Last month Synapse Films released Path of Blood on Blu-ray. The film takes place in 17th century Japan and focuses on a lone samurai warrior who sets out to locate the Path of Blood. To date, no one that has taken the journey has lived to tell about it, but rumor has it that if you make it to the end you will be rewarded with a purpose in life. Path of Blood may sound like a fairly standard samurai film, and it does share a lot in common with great samurai films from the past, but there is something uniquely different about this one — it’s animated via cut paper stop motion.
Most people will be familiar with the format from the early seasons of South Park, so picture that but with samurais. It’s a medium that takes a lot of time, skill and dedication to pull off accurately. The paper on its own is fairly simple but when it all comes together it creates a very detailed world and that’s exactly what writer/director Eric Power was able to do with Path of Blood. I caught up with Eric to discuss the film and the use of this splendid form of animation.
You decide you’re going to make a feature paper animation film. Did you know right away that you wanted it to be a samurai film? Or was it a situation where you knew you wanted to make a samurai film and then decided the best approach would be animation?
I had two film ideas when I made the decision to try for a feature animated film. One was a horror film and the other was Path of Blood. I had previously made a short film version of the story and it played a few fests in 2011. The reaction to the short was positive, so I decided to move ahead with the samurai film. I had been pouring over so many amazing samurai films during that time, that it made sense to run with that idea. Also, it felt like the easier film to create from a technical standpoint. The time period it is set in meant I didn’t have to put as much time into the backgrounds as I would have with my modern time period horror film. It’s the difference between cutting out a city and a town.
The film is incredibly detailed. As you watch it you get sucked in and you’re no longer watching paper animation but rather just a samurai film. You didn’t just create characters were swords and call it samurai, this is story that features many elements that are true to the great samurai films. Were there films or other pieces of work that you studied to help create your world?
Absolutely. I have loved the chanbara genre of cinema for years before even dreaming I’d get to make one of my own. Back in 2011, I began collecting a ton of amazing samurai films. I made a point to track down all the Zatoichi films, which at the time was really challenging since the Criterion Collection hadn’t made them so easily available yet. I also poured through the great, hyper-violent films of the 70’s such as the Lone Wolf and Cub series and the Mikogami trilogy. Kurosawa was also a major influence, not on for this film, but for my decision to pursue filmmaking in general.
It’s worth pointing to Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed as a major influence. The shadow animated segments in the film were directly inspired by her work. It was her work that convinced me to make a feature animated film to begin with. I had recently caught a screening of Achmed and was really curious how the film was made. Turns out it was Lotte Reiniger and a small team of, I think, 3 others or so. They made this gorgeous film all on their own back in the 1920’s. I figured, if they could do it back then, I had zero excuses for not trying it now with all the tools so readily available.
The film is in Japanese, which caught me off guard when I watched it because I just assumed it was going to be in English. The fact that you made it in Japanese is such a great aspect and part of why it works so well. Did you know from the start that it had to be done in Japanese?
There was never a question that it was going to be in Japanese. I decided before production even began, that if I was going to make a samurai film, it needed to be in their language. The translation proved tricky. My translator remarked that it was akin to translating modern English into Shakespeare. There were also a ton of little revisions in the translation that needed to be made that required us to translate the translation back into English for the subtitles. One interesting note that my translator felt we needed to address is the name of the main character, Kazuo. Apparently, this would not have been a common name at all in 1615 Japan, so we added in some dialogue of characters noting on the peculiarity of this name.
Have you heard any feedback from samurai film experts? Has it played in Japan at all? If so, what has the feedback been like?
I haven’t gotten any feedback from samurai film experts yet, or played the film in Japan. I would be super curious to see how it is received. I tried to write the film with the history of both the genre and Japan in mind and it would be great to see how it plays.
Attack of the Demons. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what the status is because it sounds awesome.
Attack of the Demons is a feature-length animated horror film concerning a small Colorado town that finds itself at ground zero of a potential demon apocalypse. I was fortunate to meet a talented screenwriter, Andreas Petersen, in 2014 and we have been developing the film ever since. The film is inspired by a ton of the amazing work Andreas and I grew up, such as Argento’s Demoni, the ’82 The Thing remake, Re-animator,… I could go on forever. Our goal is to make a film with the spirit of its predecessors flowing through its veins while at the same time standing on its own merits. In December of last year we officially began production and I’m in the thick of it right now. I have close to the first 30 minutes complete and we are hoping to be wrapped in October. Our budget is very, very low, but we are pouring our hearts into it and I feel like we are making something really special. John Dixon is returning to do the score for the film, so if you dug the work he did on Path of Blood, you are likely gonna love what he’s got going on for AotD.