' me this time, but I didn’t figure on the cops comin’ up. Actually, no charges were pressed and the cops all had a good laugh about it after they realized what a photo op they stumbled on.

OK: Controversy seems to follow you as much as shrine maidens! Speaking of controversy, tell us a little bit about the trouble you got in at the end of 2008 with the Church, the Hosokawa Historical Memorial Society and the Kumamoto Chamber of Commerce? This had something to do with your Christmas film Cum All Ye Faithful, which ran only one time on the Rainbow Channel, right?

Brick: Well, yeah, I was ex-communicated for a few days because I played a bad monk, if you know what I mean, who was gettin' it on with Hosokawa Gracia, who was supposed to be all saintly and stuff. Actually, my character was gettin' it on with just about every hottie on the island of Kyushu, and one of them hotties in the film was the real life daughter of the President of the Kumamoto Chamber of Commerce. I’m still persona no grata there. But regardin' the Church, to make a long story short, I was re-communicated and forgiven, even though I’m a Buddhist and not Catholic, when I agreed to attend an autograph sin’n session at the Vatican for a bunch of my nun fans on the Pope’s behalf. Hey, Benji, you know a lot about the trouble nuns can cause for men, don'cha?

OK: Sounds like a lot of ‘nunsense’ to me. I got to ask you this, though. Was it really a coincidence that you happened to be at that McDonald’s in Japan while an AV movie was being filmed there-at least until the police shut it down?

Brick: Well, I was ‘lovin’ it’, at least while it lasted. And I never woulda had Ko's mom (former Olympic judo bronze medalist), 'Right Cross' Chiba, along fer the ride if I knew in advance what was goin' on.

OK: One review, in the Japanese monthly magazine “Bigu Sukureen Stahs” described you as the new king of ‘Poruno Jidai-Geki’. How do you feel about that title?

Brick: I’m proud as hell. After I read that article, I tried gettin’ the guys in costumin’ to make me a crown emblazoned with that on it along with a regal cloak so’s I could wander around Gion like the Burger King, surprisin’ unsuspectin’ ladies with a free helpin’ of my wares. And who among the current crop of Japanese movie stars deserves the title more’n me? It’s like Bruce Campbell says at the end of Army of Darkness’-“Hail to the King, baby”. You’d think they was makin’ every film and TV show for gay men, seein’ as how metro sexual and feminine most of the male leads are.

OK: Do you think that the poruno jidai-geki genre is in the midst of a revival or renaissance of sorts? After all, you’ve been linked to a remake of Ishii Teruo’s classic, Bohachi Bushido that starred Tamba Tetsuro as an inscrutable ronin who sure knew how to swing his katana within the Yoshiwara.

Brick: You bet. Historically, whenever times get tough or society is in a state of flux, that’s when people turn to escapist films like horror or jidai-geki for entertainment. And it don’t get much more escapist than watchin’ a Westerner in a Japanese role rackin’ up the score in an historical settin’. Unless ya throw in a few monsters or aliens, all of which we’re also more’n happy to do. And let’s face it, there’s ALWAYS a market for porn. Heck, Al Gore invented the internet just so there’d be a place to host it all.

OK: When are you going to start filming Bohachi Bushido?

Brick: It can't be soon enough for my tastes-prob'ly after I’m done filmin' my new historical epic, Yasuke.

OK: Oh, I see. Tell us about this project, it sounds interesting.

Brick: As you know, Yasuke was an African brought along by the Portuguese while visitin’ Nobunaga. Oda took an interest in him and requested that the Portuguese hand over Yasuke, which they were only too happy to do since they really didn’t groove on rap. It’s really quite the upliftin’ story. Yasuke-kidnapped and forced into slavery-torn away from his posse and beeyotches-forced to wear the ridiculous lookin’ clothes of the Portuguese. Strugglin’ to keep his head high and uphold his dignity while assaulted by the taunts and abuse of Nobunaga’s redneck country samurai, who even tried to wash off his skin color. Becomin’ the REAL Afro Samurai and followin’ the way of the warrior. Carvin’ out a friendship with the Demon King, even bein’ afforded the privilege of callin’ him ‘dawg’. Standin’ by Nobunaga until the very end, not even givin’ in to the temptin’ words of the Great Emancipator, Akechi Mitsuhide. Now, there are some who said Yasuke ran like a scared rabbit when Mitsuhide attacked at Honno-ji, but he really was just battlin’ through overwhelmin’ odds to reach Nijo Castle and defend Nobunaga’s son. Course, the son got wasted too, but that wasn’t Yasuke’s fault. Heck, some tales have him swingin’ a terrible swift sword as big as a pine tree, showin’ the strength of fifty men, and scatterin’ the Akechi army like so much dust before the wind-even though they somehow managed to kill off everybody else in the Oda army. And he did it all faster than that newfangled steam hammer could, too. Since history doesn’t record what became of Yasuke after that, the script ends on a happy note with him becomin’ the founder of the Yoshiwara district in Edo years later, with his instant catchphrase, “Where my money?” The Studio loves the idea, and since all Westerners look the same and just like Elvis to them, they didn’t have the problems with me playin’ the title role like an American studio would.

OK: So, you are really playing the part of Yasuke? I guess this is conceivable since Robert Downey, Jr., who is white, played the role of an Afro-American in the recent comedy Tropical Thunder and Eddie Murphy and the Wayan brothers have played Caucasians before. Besides the makeup, are there any special challenges to playing Yasuke?

Brick: Not really. We have a lot in common. Me bein' a feared and respected foreigner just like Yasuke-me bein' somewhat of a curiosity for the Japanese to stare at just like Yasuke-me bein' a muscular stud just like Yasuke-me dancin' every bit as good as Yasuke-the list goes on and on. If it wasn't for the skin color difference and the fact that he's been dead for hundreds of years, we could be brothers. I also wear the prosthesis from Samurai Sexecutioner to give the role a little more historical authenticity, jus' like we talked about before. I’ve re-watched the Dolemite series to put me in the proper frame of mind to accurately portray this forgotten hero of Japanese history, and I've also re-watched a buncha “Good Times” episodes with Jimmie Walker. The only real problem is the dread locks--I cringe every time I look in the mirror and don’t see my trademark impeccably groomed ‘do but do see Manny Ramirez/Bobby Marley starin’ back at me.

OK: Why do you suppose that widely acclaimed Japanese samurai film connoisseurs, such as Patrick Galloway, refuse to acknowledge your work?

Brick: Patrick who? Ya mean that fashion plate in black socks and sandals that lurks around the back lot sometimes and has to be chased off by the Studio's Mall Cop? Well, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that movie reviewers dislike anythin’ that supposedly disturbs the ‘purity’ of the films they love. The disdain for the Brickster is no different than that shown for Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. Add to that the fact that most of these guys can’t speak Japanese and can’t get subtitled copies of my films, and I don’t stand a chance. But who cares? The Japanese love ‘em, and they’re the ones buyin’ tickets and DVD’s. When Japanese women are lookin’ for a spicy film to heat up their day while their husbands are at work, it’s a good bet from schoolgirl to obaa that they’re usin’ their tremblin’ hands to insert the Brickster into their DVD player.

Now, as to Pat personally, while he’s got a serious case of HUA when it comes to my films, I think he’s a great guy. His books have tipped me off to a lot of classics I might have otherwise missed, and unlike some critics he gives B movies the same respect he shows A movies. And he sends me photos of Reiko-chan, so he’s O-tay by me. Benji, don’t he have a new book comin’ out in a coupla weeks? I’d buy it, but I’m sure I’ll be gettin’ a complimentary copy in the mail any day now.

OK: You’ll have to wait for that book from Pat. Publication’s been delayed and I don’t think he’ll be sending you anything after what you just said about his fashion sense. What would your 'dream project' be, if you had an unlimited budget and complete creative control?

Brick: Well, that would be a full length (yuk, yuk) production of the unabridged Tale of Genji with me in the title role. I mean, when smooth-talkin' cultured and educated womanizin' horn dogs are brought up, my name is always first out of the gate with the ladies of Japan. It's a natural!

Even though it wouldn't be an historical epic, I'd also like to get the starrin' role in the film adaptation of Lian Hearn's Tales Of The Otori. I'm talkin' of course, about the role of the naughty warlord Iida Sadamu. Now, of course, there'd have to be a few minor adjustments made to the script to accommodate the Brickster. Fer example, Kaede would have to turn on Takeo and put his head on a spike outside Iida's castle. Nobody would ever believe a hot babe like Kaede would prefer a wuss like Takeo over the roguish charm of Iida as performed by me. One'a those SMAP guys would be perfect for the role of Takeo, and nobody'd miss him when he got offed. We could then end the film with a rousin' pillow fight between Iida and Kaede. I think it'd be the perfect vehicle to introduce the Brickster to Western filmgoers.

Hey Benji, I gots a question for you if you feel up to it. Whatever happened to that Lt. Boomer guy and Mr. Dorka? They were two of my fav’rites on the SA.

OK: You mean Msr. Iaidoka, and Domer, right? Domer supposedly got in trouble with his wife when she walked in on him stripped down to his boxers and wearing 3D glasses while watching some of your movies with a big bowl of popcorn. As for Iaidoka, I don’t know. Well, anyway, Brick, it’s been a real pleasure. Good luck with the films and we’ll see you on the small screen.

Brick: You bet. Thanks. By the way, can you spot me 1,000 yen? I’m feelin' thirsty and need another cold one after talkin' with you.

OK: You’ve got to be kidding, right?

Brick: About bein' thirsty? Never, big guy. Come on, Benji, you ‘kin add it to my tab of bar bills that you’ve been coverin' for me.

Due to the rumors that started to swirl earlier this week about noted historian and author Anthony J. Bryant having a cameo role in the upcoming bio-epic Yasuke, I felt it was necessary to call up Brick and ask a follow-on question about this, as Mr. Bryant is being a little coy.

OK: We've heard recently that historian and SA member Anthony Bryant has been offered a walk-on role in Yasuke. There seems to be some confusion in fandom over what part he's actually going to be playing. Can you shed any light on this matter?

Brick: Well, A.J. was originally slated to play the role of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki-but he was cast sight unseen. When he showed up on the set, the gal who's our castin' director got one look at his legs and decided he'd be perfect for the role of Shiz-he-ka, the evil shirabyōshi dancer. Imagine my surprise! Looks like it was a good career mood for Lord Effin'ham, since the Brickster hears he's slated to be part of the next round of "Dancing With The Stars" on American TV.