Blood, lots of blood, is what most people will remember from “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” Quentin Tarantino’s stylish martial arts extravaganza. It’s everywhere — in puddles on the floor, dripping from flesh wounds, spurting from severed limbs and heads. It may be a scene-stealer, but so is the standout design work in this movie — the first of two parts shot together and originally intended for release as a single feature.
Production Design: David Wasco, Yohei Tanada
The distinctive look of “Kill Bill” probably owes the most to the febrile imagination of its director, Quentin Tarantino. “He has a pretty strong vision,” says producer Lawrence Bender. “It all comes together in his head.”
Tarantino even sketched a key set — The House of Blue Leaves, a multi-level restaurant and nightclub where a major fight sequence takes place. Created on a soundstage at Beijing Film Studio, the set “basically never changed from that initial design,” says Bender.
Production designer David Wasco has executed Tarantino’s vision on each of the director’s four films. On the “Kill Bill” movies he shared the job, handling the America and Mexico scenes, while Yohei Tanada did scenes set in China and Japan.
“Quentin’s intention,” Wasco says, “was to have the movie look as though he was collaging different genres.”
Tarantino initially planned to hire two d.p.’s, but abandoned that idea. “Having just the one cameraman,” Wasco says, “helped tie it all together visually.”
Wasco began with a crash course in Asian movies, alongside director of photography Robert Richardson. “We immersed ourselves in Japanese and Chinese Kung Fu and martial arts films, or ‘heroic bloodletting movies,’ as they’re called. We looked at hundreds from different eras,” Wasco remembers. Tanada had previously designed sets, books, anime and videogames.
“Quentin is very particular about every detail,” Tanada says, including “the blue of the backdrop, the brightness of the red blood, the way the yellow pops against the blanket of white snow.”
“A lot of the color palette in Asia was the blues, the cool, the monochromatic,” adds Wasco. “We saw an opportunity to go colorful in Mexico, and we pulled inspiration from iconic modernists, including Mexican architects Luis Barragan and Ricardo Legorreta.”
In “Vol. 2,” he says, “we open it up to a Sergio Leone spaghetti western thing.”
Very little in “Kill Bill” is CGI and wirework. “What you see is what was done,” according to Wasco.
One complex sequence that seemed to demand esoteric digital effects was done in a low-tech way. The Bride (Thurman) has been buried alive and has to “swim through dirt” and burst out into the cemetery.
“We did a cross section of the coffin, like an ant farm, with about 12 feet of dirt above it,” Wasco says. “Uma was on wires and hoisted up, so she was able to do a swimming dance as she came up. We used shredded black Styrofoam mixed with large, copper-colored glitter that was slowly snowing on her. It gave the illusion of her literally swimming through dirt.”
The anime sequence involving the chapel was produced by Production I.G., one of the top firms in the field. Says Wasco: “My (role) was to supply the animators with my illustrations of the chapel.”
Costume Design: Catherine Marie Thomas, Kumiko Ogawa
Costume design was shared by Catherine Marie Thomas for the U.S., and Kumiko Ogawa for Japan. The striking looks reflect Tarantino’s past work and pop cultural obsessions. For example, the Crazy 88s, fighters that do the bidding of O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), wear a costume Tarantino first used in “Reservoir Dogs” — white shirts, black suits and skinny black ties. But it has a twist — a small black mask in homage to Bruce Lee’s character Cato from “The Green Hornet.”
In the same sequence, Thurman wears a yellow jump suit with a black “racing stripe,” a copy of the track suit Lee wore in “Game of Death,” his last, unfinished film.
As for the schoolgirl look of the deadly teenage assassin Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), it comes from a Japanese cult classic, Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale,” in which Kuriyama also appeared. Her weapon is inspired by the title tool in “Master of the Flying Guillotine” and the lethal yo-yos used by schoolgirls in the Japanese TV series “Sukeban Deka.”