The driving force behind the battle team, including motion capture. Was involved in the overall direction of Ryu ga Gotoku 4. He is also famous amongst fans for performing the voices of Sotaro Komaki and the elder Kamiyama brother after the sample voices he provided were praised by the staff.
An action scene professional who has performed action direction and stunts not only on Japanese works, but foreign ones as well. Recent masterpieces have included Unfair: The End, The Wolverine and Parasyte.
At first, I wasn't even conscious of the camera's position
Tatsuro Koike (below, Koike): The past 10 years of working on Ryu ga Gotoku have gone by in a flash. At first, I was worried about whether customers would take to the idea of a game about fighting that features yakuza. Personally, though, I thought from the start that the concept of having everything around town be used as a weapon was an interesting idea.
Jun Orihara (below, Orihara): To be honest, even we're surprised that the series has lasted for this long. I'm really indebted to you, even though you said that it was different from what you were used to doing on films and the like.
Koike: Thinking about it, I was involved from the shooting for the motions in the pilot version. The protagonist comes out from behind a building, dodges a handgun, hits a guy with a sign, slams someone into a car and swings a golf club at him. Meanwhile, a group of yakuza get out of a truck and advance on him. That's the kind of scene it was.
Orihara: That's right. The quality didn't at all measure up to the retail version, but I think that Ryu ga Gotoku's basic action style had already been created by that point. Ryu ga Gotoku was the first time that I'd worked on motion capture, and I learned a lot from you. For example, I wasn't even conscious of the camera for the finished product (laughs).
Koike: I remember that. You asked me where the camera was and I was just like, what?
Orihara: I had watched action movies and things like that to study the moves and movements, but I wasn't aware of the camera at all. This is despite the fact that, thinking about it now, heat actions are totally dependent on where the camera is.
Koike: With things like movies, you're always aware of the camera. Even if you're just hitting someone, you'll change the way you do it depending on where it's being seen from. When I actually started doing this job, though, I realised that it's not all the same as it is in the movies. With regards to the battle scenes in particular, you get quite a wide view of them, so little movements won't come across at all. I think the way you have to exaggerate the action to have it be seen is one of those things that's unique to games. The movements themselves naturally have to be realistic, of course.
Orihara: It's because you think about those kinds of things that we on the battle team were able to concentrate on the composition of the action, too.
Koike: It is our job to make things take shape by actually moving around.
Orihara: I think the process of the plans we come up with turning into real action is one of the pleasures of the job. To me, the motion capture I do with you and the others is the most important point in the beginning of development. In the sense of getting fired up, I think the ones who are most fired up during the development process are the motion capture people.
Koike: But it's all CG, so isn't it adjusted a bit later on?
Orihara: No. The feeling in the actions you guys do by moving around and speaking feel totally different to the ones that are messed around with a lot. I think your spirit is captured in the data.
Koike: It's true that, even though there are no actual lines and we're not being recorded, we'll say things like, "Come at me!" I think that the difference shows depending on whether you vocalise or not. I don't really know much about data and all that, though (laughs).
Orihara: We have thought up a lot of actions over the past 10 years, though, haven't we? We're always wondering if this is the last time as we work, so we put everything we come up with into each game. As a result of that, though, the number has really ballooned.
Koike: I think it's fine, because actions are basically limitless. However, in the case of yakuza brawls, there's not a lot of variation and that can be an issue. For example, one of the moves is called a mae-geri (front kick), which we tried basing on things like karate and other martial arts. When you also change the nuances a little bit for each character, you really do end up with a lot of types (laughs).
Orihara: For example, there are lots of different people who do moves just for Kiryu. I was surprised by that at first.
Koike: If the same person gives a performance as the same character, they end up feeling similar no matter what you do. We also film different people for each move because they're good at acrobatic action, or because the person playing them has their own individuality. This is unique to motion capture.
Orihara: We generally have two or three people come to the shoot each time, but there are times when we'll be filming an action and you'll shake your head and the actors will immediately swap around.
Koike: If I feel that something's not quite right, I have to try changing it.
Orihara: Then we look through the data for all of the actions that people have done. It's weird, but after a while I start to be able to pretty much tell who performed which actions. Whether it's from their stance at the end, or the way they stand up - I can just sort of sense it.
Koike: Once you spend 10 years on something, that's what starts to happen.
Reactions to pain hold the key to exhilaration
Orihara: I was fumbling my way around at the start, so I was out of my depth during shooting.
Koike: The actions were centred around fighting, so I focused on how I could show that the digital characters were in pain. Not to mention also that it's a game, so I thought that we needed the players to feel exhilarated when they hit an opponent. So, for example, when we were shooting a move where someone gets slammed into the ground, rather than laying out a mat we would actually slam each other into the ground.
Orihara: Later on, we found out that using a thin mat wouldn't change the data all that much and started using one (laughs).
Koike: You can use the reaction of the one being hurt to show how strong the protagonist is, or how powerful they are, so it makes you want to try it out for real.
Orihara: But it has to be the kind of pain that anyone can understand. Kind of like an extension of, for example, the pain you feel when you stub your little toe on the corner of a chest of drawers.
Koike: Right. A lot of the time, when people not involved with battles came to shoots they seemed to draw back. Drawing back might be extreme, but it meant that in a way the pain was being conveyed, so I guess we were on the right track.
Orihara: Those of us on the battle team have spent 10 years watching this, so we're used to it now (laughs). The stuntmen will do things like fall from a height of three metres without any opposition whatsoever. They'll tumble down the stairs like it's nothing.
Koike: We also experimented with hitting each other without protective gear and actually stamping on each other's faces.
Orihara: But when you're doing it for real you always end up holding back, so we're not able to get any good data from it.
Koike: Right. We went through some trial and error and found out that, "We don't have to do it all for real! The way you shake your head when you're hit with a mitt looks better!" We change a lot with each game, but this is the kind of know-how that we have.
Orihara: Alongside that know-how, we've also had some miraculous moments. For example, sometimes we'll make a mistake but it'll be better than what we'd pictured. When this happens, we will use the wrong version without hesitation. To an extent it may be an accident, but if we actually see it and find it exciting then it's the better option.
Koike: We've had a fair few miraculous reactions, too. Things like aiming for an accident. This is dangerous even for a stuntman, so we do it in one take without trying it out first. It's too dangerous to do it over and over (laughs).
Orihara: And we still haven't had any bad injuries.
Koike: The most we've ever had is a guy who was knocked out, and that's still only happened once in a decade.
Orihara: Was it from a brainbuster?
Koike: No; it was an action where you grab onto their head and slam it into a wall. The first take was too weak - when I say weak, I don't mean that it should have been done with their full strength; I'm talking about an issue with the way it looks. But they didn't understand what I was going for and went all out on the second take, which ended in a concussion. We sent him straight to the hospital, but he came back to the shoot uneventfully.
Orihara: At the start, there was a time when I actually put on a motion capture suit and tried doing some actions for myself in order to create some test data. That's when I learned just how dangerous it really is for an amateur to do a wall slam. I was thrown into a soft spot so that it would be safe, but I was still bruised the next day. And then, when we looked at the data, it was no good (laughs). It really made me think that professional stuntmen are of a different class.
Fight scenes aren't the only things shot for Ryu ga Gotoku
Orihara: It was quite fortunate that we were able to manage Majima's dancer style in Ryu ga Gotoku 0 as well. I was the one who originally said that I wanted a style that involved some kind of spinning, but I didn't really know what to do with it and asked Koike to help out.
Koike: It just so happened to be at a time when a stuntman who had mastered breakdancing had returned to Japan. I guess we would have managed it somehow or another even without him, though. It's our job to answer to such crazy things, after all.
Orihara: It was a pain to implement, but the variation in the protagonist's moveset increased because of it.
Koike: That's right. The same is true of the enemies, but it's a bit sad for the player as well if the characters use similar fighting styles. It's better for the backbone of their styles to be different. That said, you still have to make it look like a fight.
Orihara: I see. By the way, when you look back on the last 10 years, which shoot left the deepest impression on you?
Koike: The revelations were interesting - the process of seeing this acting and thinking up a move as you watch it. The unexpectedness and playfulness of them lets you enjoy them in a different way from the violence of the brawls. In a way, I think that gap is typical of Ryu ga Gotoku, though.
Orihara: I see. Mine would be "Hell's Floor" from Ryu ga Gotoku 3. Generally it makes it harder to harvest the data when there's a lot of human contact, but we shot it as a chain of ground fighting moves.
Koike: That was because jujutsu was all the rage when we were making the game. I guess it's nice for the fans, too, to incorporate trendy things like that? I also enjoy shooting actions other than the ones for battles, too, and I like those. Things like the scene where Saejima escapes from prison in Ryu ga Gotoku 5.
Orihara: The one with the snowmobile?
Koike: Right. We all had this thing like a snowmobile on our shoulders, and would use human power to reproduce something that American movies would do using a machine. Also, it was fun to think up attack moves for the bear or tigers and actually do them. All of the action scenes on Ryu ga Gotoku, including hitting, are done in an analogue setting, so I think they have this soul to them that wouldn't come across if it were done digitally.
Orihara: That's right. So the spirit does get captured in the data after all (laughs).