2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)
"2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)"
Greetings from Tromaville!
With a Blu-ray of The Toxic Avenger due out early next year and a hit stage musical adaptation currently playing in New York and Toronto, I thought I'd shine a light on the circumstances that led to the The Toxic Avenger II and III.
I had a bug up my ass to shoot The Toxic Avenger II in Japan. After I had finished doing Toxie, Nuke 'Em High, and Troma's War, I felt as if I was in a creative rut, on the verge of shooting the same movie over and over again. Michael Herz contended that this was already the case. Making a sequel could be even worse. Japan seemed a way to attack this problem. If I was going to make the same movie again, at least I could do it in a different country.
The fact that Troma, the world's cheapest movie studio, chose to shoot in the world's most expensive country struck my fellow low-budgeteers (of which there were more then than there are today) as ironic. Other productions traveled to the Philippines, Mexico, or Taiwan so that they could save some money. Everyone told me Japan couldn't be done. Even Japanese producers said it was impossible--there was no low-budget hustling there, no tradition of people working for the creative joy, experience, or credit instead of money. But this made me more determined.
I traveled to Japan on a prescouting expedition with out friend Tetsu Fujimura. Although his name sounds Italian, Tetsu was in fact, Japanese--he had been born and raised in Hiroshima. At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival Tetsu was a Troma fan who would stop by the office to talk about our movies. He attempted to convince Michael and me that we needed a Japanese agent. He himself, he said, would be a prime choice for the job. Although he was unknown, he instilled in us a good feeling. We gave him the job. It was a great decision--over the next few years Tetsu would make Troma millions. He later went on to being the head of the multimillion-dollar company Gaga Communications.
Tetsu located a production manager, who Tetsu said was the only one in Japan who understood the Troma production technique. We called him Binbun Furusawa--mostly because that was his name. Binbun wore a beanie, was small and quiet and smiled most of the time. We told him we only had $200,000 to spend in Japan. Binbun told us he could put it together. While Michael and I readied things for the U.S. part of the shoot, we trusted Binbun to lay down the tracks for the Japan production.
Black Rain, the Ridley Scott/Michael Douglas picture, was shot in Japan shortly before The Toxic Avenger II. The Japanese film industry had deep feelings of resentment for the Black Rain crew, because they shot the film in a distinctly American style: aggressive, overstated, and arrogant. Eventually, the American crew had such a difficult time that they moved the entire production to Hollywood, where they built sets approximating Kyoto. I had to admit to myself, normally Troma also shot in an aggressive American style. However, in Japan, Michael and I decided we would do the best we could to shoot in the manner of the Japanese. This was both out of respect and because we wanted the production to flow as smoothly as possible. We would live Japanese style, eat what the Japanese ate, and run the set in a Japanese fashion.
Upon my arrival at the airport, Binbun Furusawa let me in on a serious problem regarding accommodations:
"I don't think we can do two to a room on this trip," Binbun said. "Some of the actors refuse to share a room."
"What do you mean?" I asked, a bit aghast. "The actors always share rooms...that's how they get to fornicate."
"Have you seen the rooms?"
"I don't care if they're small. This is Tromaville."
Binbun showed me the rooms. They were basically each the size of a single bed, only five and a half feet long, and a couple of feet across. They were small enough that if two men shared a room and one of them got an erection, it would have been an instant homosexual experience. For the first (and possibly last) time in the history of Troma Studios, each member of the cast and crew got his or her own room.
Our trust in Binbun had been well placed. Tetsu and he had assembled a marvelous Japanese crew and a cast that included Japanese television and movie stars-all for the price we had discussed. I thought, now, perhaps, we can get something really unique going, something to break me out of my pattern. A little bit of American-Japanese fusion just might help the world of Troma.
We had been assured that all the Japanese actors could speak English. And they did speak English, it was just incomprehensible English. When we saw the dailies, we couldn't understand a word. Michael, Pat, and I ended up post syncing or dubbing all of the voices ourselves. Michael and Pat made me take the small roles, because I stink at dubbing.
Besides these speed bumps, the Japanese people were wonderful. Our Japanese fight coordinator added a new element to our fight scenes, making them move twice as quickly as American fights. The precision of the crew as a whole, the ability for individual egos to work first and foremost as a group, was refreshing and made for a smooth ride. The Japanese ended up liking us as well, precisely because we did the opposite of what the Black Rain crew did; we tried to learn from the Japanese style. We ate Japanese box lunches on the set, and learned as much of the language as we could. Although we may not have always been successful, our effort was apparent. Some of our crew even joined some of the Japanese crew for an excursion to "Soapland"--the area of Tokyo where you can get laid. I waved at them as they drove away, beaming like a proud father.
Upon completion of The Toxic Avenger II, the perennial Troma problem reared its ugly, pustule-filled head. The first cut was over four hours long.
"I can't believe you've done this again," Michael said to me. "I told you we were overshooting."
I looked at the floor.
"And the plot isn't like Troma's War," Michael added. "It's not simple. I don't know any way you're going to be able to cut this down to under two hours. We're dead."
We were dead. I had killed us. The holocaust, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and now this. Another tragedy in the long line of twentieth-century horrors. The worst part of all was that the footage looked so good. Jimmy London's cinematography was the best I'd seen yet (it was even in focus). We were working with a new lab, TVC, and the dailies looked more crisp, clean, and colorful than ever before. We had tons of expensive special effects and stunts; we actually drove a school bus over a cliff. All for naught.
"Pat, it's all over," I told my wife in our bedroom that night.
"Come on now," she said. "You're overreacting. Everything's
going to be fine. You'll think of a way out of it. You always do."
"Not this time. This time I'm dead. I'm going to blow my brains out. We better put the brownstone up for sale. If we fall on hard times, maybe your mom can adopt the kids."
"Lloyd, I don't think that will be necessary. Whatever happens, I think we can afford to keep the kids."
"Maybe she can adopt them anyway. I'm getting kind of sick of having them around."
"Ha. Ha. Lloyd."
"Oh Pat! Dear God! Making bad jokes is all I can do to stop myself from thinking what a ruin I've made of my life!" I threw my arms up in the air and began to cry. I looked ridiculous, I knew that, but I couldn't help it. I literally felt my life was over. If not for Pat I would have blown my brains out.
The next day I jogged to work. The adrenaline pumped through my body. The serotonin rushed to my head. I stopped at a fruit stand to buy an orange. I was breathing heavily. I sifted through the oranges for one that wasn't too bruised. I found a good clean one. Picked it up. At that moment I heard a giant "Whoosh!" sound above me. I looked up. I realized I was having a vision:
There in the sky above me floated a giant, human brain. The creases in the gray matter were so clear I almost thought it was real. The brain seemed to be dripping slime of some sort. I squeezed the orange in my hand.
"Fifty cents," the grocer said to me.
"A brain," I said.
The floating brain began to tremble and writhe when suddenly the left and right brain split apart. There, between the two halves, appeared a vague face. It was the Toxic Avenger wearing a top hat. My mouth dropped open in shock. I had gotten a runner's high before, but nothing like this. From the corner of my eye I saw the grocer hold out the palm of his hands.
"That'll be fifty cents, man," he said.
Beneath the head of the Toxic Avenger came a small scroll with the typewritten words: "Two movies."
"Two movies?" I said to myself. And then it struck me in one giant, brain-cell-popping burst:
WE CAN MAKE TWO MOVIES OUT OF ONE.
I moved away from the fruit stand in a daze. I walked forward, an enormous, idiot's smile crossing my face.
We can do this, I thought. Out of the four-hour movie we can make two movies, with two different plots. Sure, there may need to be a fair amount of goofy voice-over narration to explain what the heck's going on, but we at Troma were masters of filling in plot holes with voice-over. With two movies we can make twice as much money. Lorimar had the video rights to the second film, but we could also sell the video rights to the third film. Instead of making one movie for a million and a half dollars, we've actually made two for that same price! This is fantastic! Screwing up was the best thing I could have done!
I couldn't wait to tell Michael. Again, I began to jog toward Troma, filled with a rare joy.
I felt arms sliding roughly around my waist.
"Wha-?" I exclaimed.
"Come back here with my orange!"
It was the grocer. He was tackling me. The orange was still in my hand; I had forgotten about it. I plummeted to the pavement. A group of bystanders gathered around us. The enormous grocer flipped me onto my back.
"Think you can steal from me!?!?"
His fist flew down into my face.
"You yuppie bastards come along, stealing my fruit every day! You think you own the goddamn world!"
Again, his fist came slamming down into my face. And then again, and then again. The red of my blood flowed over my eye. His fist came down again.
Still, none of it mattered.Two movies! I thought. How much more could God possibly love me!?
 Michael plays Toxie's Japanese father, Pat plays Miyako, and I play the sumo wrestler. My deep voice practice paid off.
 This is one of the stranger Troma phenomena. Although we pushed a real bus over a real cliff, the effect still comes out looking somehow like a miniature. Some of the reviews even mentioned the fakeness of it.
The Birth of Troma
The Godfather of Gore Speaks
2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)
The Troma Acting Method