Who is Little Kaiju?
Way back in 2007, us TWiNs were asked to pitch on a commercial featuring a cast of cute little 3D characters. As part of the treatment we had a conceptual illustrator friend of ours, Morten Rowley from Supervixen, design a range of adorable creatures. All of them were amazing - some with big eyes and no legs, some with antennas and gloved hands, and others almost fox-like with tails and big ears. But out of all of these original characters, there was one that stood out and had our hearts from the get-go. He didn't have a name (he didn't even have a mouth!), and deep down we knew he wasn't right for the commercial project, but he was easily our favourite of over twenty designs. Long story short, the job never happened. We shelved the sketches and simply continued living our lives.
Cut to December 2011, and we'd come up with a very simple idea for a short film. What if we followed the intimate journey of a tiny creature that lives in a vending machine, who only comes out to play in the wee hours of the morning? To make things weirder, he has a shiny white light for a heart and uses it to illuminate his way through shadowy corners of dark inner-city alleyways. It's an abstract concept, but we wanted to explore making the 'cute and adorable' as sophisticated as we could. A children's film adults could enjoy.
There was really only one city we wanted to set this in – Tokyo. What other place on earth has a vending machine roughly every 21 feet? (can someone please confirm the math on that?) But was shooting there even close to realistic? Oh, what the hell. So with nothing but a 5D camera and a few lenses, we bought flights and got on a plane to see what we could find. Immediately the Shinjuku neighborhood stood out to us as an appropriately seedy visual neon wonderland, and tucked away textural street locations were plentiful to say the least. Overall, what we wanted was a sense of the typical Tokyo hustle and bustle, but then slowly focus in on the interesting empty corners that no-one was paying much attention to. This is where we'd find our little Kaiju.
"There were so many great little neighborhoods, but in particular we came to love the small bar area of Golden Gai, with it's abundance of tight alleyways and random doorways. With all that was going on there, two foreigners on their knees photographing a hole in the wall didn't seem overly strange to anyone."
We shot the film over two nights, simply roaming around Shinjuku and Ginza with a camera and a tiny handheld light we bought from Tokyo Hands, one of the many seven-story 'everything' malls. We linked up with a very talented local actor, Tei Ryushin, who was about as trusting as anyone could ask for in a rat-infested urine-soaked alley at 1 o'clock in the morning. Without even really understanding what we were trying to achieve, Tei gave us exactly what we were after - the only human to ever interact with a Kaiju. We had no location permits, no crew, no lighting what-so-ever, and no sound recording capabilities. Put it this way, the two lines of dialogue were recorded under a jacket into an iPhone.
This then led to the almost five months of animation it took to bring the character to life, attempting to turn a few cute sketches into a tiny living creature you could fall for. The Rabbit animation team, led by guru Nick Losq, didn't stop until we had maximum 'kawaii' levels in every shot. Kaiju needed to be innocent and more than a little reserved, but genuinely engaged in the strange world outside his vending machine. He needed to go on a journey through the neighborhood and explore like a 5 year old, able to get totally swept up in the most simple of things (cue the tail-less cat!).
"Interaction with his environment was key, and we did as much as we could on location with a real light", says Josh. "We shot take after take with different styles of movement from the handheld lamp, essentially puppeteering the thing a foot off the ground as if it was the character walking around. Any interactive light you see bouncing off the walls and lighting up objects in each scene is 100% real."
Most of the character's actions were thought of on the fly as we ran around the streets of Tokyo, the two of us scouring different neighbourhoods for spots that could fulfill unique moments. The entire project was a true experimentation in spontaneity, and hopefully that shows in the final film (in a good way). Kaiju is such a fun little character to base a story around, no matter how simple it is, so we're hoping to see him stumble out of his vending machine again in the not too distant future.