In Profile Joji Iida
Jôji Iida, sometimes better known by his anglicised given name, George, is a director, screenwriter, manga author and occasional novelist who has worked steadily in the Japanese film and television industries for many years. Largely resigned to the status of minor cult icon abroad, he is best known for his work in the science fiction and horror genres and the cult films Battle Heater (1989), Rasen (1998) – the original (and infamous) sequel to Hideo Nakata’s Ring (1998) – and Another Heaven (2000).
Despite being at the forefront of the new wave of Japanese filmmaking talent that emerged during the late ’80s and early ’90s, Iida has not enjoyed the international attention and acclaim that many from his generation have gone on to receive: Takeshi Kitano, Takashi Miike, Shinya Tsukamoto and Kiyoshi Kurosawa to name a few. However, his involvement with numerous popular television shows and dalliances with manga and literature have brought him commercial success in his home country.
Porn, mutants and man-eating coffee tables
Born in 1959, Iida started out the same way as many Japanese filmmakers from his era did: making short 8mm student films. One of which, Kyukei, won a prize at the 1981 PIA Film Festival; a long-running, Tokyo-based event dedicated to showcasing amateur and self-made films, which has served as the launch pad for many careers. From then on Iida found steady work in the industry, alternating between being a script writer for pinku-eiga (softcore Japanese pornography) and an assistant director for more conventional film productions.
Soon, Iida was given the chance to write and direct his own projects. The first was Cyclops (1987), a sixty-minute, straight-to-video body horror piece about a team of scientists searching for a new test subject after their first one committed suicide upon discovering that she was pregnant with a mutant creature. The scientists are assisted by a large Cyclops monster as they search the city for a new victim.
Iida followed this with what would be his theatrical debut, Battle Heater (1989). A tongue-in-cheek oddity inspired by similarly absurd, American B-movies like Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes (1978), Battle Heater is about a man-eating kotatsu, which terrorises the tenants of a rundown apartment block. A kotatsu is a uniquely Japanese piece of furniture; a coffee table with an electric heater built onto its underside that is used to keep a room and its inhabitants warm without the huge expense of central heating, which many traditional Japanese homes are ill-designed for. The film’s monstrous counterpart feeds on electricity, causing it to grow larger and more unruly, much to the chagrin of its new owner and his neighbours.
Battle Heater was a commercial success, partly due to it featuring the Japanese punk band Bakufu-Slump, who star as some of the tenants that incur the wrath of the killer coffee table. The group had just broken into the charts with a hit single at the time of production, which also helped with securing funds to get the film finished. Battle Heater has since gone on to become an Asian cult classic.
From Hollywood to TV
After Battle Heater, Iida upped sticks and spent a short time in Hollywood. Although he did not produce any work whilst over there, he sought consultation with many of the top special effects and filmmaking technicians of the time and even got to rub shoulders with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola.
Returning to Japan, Iida set straight to work on writing and directing two episodes for the popular television series Tales Of The Unusual, the Japanese equivalent to the British show Tales Of The Unexpected, or the long running US program The Twilight Zone. Working on these episodes would form the basis of Iida’s next television project Night Head, a series about two brothers with paranormal abilities, which ran from 1992-1993. Night Head proved to be another success, despite being originally given a midnight time slot, and spawned an entire franchise including another series, a made-for-TV movie directed by Iida in 1994, books, comics and more. It would go on to be adapted again in the form of an anime series – Night Head: Genesis (2006).
However Iida still found time for other projects during this hectic period. He wrote for the television series If: Moshimo (1993) and directed the feature film Tokyo Babylon 1999 (1993), a live-action sequel to the popular manga and two-part OAV series Tokyo Babylon. He later helmed the live-action feature film of another popular manga, Akagi (1995). Iida also wrote the story for his own video game entitled Iida Joji Nightmare Interactive: Moon Cradle (1995), which was available on the short-lived and often maligned Panasonic 3DO games console.
Iida and The Ring
Iida wrote the screenplay for the TV-movie Ringu: Kazan ban (1995), based on the popular 1991 horror novel, Ringu, by Koji Suzuki. Ringu would be adapted again, this time by Suzuki and screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi, for the more popular and better known 1998 theatrical release directed by Hideo Nakata. Meanwhile, Iida was commissioned to make a film adaptation of Suzuki’s second novel of the Ring trilogy, 1995′s Rasen. The intention was that it be released on the same day in Japan as Nakata’s film; the assumption being that those who love the first would flock to see the second.
Whilst Nakata’s Ring went on to great success, Iida’s Rasen was deemed a critical and commercial failure.
Whilst Nakata’s Ring went on to great success, becoming the highest grossing horror film in Japanese cinema history and the flag-bearer of the J-horror renaissance that soon swept the globe, Iida’s Rasen (1998), also known as The Spiral, was deemed a critical and commercial failure. It would be quickly overshadowed by Nakata’s own sequel, Ring 2 (1999), which was not an adaptation of the novel Rasen, nor had anything to do with Suzuki’s other writing, thus completely ignoring the story of Iida’s film. Further Ring-based projects have only helped ostracise and bury Rasen even further into obscurity: a thirteen-episode television series which aired throughout 1999, the production of a prequel (Ring 0: Birthday, 2000), a Korean remake (The Ring Virus, 1999) and a US remake (The Ring, 2002), which was followed by its own sequel (The Ring Two, 2005).
Another Heaven, a new millennium
After the Ring/Rasen debacle, Iida turned to one of his own novels for inspiration. The result was Another Heaven (2000), a grisly police procedural with supernatural undertones, that revolves around an investigation to catch a serial killer whose modus operandi is to cut out and cook the brains of their victims. The film was a domestic hit, allowing Iida to follow up with a moderately well received television series, Another Heaven Eclipse, later that year.
Iida went on to oversee the creation of anime series Sci-Fi Harry (2000-2001), based on his manga of the same name from 1995. The series is about a high-school flunky who discovers that he has psychic powers, but when said powers are used, somebody in the nearby area dies. Coinciding with the development of the anime, Iida started a second volume of his manga, which is still ongoing. He was also one of the directors to contribute to the first Jam Films (2002) collection; an omnibus project gathering seven short films from seven established Japanese directors. Iida’s entry, Cold Sleep, was a post-apocalyptic science fiction piece in a similar vein to what would be his next feature film project. Jam Films proved to be a success, spawning two more anthology collections – Jam Films 2 (2003) and Jam Films S (2005).
Iida soon returned to the big screen with Dragon Head (2003), a live-action adaptation of Minetaro Mochizuki’s post-apocalyptic disaster manga. Shot on location in the sparse regions of Uzbekistan, the film was bashed by critics but was a commercial success nonetheless.
Since Dragon Head, Iida has slowed down with making films, but remains active in writing and television show creation. Aside from producing more manga, Iida wrote the script for Shunichi Nagasaki’s martial-arts film Black Belt (2007). Most recently, Iida has written and directed the TV show Strangers 6 (2012).
2012 Strangers 6 *
2007 Black Belt (writer)
2003 Dragon Head
2002 Jam Films (‘Cold Sleep’ segment)
2000-01 Sci-Fi Harry * (creator)
2000 Another Heaven Eclipse *
2000 Another Heaven
1998 Rasen (aka The Spiral)
1995 Ringu: Kazan ban * (writer)
1994 Night Head * (TV movie)
1993 If: Moshimo * (writer)
1993 Tokyo Babylon 1999
1992-93 Night Head * (original series)
1992 Tales of the Unusual * (2 episodes)
1989 Battle Heater
* Television series or specials
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