The iDol (2006)
toy collectors shop he acquires a rare alien action figure. Unexpectedly, Ken’s world is turned upside down as the somewhat silly
looking toy alters his life by giving him everything he has ever dreamed of and then callously taking it all back! Ken’s immature desires
and indecisive nature are pit against a collection of seemingly normal, yet equally misguided characters who illustrate how many of us
are victims of a socially implanted drive for things not in our own best interests.
An Interview With Director Norman England
MIN – The first thing I think everyone would want to know is how
somebody goes from being a musician in New York to being a
writer in Japan to working on Japanese films to creating and
directing a Japanese Sci-Fi Film? It must have been an incredible
journey. One any kaiju fan would give his (or her) right arm for.
Tell us a little about this odyssey.
NE – It’s just a progression of events, with one thing leading to the
other. And, although you could say I started off as a kaiju fan, so
did everyone I know who is involved with kaiju film creation. But
this can be said of anybody in the film business, as nearly
everyone was inspired by something in cinema that drove them to
pursue a career in filmmaking.As for myself, though I was a
musician in my 20s and early 30s, the first thing I wanted to be as
a young boy was a filmmaker. My mother bought me a used
Super 8 camera and projector when I was eleven. I made lots of
stop motion, alien invasion and zombie films. I guess you can say
that by returning to film I’ve come full circle.
MIN – This new film “The Idol” is somewhat satirical. What
prompted you to go this route instead of what seems to be the
natural progression of making your own kaiju film?
NE – Actually, I have no desire to make a kaiju film as they take a
lot of money to pull off correctly. Moreover, they require an
experienced art staff. Beyond that, the kaiju genre is mostly
played out. I’m sorry to say, but while it was at one time a viable
genre, its relevance has diminished greatly. And the audience isn’t
there any more. Before I get accused of being a wet towel, there
are signs of hope.
also smaller kaiju films such as an interesting one being directed by a friend of mine, Kiyotaka Taguchi, who was an AD to Makoto
Kamiya on the GMK set and who then moved to the Godzilla art staff for the rest of the series. Taguchi was also on the team that did
optical FX work for THE iDOL. Personally speaking, I find science fiction to have the most potential for self-expression. And if need
be, you can incorporate kaiju elements into a sci-fi script without being pinned down to kaiju trappings. I also believe sci-fi to be a
better platform for critiquing modern life.MIN – In Japan someone just doesn’t get an opportunity to helm a project like this without first paying their dues. How where you
able to jump right in a put an entire production like this together?NE – Don’t get me wrong. I’ve paid dues. I’ve put in hard time on movie sets, inhaled my share of unhealthy fumes and been on my
feet for more than twenty-four hours straight. I’ve also endured bullying and racism. And because I started out as a fan, I’ve had to
put up with a small amount of fan backlash. But, you find these kinds of things in every walk of life and in the end it’s just life, for
better or for worse. I’m also pretty resilient, which you have to be to make film. But as an independent film, THE iDOL was not at all
bound by studio politics or studio dues paying. Even in Japan, a benefit of being an indie is that you get to make your own rules.
MIN – .Where did your inspiration for this project come from?
NE -It’s hard to pin it down to a single source, but THE iDOL’s basic theme of a gullible collector comes from years of watching
how Japanese collectors interact with dealers and my feeling that the Japanese nation is in a quandary by trying to produce both easily
manipulated consumers and sharp, able workers. Also, in recent years I’ve become sort of an anti-collector. I used to like buying tie-
in goods, but when the market got oversaturated with minutia and the items went from play things to collectables the whole appeal
was lost for me.For example, when the first set of STAR WARS figures came out. They were so cool. You could set them up, pit
them against each other, and if you stared at them long and hard, you could recall scenes from the film. They were just basic enough
to spark the imagination. It’s so scene specific now that imagination is unnecessary.Of course, my real drive in making THE iDOL
was to commit on film some of my narrative ideas, life observations and to get a feel for a movie production from a director’s point of
MIN – You were able to assemble a pretty good list of cast and crew for such a small budget effort. Were you able to use your years
of working with the Japanese film industry to pull a few strings?
NE – I wouldn’t say I pulled any strings. For most of my staff, particularly the ones established in the business, it was to do something
different and to see what Norman could come up with. Others, such as Takako Fuji from THE GRUDGE series, responded to the
script. The truth is that many of the film people here, even the name ones, don’t expect more than to make a living. For most it’s not a
high stakes game like it is in Hollywood where there is the possibility of becoming multi-millionaires if you get a hit.Another thing THE
iDOL had going for it is that it is science fiction. Low budget films in Japan tend to be slice of life dramas, horror films, or
documentaries. The fact that I wanted to do a sci-fi film impressed a lot of people.But, it’s true that my work reporting on Japanese
films helped to make THE iDOL happen. My job takes me to studios in Japan where I get to interact with a wide variety of
filmmakers. The time I spend is given to trying to crack the creative code and to work out a crew’s method. A lot of the information I
uncover doesn’t see its way into the articles I write simply because of space constraints. So for me it’s become a kind of study in
filmmaking, the kind you can’t get at school or from a book. The reverse is also true, in that by being at the studios the filmmakers
have come to know me.
MIN – Was it harder than you thought to make a movie like this?
NE – I’ve been on the set of over thirty movies and there is never anything easy about making a movie. Movies are fun to watch, not
fun to make. Don’t get me wrong, there is satisfaction to be had from making movies, but the hours, the pressure, the doubt, the trying
to get people to see things your way, there is nothing easy about it. I didn’t go into this expecting it to be easy, which is a good thing!
Because it wasn’t.
MIN – You have a very close relationship with Shusuke Kaneko who did such a good job on the 1990s’ Gamera films and GMK.
Did you model your directing style after his or did you want to do everything your own unique way?
NE – Of all the directors I’ve known, he’s the one I’ve spent the most time observing. Still, I wouldn’t say I model myself after him.
He’s a great director with a deep understanding of the mechanics of film and knows how to make a shoot go smoothly. I have my
own thoughts of how I want a set to run and how I want the staff and cast to operate. But it takes time and experimentation to work
out one’s own style of production. Important to running a set is the level of cooperation you get from your staff. It’s difficult in the
beginning because there is no reason why anyone should trust you since you haven’t done anything to show that you should be
trusted. This is natural and every director goes through it. To be honest, one of my actors gave me a hard time at the beginning of the
shoot because he was used to a certain kind of set style. I was happy because he recently called to thank me for including him in THE
iDOL and hopes the relationship continues into my next production. This tells me is that I’m making the right kind of progress.
a live audience?NE – It was both an enjoyable and terrifying experience. Film is subjective. As Toho president Shogo Tomiyama told me once: Ask
ten fans to tell you what Godzilla is and you’ll get ten different replies. No two people see things exactly the same. All you can do is
trust yourself and hope that the greater amount agree with you and enjoy your filmmaking choices. But, the Fantasia screening
exceeded my wildest hopes. So, I have to say that it was one of the best moments in my life. Fantasia is a great film festival too
because it plays the kind of films I like, which are films that include fantastic elements. I had a great time as a guest too. They are very
generous hosts.MIN – Where will fans be able to see The Idol on the big screen? Any chance of a US DVD release?
NE – As an independent and recently completed film I’m still unsure of how it will be released. For now I’m doing the film festival
circuit and have several committed and tentative screenings around the world lined up. I’ll post them on THE iDOL website when I
have dates. I’m also meeting with small theaters in Tokyo and am trying to arrange a limited screening. It’s tough because Toho
Motion Pictures owns most of the theaters in Japan and they only play films they make or distribute. There are still many mom and pop
theaters in Tokyo, but it takes time to get picked up.
MIN – Now that you have made The Idol and it is starting to generate a lot of buzz the obvious question is “What’s next?” Have you
thought about your next project?
NE – I’m working on a science fiction thriller set in the Japanese country side. I’m hoping to combine the experience of my long term
residency in Japan with a sci-fi tale. I believe Japan to be a fertile location for cinema. There is much about this country Japanese
filmmakers choose to ignore and ones unknown to most non-Japanese. Movies such as LOST IN TRANSLATION, THE LAST
SAMURAI, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, and FAST AND FURIOUS 3 are fairly clueless in my opinion. LIT to a lesser extent, but
F&F3 was almost comedic in its absurdities and portrayal of Japan. What I have in mind is not exploitative.
MIN – I always give everyone I interview a chance to speak their mind. Do you have a message for the fans who will be going out to
see The Idol at many numerous festivals in the upcoming months?
NE – My only wish is that people enjoy THE iDOL. I don’t hide the fact that it’s low-budget, but all things considered I think my crew
and I did a fantastic job. I’m very pleased too with the reception it got at Fantasia. This is important because it gives me the resolve to
do more, trust my instincts more and, in general, to take greater filmmaking risks that will hopefully result in better and more interesting
Director / Writer / Producer – Norman England
Script – Jiro Kaneko
Producer – Shinako Sudo
Director of Photography – Hiroo Takaoka
Ken – Jin Sasaki
Mayuka – Erina Hayase
Yamada – Mitsu Katahira
Tanaka – Masayasu Nakanishi
Rika – Takako Fuji
Taki – Hirotaka Miyama
Announcer – Shio Chino
Boss Goro – Tomoo Haraguchi
Voice of Alien-Kun – Toshiyuki Watarai
The Homeless Man – Yukijiro Hotaru
Original Soundtrack – Kow Otani
Editor – Rob Moreno
Lighting Director – Hiroaki Morikawa, Taichi Suzuki
Location Sound Recordist – Noriko Ogawa
Creature Creator – Kakusei Fujiwara
Computer Graphics – Takashi Yamazaki
Visual Effects – Hajime Matsumoto
Alien Figure sculptor – Bill Gudmundson
Matte Painter – Bob Eggleton