Gregory Hatanaka’s latest film “Violent Blue” recently premiered in Culver City.
The film was shot on locations in Los Angeles. It’s currently available on DVD through Amazon and Netflix.
Hatanaka answered a few questions about his film for glowbass.com:
Tell us about “Violent Blue.”
“Violent Blue” follows the drama of a music school teacher (Silvia Suvadova, “Kolya”) who is obsessed with finding the missing notes to complete the final movement of an early 20th century music piece. Her brother Ondrej (Jesse Hlubik, “May’) is a reclusive electronics inventor who is driven to creating a mechanical machine that can help his sister in her work. Things take a turn for the worse when her ex-husband (Nick Mancuso, “Nightwing”) is released from a mental institution and imprisons her in her own home.
What inspired you to create this project?
I had always wanted to make a film where music played an integral role, both in subject matter and as an important part of the viewing experience. During the initial stages of creating the project, I would attend performances at the LA Opera and LA Philharmonic, once or twice a month.
I was able to see/hear the LA Opera’s production of Wagner’s “The Ring” Cycle for the first time, for example. So I knew going in that the project should be one that featured the works of the master composers such as Puccini, Wagner, Bach, Verdi, Smetana, Strauss and Janacek and others who I am forgetting to name now, sorry.
But I was at a loss for a main character/subject matter until I realized I had it all along: the lead character should be a music school teacher! So with a main character in hand, I now needed to find the main conflict of the film and then it was LA Opera Music Conductor/Maestro James Conlon who sort of inspired this for me to figure this out. Watching him conduct one night at a performance of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” the first part of “The Ring” cycle, I noticed his intensity, magnificent energy and utmost discipline during his conducting of the orchestra.
At times, he would be waving the baton wildly but with a clear precision and, at others, closer to himself, and slower, almost meditative. And meanwhile, the orchestra performers would also be doing the same. I suddenly realized that the process of creating & performing music was very much like a sport, and even closer to something approaching martial arts. I could see the main performance onstage and its high delicate art, and then just below the proscenium and into the orchestra pit, you see the conductor and orchestra members throwing their hands up, stretching their arms, kicking their feet, striking their bows, blowing their tubes, striking the gongs, drumming the timpani. This contradiction but perfect marriage of artistic energy would give me the impetus of what I should do for “Violent Blue.”
So now I knew what the structure of the film would now be: to fuse the elements of an arthouse film together with that of a martial arts picture. Sort of like taking a Tarkovsky/Bergman film and marrying it to a Chang Cheh/Liu Chia-Liang flick. This could be a sort of “The Sacrifice” meets “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.”
What films influenced the style and aesthetic of “Violent Blue?”
Well as mentioned in the previous question, certainly the works of Tarkovsky, Bergman, Chang Cheh and Liu Chia-Liang. But as we started making the film and music became more and more a leading character in the film, I started taking inspiration from some of the silent film classics such as Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” and Abel Gance’s “Napoleon.”
In addition to this, I had also been inspired by the “Eugene” segments in the Ernie Kovacs shows of the ‘60s. His character of Eugene lived in a world of sounds but no dialogue. So for example, if you are familiar with one of the skits, he would go to a library, open a book of “War and Peace” and you would only hear the sounds of guns and cries. Then he would close the book and open another – “Camille” – and you would hear the sounds of coughing and sneezing – pure genius!
Can you explain the title “Violent Blue.”
My co-producer Kuy Yeav came up with the title. And at first, I disagreed with it until I realized what it all meant. The idea of being so “blue,” depressed, that such repressed emotions and tensions can create a “violent” passion within yourself.
The are graphic images of a pig being killed. What was the intent behind those scenes?
I call this the “shaking the tree” philosophy. Rattle the audience early on and see who’s left, who truly is willing able to experience something new, not afraid to turn away and to live and experience their lives.
Obviously, it is a disturbing scene to watch and the image remains imprinted on your mind. But yes, don’t you eat bacon and sausage? Have you had an Italian cold cut submarine at Subway’s lately?
So at the very least, let’s not let this pig’s death that appears onscreen to be in vain. So please thank the pig in our film if you eat an Egg McMuffin tomorrow. And no, we ourselves did not kill him, the footage was taken off of youtube.
Tell us about the choice to use title cards?
Taking inspiration from the silent film classics as mentioned before, and realizing dialogue in certain scenes would upset the flow of the music, I decided that various scenes should be presented in a “Vitaphone”-type mode, the process they used in Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer,” where scenes would be silent with sound effects, but the music score would be retained. I think these scenes actually enhance the performances of the actors, because you are able to focus on their faces and gestures without interpreting dialogue as well simultaneously. Isn’t this the reason why we loved Garbo with her silent poses of angst and torment?
Talk about the film’s music soundtrack.
Well apart from the composers mentioned above whose work appears in the film, we also have an original score by composer Toshiyuki Hiraoka, and there are also various other music pieces including Biagio Marini’s “Zarabanda Terza” which is the recurring love theme that appears in the film. It is conducted magnificently by Paul Haas of the Sympho Orchestra in New York.
How did you gather such a unique ensemble cast?
The film was initially created for Silvia Suvadova, who I had known for nearly 7 years and through various missed opportunities, never had the chance to work with her. Once she was aboard, she brought in Nick Mancuso, “Nightwing” being one of my favorite cult films. Jesse Hlubik came to the project after a previous actor had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, and our Polish conglomerate of Bogdan Szumilas and Martin William Harris soon followed. Barry O’Rourke had previously worked with me on “Mad Cowgirl” and this was my first time working with Andrea Harrison. I had met Garret Sato a few years ago and didn’t have a project for him, so I brought him aboard for the first time here.
What’s your next project?
The next picture is entitled “The Critic” – and it spans over a decade in the world of journalism, where the print business versus the internet business soon collide with each other. It stars James Duval (“Kaboom” and “Doom Generation”).