Kill Bill Vol. 1

“You’ve got to see Takashi Miike’s films. They’re absolutely stunning,” Robert Richardson exclaims. The cinematographer believes Miike — a director of ultraviolent Japanese Yakuza films — is one of the most dynamic talents in modern cinema.

“Visitor Q” is one of Richardson’s favorites. It opens with a television journalist taping himself as he has sex with his daughter as part of an “investigative” piece on “young people today.” ” ‘Visitor Q’ deals with incest, S&M cultures, brutality among family members, and yet it doesn’t do so within the context of a heavy problem drama, but within the fast-paced melodrama of a Yakuza movie,” says Richardson.

He believes most American films fall into two moribund categories: big bland studio blockbusters, or the self-important high drama of independent films. “What’s so exciting about Miike’s work is it breaks free of all categories,” says the d.p. “He walks through subject matter that American filmmakers don’t dare to trespass on, and does so in a visually inspired way.”

Richardson had never seen a Miike movie until he began to work on “Kill Bill.”

Quentin Tarantino had Richardson watch not only Yakuza movies, but also Hong Kong kung fu spectaculars, Japanese anime, blaxploitation pictures from the ’70s, and spaghetti westerns and Godzilla movies from the ’60s.

Tarantino believed there was an unpretentious poetry in the cinematic syntax — snap zooms, brazenly stylized lighting, and lurid colors — of exploitation movies, and he wanted to incorporate those flourishes into the look of “Kill Bill.” Richardson became an enthusiastic conspirator.

In the climactic battle between Uma Thurman and the Lucy Liu’s “Crazy 88″ in the House of Blue Leaves nightclub, Richardson employed radical transitions between soft and hard lighting. “The lighting starts soft and moves toward higher contrast levels,” says Richardson. “As the battle continues the backgrounds drop off and the center arena becomes more prevalent.”

For other sequences, Richardson duped footage over and over again until it attained the texture of old Kung Fu movies that Tarantino wanted to evoke. “There was a scene with Uma Thurman on an airplane,” Richardson recalls. “Quentin pointed to a sunset color in an old Godzilla movie and said, ‘This is what I’m looking for.’ So we would do a series of tests and show them to him until he said, ‘Yes, that’s the color.’ ”

Snapshot
Key tools: Panavision Platinum Cameras with Primo lenses; Super 35mm. Film stocks: Kodak EXR 100D 5248, EXR 200T 5293; Vision 320T 5277, Vision 500T 5279; Vision 800T 5289, Double-X 5222.
Aesthetic: “The lighting tended to work toward more vibrant color, which is done through more direct light instead of backlight so the color’s enhanced. We pushed those colors further in post-production through a digital intermediate. This allowed us to keep normal flesh tones but make our backgrounds more brightly lit.”
Challenge: “The martial arts sequences were the most difficult. Quentin wanted to work in an old school manner where CG work was not being utilized in the way of much contemporary work. He wanted it done for real. Most of the stunts and special effects had to be practical, rather than created in post.”
Oscar pedigree: Nominated for “Platoon” (1986), “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), “Snow Falling on Cedars” (1999); won for “JFK” (1991).

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