HJU Interview: MARK MUSASHI

HJU: Mark Musashi, is known to us as the ass kickin’ butler, Kodama in the smash hit series GARO, the unstoppable Piece in Sh15uya, not to mention he was the in suit stuntman for the phenomenal Kamen Rider the First. And today he’s here at Henshin Justice Unlimited to provide you the fans with an interview. First off I just wanted to say thank you and that it’s quite an honor to interview someone who’s actually donned a Kamen Rider suit and fought for great justice.

Mark: Well, not too sure about the “fought for great justice” part, seeing as
I generally play either the bad guy or the main rival, but it is a pleasure
to be here.

[HJU Forum Discussion]

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HJU: Getting right to it, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Mark: Well, I am half-Japanese, half-American. I was born in Japan, but
raised and educated in the states. After graduating from college, I
decided to return to the country of my birth and learn more about my
Japanese cultural heritage.

HJU: What was it like growing up and what influences did you come across
that lead you on the path to becoming who you are today?

Mark: Growing up half-Japanese in a nearly all white small rural New England
town (Buckfield, ME), was not easy. However, in retrospect, it was a
valuable learning experience in many ways. I think that it made me much
more aware of my Japanese half and spawned a deep interest in asian
culture.

HJU: Why a stuntman? Is this your life’s ambition or do you have other plans for the future that you’ll pursue?

Mark: Well, I’ll be honest, I originally had dreams of becoming an actor.
However, I thought that by capitalizing on my martial arts background I
would be able to win roles that the average actor would not be capable of.
But I felt I needed to prove my physical abilities, and what better way
than to become a first-class stuntman? In hindsight, it was perhaps an
unnecessary round-about path to becoming an actor, but it has provided me
with experiences that most people would never have a chance to do.

HJU: It says in your Wikipedia entry that you attended Darmouth College
before heading out to China to study Northern Shoalin Kung Fu. What was it that you were studying at Darmouth and do you plan to use that education sometime in the future… if you’re not using it already.

Mark: I was an East Asian Languages and Literatures major with a Drama minor,
so I think that it is safe to say that I am getting some use out of my
college degree. Although, it is perhaps not in what might be considered
the traditional path of an Ivy League graduate.

HJU: What was it that inspired you to fly out to China and study Kung Fu?

Mark: The ’98 class at Dartmouth contained the majority of my friends in the
Dartmouth Kung-fu Club. My teacher at that time was a student at the
Dartmouth Medical School who was also graduating in 1998, so that year
would pretty much be the end of Dartmouth Kung-fu as it had been. But
before everyone went on to their respective jobs or grad school programs,
we decided that it would be interesting to go and train in China for half a
year. My teacher contacted his teacher, Mr. Yu Cheng-Hui (the long bearded
villian in Shaolin Temple), and convinced him to look after us while we
trained. I petitioned to take my senior fall term off, so that I could
travel with my friends and took part in what would probably be the most
physically grueling five months of my life. However, it was during that
time that I decided that the martial arts would be a part of my life
forever.

HJU: What and who was it that lead you to study martial arts in the first place?

Mark: It’s funny, but would you believe that it was Tokusatsu?

HJU: Growing up, what were some of your favorite shows? Cartoons, action shows, movies… what’s most nostalgic and inspiring for you?

Mark: Well, seeing as we didn’t get much Tokusatsu in Maine when I was a kid,
I spent most of my time watching cartoons. Voltron: Defender of the
Universe, Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, and He-Man were definitely
favorites. Other than that there was also a healthy dose of The A-Team,
The Dukes of Hazzard, and Knight Rider to supply that good old Hollywood
action.

HJU: What was your first exposure to Tokusatsu and how did you get into it?

Mark: When I was about six years old my family took a trip to Japan for
summer vacation. That year they were broadcasting Bioman and Space
Sherriff Shaider. Having never seen anything like that in the states, I
was instantly hooked.

HJU: What are some of your all time favorite Tokusatsu shows and what are
you watching now?

Mark: Space Sherriff Shaider, while often described as the worst of the Space
Sherriff series, will always hold a special place in my heart, and is
perhaps the sole reason I got into martial arts and this line of work.
Other than that, I really enjoyed Kamen Rider: Ryuki and Gao Ranger. I am
embarrassed to say, though, that recently I have been a bit too busy to
really keep up with what is on the air now.

HJU: Could you tell us your favorite arm swing henshin?

Mark: Again, Shaider is a favorite. I would say that all three Space
Sherriffs have very cool henshins. As for “nanori” or the whole posing
while saying your name, Kamen Rider: Black RX probably takes the cake.

HJU: I’m seeing on IMDB.Com that you did a little motion capture action for
Metal Gear Solid! Who’d you play as and how did you land that gig?

Mark: For Twin Snakes I did the motion for Liquid Snake, Vulcan Raven, the
DARPA Chief (actually Decoy Octopus), as well as various random soldiers.
For Snake Eater, I did the motion for Col. Vulgan as well as doubling for
various charaters including Naked Snake and The Boss.

HJU: Are you a gamer?

Mark: Yup! But again, a little too busy these days to do much more than
online flash games.

HJU: If someone were to check your console(s), what games would the find in
there?

Mark: Well, other than games that I did motion capture for, you would find a
whole lot of RPG’s, especially the Final Fantasy series. Also, alot of
adventure types like Biohazard (Resident Evil), Devil May Cry, Onimusya,
plus fighting games like Tekken and Street Fighter.

HJU: Got any all time favorites?

Mark: Street Fighter II took up most of my free time in high school, with the
occational bit of Mortal Kombat just to break things up. In college, my
fraternity had the Tekken room where you could find people playing Tekken 3
at all hours of the day. And Final Fantasy VII and X were just AMAZING to
play. Oh, and Metal Gear Solid for the PS was also a great game! Who
would have guessed that I would get the chance to do the remake?

HJU: What’s your taste in music like?

Mark: Generally anything with a fast beat. Rock, Hip-Hop, Techno, anything
that gets your blood pumping and ready to roll. But a little jazz or some
classical on occation is a nice way to wind down after all the craziness is
over.

HJU: Tell us, Mark… what is best in life?

Mark: Without question: Health, both mental (spiritual) and physical. If you
are hurting in either way, life is just so much harder to appriciate.

HJU: So, what was your path to the current professional life you enjoy today?

Mark: Well, it all really started with the martial arts. While I did have
aspirations of becoming an actor some day, I never really had any definite
plans. My first goal was to win a gold metal. I figured I could start
promoting myself after I became a champion. However, I got scouted to do
my first project before I won my first gold.

HJU: What was your first gig?

Mark: It was a Wacoal Brand “Cute-Up Pants” commercial. In other words, a
women’s underwear ad. I was approached by the director and producer after
a demonstration with the Tokyo Wushu Team (which I am still a member of).
They were looking for anyone who would be interested in doing motion
capture for a TV commercial, especially women. Well, I wasn’t a women, but
I was definitely interested in being in a commercial. Luckily they over
looked the whole gender issue. It was, after all, motion capture.

HJU: How did you hook up with AAC Stunts?

Mark: It was actually at my first job. The producers had arranged an “audition”
with two martial artists and two stunt people. They ended up using both
groups in the actual production. I did the motion for the “bad girl”
charater (I guess I was fated to be the villian from the start), while the
“good girl” charater was played by two stunt players from AAC. During the
course of the shooting, I managed to ask the action co-ordinator, Mitsuo
Abe, how one might get into this industry. He invited me to start
attending AAC’s practices, and the rest is rather self-explanitory.

HJU: There any other AAC Stunties that you admire and have any projects that
we should keep an eye out for?

Mark: AAC is a really small team. There are only eight members and only six in
Japan. Two of our members are still in New Zealand working on the Power
Rangers series. In particular, Namihei Koshige is one stuntman whose equal
I have yet to see anywhere else. He has both incredible acrobatic ability
in addition to the professionalism to do some of the most difficult,
dangerous, and painful stunts imaginable. And while I hate to shatter
anyone’s dreams, you can generally find him in the role of one of the
female rangers.

HJU: Of the many directions you could’ve gone as a martial artist, why choose Tokusatsu?

Mark: I didn’t actually choose Tokusatsu. You have to understand that the
majority of action shows in Japan are Tokusatsu and therefore to be
involved in the action industry in this country genreally means that you
will be doing Tokusatsu.

HJU: Are you interested in any other genres?

Mark: I would be thrilled to work in any genre. Obviously I am more likely
to find myself in action than any other, but I would jump at the
opportunity to try working in comedy, romance, horror, or anything else
that came my way.

HJU: How hard is it to work with a genre that requires so many special effects?

Mark: If nothing else, you need to have a healthy imagination. Often times
it is hard to picture what the final scene will look like with so much
being done with blue/green screen, being filmed seperately over multiple
shots, or getting added by CGI later. And in many circumstances, you just
have to trust that the director knows what he is doing and follow
instructions.

HJU: What’s it like working as a foreigner in the Japanese entertainment
industry?

Mark: Obviously there are certain difficulties when different languages and
cultures collide. The longer I am in Japan, the easier it is for me to
adapt to “the Japanese way” of doing things, but I am culturally American
and my Japanese was learned in school, so there is always a chance for
misunderstanding. However, the people I work with are understanding and
give me a bit more leeway than they would give a Japanese person in the
same situation. It is just when we are short on time and people start
forgetting that I am not Japanese when tempers can flare and little
misunderstandings can cause hurt feelings.

HJU: Do you have a preference or personal opinion on working with wire-work, CGI or straight choerography? Got any examples?

Mark: Not really. I believe that wires, CGI, and blue/green screen shots are
just tools to convey images to the audience. However, ideally, none of
these things should take away from the audience’s involvement in the story.
It is also unfortunate that people now often look specifically for these
things when watching a show. There is nothing more disappointing than
doing something incredibly difficult and having it written off as just
wire-work or just CGI. The best example I can think of would be the
Garo/Zero fight sequence in episode 7. While there was a long CGI sequence
at the begining of that fight, most of it was filmed in front of a blue
screen with Masaki Onishi and myself doing take after take of complex wire
gags. It took about two and a half days and I collapsed from dehydration
and over-heating at one point. So you can perhaps imagine my
disappointment when the whole thing was written off as “just CGI.” On the
other hand, we film makers have to take responsiblity if the impression
that the audience is left with that it is again, just CGI.

HJU: Could you describe what an average day is like for you and what goes
into the work of choreograhing a fight scene?

Mark: If there is time available, choreography will be done in rehearsal.
However, with the time crunches of a TV series and often not knowing
exactly what the set/location will look like until we get there, much of
the choreography will be done the day of shooting. The director/action
director will give us the general idea of how the scene should play out,
who will be arriving from where, where certain events should take place,
etc. Then it is just a matter of putting the fight together. We will
often start by looking at the surroundings for ideas. We can set up a wire
pulley from that ledge, we can do a high fall from there, or crashing into
that thing would probably look like it really hurts. Then while the
director films the actors in other areas, we test different ideas out and
present them to the director when he has the time. All of this becomes a
bit more complicated when I am in character and in addition to being filmed
as an actor, have to be involved with the fight choreography.

HJU: You’ve worked in Sh15buya as Piece (often appearing in and out of suit)
as well as the Butler – Kodama in Garo (out of suit) and as Zero (in suit). Do you have a preference to acting in or out of suit? Would you do more acting out of suit in the future?

Mark: Again, I am a stuntman by profession, but acting is where my true
passion lies. There is a great deal of skill and technique that goes into
acting in a suit with a mask on, so I cannot say that doesn’t present
interesting challenges, but I prefer the freedom of acting without the
mask. And it is always more fun if I get to play myself as opposed to
somebody else’s alterego.

HJU: Could you answer once and for all… is it “Peace” or is it “Piece?”

Mark: The two enemy characters in Sh15uya were Piece and Whole. In the
original concept for the show, Piece would be part monster character while
Whole would be completely monster. There were also originally going to be
many different types of Pieces and Wholes. However, eventually all the
Pieces got my face, the part monster concept was discarded, and only one
type of Whole was actually rendered. Only the names remained unchanged
from the original concept.

HJU: Of these roles, do you have a favorite and if so, why? Any you did not
like?

Mark: Kodama was a really fun character to play. Especially because I got to
play the character for so long and in so many different situations.
Another really fun character was Liquid Snake. While it was only my
motions that made it into the final product, the scenes of Liquid ranting
on the top of Metal Gear would probably be some of the most fun I have ever
had with a character. I really can’t think of any characters I have played
that I didn’t like. If anything, only those characters that I didn’t get a
chance to play with long enough.

HJU: When you do suit work for the actors, how much does the actor’s ability and subsequent depiction of the character affect or influence your portrayal of the character?

Mark: There are basically two schools of thought when playing someone’s
alterego. One is that this person is now a superhero. It does not matter
who they are before the change, after the change they radiate an aura of
invinciblity and move with grace and power. The other school of thought is
that the person in the suit is the same person out of the suit and
therefore the personality should be maintained. I am generally a follower
of the later. It is in some ways similar to the idea of using wires or
CGI, it is not the technique that should be presented, but the story. In
the course of filming Garo, seven different people played the role Saijima
Koga. The fact that in addition to Hiroki Konishi, one child actor, two
martial arts kids, and three stuntman all donned the same role is not
important. What is important is that we all used our specialties to
present the complete character of Saijima Koga.

HJU: How much freedom do you get in your interpretation (s) of the characters you play?

Mark: Again, it depends alot on whether it is my character or someone else’s
alter ego. If it is my character, though, I am often given a good deal of
freedom in how I play it. There are always instances where your ideas of
how the character should behave are different from the director’s, but I
tend to try to take the director’s ideas and incorporate them into the
character while maintaining the character that I have created. It is then
just a situation where the character is reacting to the circumstances in a
particular way, but the character itself is not changed.

HJU: One aspect that has always amazed me about Tokusatsu is the need for
versatility and adaptability in suit actors, particularly in regards to the shifts and transitions their characters go through (usually, but not always writers’ prompting). How much does/doesn’t your acting change in accordance to the aforementioned?

Mark: Again, I would say that the underlying character doesn’t necessarily
change as much as the circumstances. If the character has been solidified
in your mind, you can take that charater to many different extreames
without losing what it is that makes that character who he is.

HJU: When you get the script and description for a show, do you sit down and
discuss the characters with the actual actors or is the action/stunt work and acting/directing completely autonomous? (Excluding sequences which require actual interaction with the actor (s)).

Mark: I wouldn’t say that we sit down and discuss it, but I do observe how an
actor is playing his role. We often observe rehearsals as well, to get an
idea of how a character will be portrayed. And if I feel that it is a
rather important line or dramatic point in the story, I will ask an actor
how he would play out the situation if he were reading the line instead of
me. After all, he is the one who will have to read the line for the
character in the ADR sessions to follow.

HJU: Both Garo and Sh15uya are considered for more mature audiences, but
you’ve also worked in Kamen Rider the First, which is professedly aimed at much younger audiences. Would you consider doing more work in genres such as Kamen Rider or Super Sentai?

Mark: I do enjoy the freedom that comes with not having to worry about if
what we are doing is appropriate for children or not, but in the big
picture, it is really a minor point. It is simply a question of the degree
to which we will present something. So for that reason, I would say that I
would not necessarily base my decisions on whether to be involved in a
project or not based on its rating.

HJU: Having seen your demo reel for AAC and given your reputation as a
well-respected martial artist in the Wushu community, it is obvious that you are a superb martial artist. Yet, you chose to take roles in Garo and Sh15uya, both shows which depend heavily on CGI and wirework with little ground choreography. Do you have any particular reason (s) for doing so?

Mark: Marital arts skill, like any skill, should be something that
compliments, not limits. I wouldn’t reject any project just because it
doesn’t give me an opportunity to show everything that I am capable of.

HJU: How did you end up landing the major role of Kamen Rider 2?

Mark: Well, like most of the roles I have played, that was decided by the
director and the action director. When it comes down to it, in AAC there
are not many people who have the build to play these super hero characters.
I just happened to have the right height and build and be in the right
place at the right time.

HJU: Had you seen any of the Kamen Rider series prior to working on the
film?

Mark: I had seen some of the original episodes of the original series in
addition to watching several of the more modern adaptations, like Agito,
Ryuki, Faiz, and Blade.

HJU: Which are your favorites?

Mark: Ryuki would be my favorite, followed by Agito.

HJU: Do you have a particular favorite fight scene or stunt that you
performed in the movie?

Mark: I would say that I really like the motorcycle fight. Even though it
was technically not my character, I did a lot of the wire stunts for that.

HJU: Did you ever have a chance to meet Hassei Takano (the human alter-ego
of Kamen Rider 2) or any other other main actors in the film?

Mark: Yeah, I got to meet Hassei Takano, Masaya Kikawada, and Kobayashi
Ryouko during rehearsals. I also met Eiji Wentz during the filming. I
still keep in touch with Hassei.

HJU: So just how does it feel to wear the iconic mask?

Mark: Other than the fact that you can’t see, hear, or breathe very well,
it’s pretty cool.

HJU: How much fun is it to be you right now? ^___^

Mark: Well, my career is just starting to take off and people are starting to
take notice. The future looks pretty bright, so I guess I can’t complain.

HJU: Well Mark on behalf of Tokusatsu fans everywhere, we really want to
thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and other fans would like to thank you for bringing back their favorite classic Kamen Rider to the big screen.

Mark: Thank you for having me.

HJU: Do you have any other projects coming out that we should keep an eye
out for?

Mark: Sukeban Deka or Yo-yo Girl Cop will be coming out in Japan the end of
September. I have small role in addition to doing some stunts.

HJU: What’s next for you? What plans do you have set up to tackle in the
future?

Mark: While I am curious to see how far my popularity increases in Japan,
there is also a large part of me that would like to see what things are
like in the states. I know that it will require alot of starting over from
scratch, but I think I would regret it if I never gave Hollywood a shot.

HJU: Got anything you’d like to add for your fans and other martial art
hopefuls that would one day like to go pro?

Mark: The entertainment industry is not all the glamour that it is cracked up
to be. You really have to want to be in this industry, because it is
really so much easier to just go and get a “real” job. But perserverence
and hard work do pay off, so it is just a matter of picking yourself back
up when you get knocked down.

HJU: Sweet. Thanks again for dropping by Henshin Justice. You should stop
by the board sometime and say, hi. ^___^

Mark: Will do!

Special Thanks HJU Forum Members:
Tenraisenpuujin
Basri RX
Bolt
Bueno
Igadevil
MaraJade

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