Interview: Tokyo Shock

I recently sat down for a conversation with Media Blasters to discuss the past and future of the Tokyo Shock line. The brand has been particularly active lately, with Zeiram 2, Zebraman, Devilman, and Gappa getting Blu-ray releases, plus Hakaider, 964 Pinocchio, Zebraman 2, and more on the way.

Well, thank you for agreeing to chat. Tokyo Shock has been a big influence on me ever since seeing Moon Over Tao and Story of Ricky on VHS 20 years ago. How did you first get interested in Asian cinema?

Oh, that was through I would say Miike. I remember when I saw Fudoh and was blown away. I knew that Japan was making some special stuff.

That’s a strong entry.

Yeah, Fudoh I still feel [is] one of his best early works.

How did Media Blasters come about? It’s a pretty diverse company between the labels, with Anime Works, Tokyo Shock, Kitty Films, etc. Was that always the vision?

It came about because of a Star Trek convention and I saw my first anime, Project A-ko … I went [to] horror, anime, and all types of conventions and found all these great titles.

I see! Back in the day there was quite a mix of content at the conventions scenes.

Yup, and no where else to get it. If not for conventions and college clubs [we] never saw this stuff.

Is that still how you find content to license?

Not as much, the internet changed everything.

So, looking for reviews or talk about titles online now is the main method?

Pretty much, but as we got bigger we saw them in production. Before the public.

That’s neat! So you were able to do set visits outside of the Fever Dreams productions?

Yes, or even in preproduction.

Are there certain studios that you’re able to work better with because of that?

Yeah, very good with Nikkatsu, Shochiku, Media Suits.

Is there a licensing philosophy behind the Tokyo Shock label? Like the sort of thing that makes you think “this is a good fit” or “this not so much”.

Director mostly and type of content.

The director aspect makes sense. You certainly did more than anyone else in the US for Takashi Miike, Keita Amemiya, Ryuhei Kitamura.

Have there been any titles you can talk about that you thought would have been great fits, but weren’t able to license?

Audition.

Ah, yeah, that seems very much up your alley.

Or maybe many Toho.

On the subject of Toho, you released several of Toho’s giant monster movies, and I know that there were some issues with getting the two Godzilla movies to market. They have a reputation for being very protective of the Godzilla brand specifically; did they treat those releases any differently than they had the prior ones?

Not really, just we were too excited and we went overboard. They really approve no extras. We did all these extras and this became an issue later.

But yes, Godzilla is special to them.

Right, I think those were all new while the other discs were extras from the Japanese versions.

Yup, and we had to correct them all and only barebone release they approved.

Although, I remember you did a new edit of Frankenstein Conquers the World, right?

No, whatever they have is [it] …While fans were happy we took a hit for sure.

That’s a shame.

It is ok. Maybe one day work [with them] again.

So, no plans for any of the other Toho flicks on Blu-ray for the time being, it sounds like?

Not at this time, Toei and Nikkatsu to start. Shochiku has not many films we really like that much. Pony soon.

Because Blu-ray is the same region code in the US and Japan, there’s more opportunity for reverse importation than there was with DVD. Has this affected how studios treat licensing?

Not really.

That’s encouraging; it’s something that a lot of fans speculate about.

Sure.

Have there been unique challenges working on Korean, Hong Kong, or Thai movies as opposed to the “bread and butter” of Japanese stuff?

No, they are easy; just Korea is very expensive and Hong Kong is fine, just not as well organized. Korea makes great stuff. Thai, very good too.

Which titles have been surprise hits for you?

Hmmm… hard to say. Guess you are taking Tokyo Shock?

Mostly, but feel free to talk about the other labels as well.

I would say biggest surprise probably on Tokyo Shock be Visitor Q. I really thought “just not much there”, but did really well.

That’s a very strange film, but I remember it was my roommate’s favorite in college.

Yeah just too strange. She was a contest. The directors given low low budget and make a film.

A lot like Aragami, in that regard.

So, I notice that Anime Works seems to have an equal distribution between movies and TV series, but Tokyo Shock leans a lot more heavily into the movie side. Are live-action shows more expensive to license, or do they not perform as well?

[They do] not perform as well, and just too much work for that many episodes.

I mean, shows like Ultraman or Ultra Q [are] exceptions, but not many. We looked into those shows but they were messed up back then.

Yeah, the rights were tied up in a legal battle.

Yes.

In the last year, Tokyo Shock has made a huge return, with several times as many releases as we’ve seen in previous years. Why is now the time for them?

I recently went Japan prior to COVID, and then after COVID we were able close deals finally. So that visit, which I had not done in years, was very important.

Also we stopped producing.

Producing dubs?

Producing movies. We recently did Shinobi Girl, Flesh for the Beast. Voodoo Virus is it.

Ah, I see. Okay, well, I’ll let you go now, but thank you very much for your time!

Thank you.

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