Director Discusses Anime & Kaiju Influence

Eric McEver’s Iké Boys made its premiere at Fantastic Fest and stars Quinn Lord, Ronak Gandhi, and Christina Higa. The film blends Japanese animation and kaiju films with a rural Oklahoma setting.

“Best friends Shawn Gunderson and Vikram ‘Vik’ Kapoor escape from the drudgery of high school life in Oklahoma through their obsession with all things Japanese,” says the official synopsis. “When a mysterious anime film transforms them into its superhuman characters, they at first think that their wildest fantasies have come true. But when ancient monsters threaten to unleash the apocalypse on New Year’s Eve of 1999, Shawn and Vik must look to each other to become the heroes they were always meant to be. Joining their adventure is Miki, a Japanese exchange student whose determination to go on a Native American vision quest puts her on a collision course with both Shawn and Vik and their foes…and whose destiny may determine the fate of the world.”

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Iké Boys director Eric McEver during Fantastic Fest and got insight into the film’s inspirations.

Tyler Treese: I love the blend of animation and live-action in this film. Who did you get to do the animation and how did that all come about?

Eric McEver: The two animation directors, Arnaud Tribout, he lives in France, and Hsiao-Shan Huang lives in Taipei. I met Arnaud when I was working as a producer in an animation studio in Tokyo. He was interning there and we really hit it off. Hsiao-Shan, I met her at film school. She was in the animation program and I was in the directing program at NYU. So much of filmmaking is making friends. Eventually, you end up working with those friends and both Arnaud and Hsiao-Shan, we grew up on Japanese animation and Japanese culture and we all really liked one another.

When the opportunity came to make Iké Boys, it was just a perfect opportunity for us because it was a chance to do something new and original that showed our love for Japanese animation, but did something new with it. I know both of them have trained or been influenced various times by some real masters of Japanese animation. So it was our chance to try to live up to that, but again to try some new things.

I love how there’s a clear reverence for anime and kaiju films in the movie. What specific anime or kaiju films really influenced this film and did you draw all inspiration from?

Oh boy. First of all, it’s hard to narrow it down because there’s so many and I love the whole buffet line. So I will tell you Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla from 94 is my favorite of all time. That’s something that just arrived to my life in the right moment and it made me aware that there were new Godzilla films being made and that they were exciting and different. So that was one turning point. When I say turning point, I’m talking about age seven. Another would be the Heisei Gamera trilogy directed by Kaneko Shusuke. I was actually really honored because Kaneko has a cameo in the opening scene of Iké Boys as one of the producers. That just blew my mind because just the depth of the mythology and the world-building and the tail on the action.

Probably the biggest animation influence is Evangelion. That’s something I saw for the first time in high school. Seeing Evangelion at age 15 is just about the perfect time to see it because that was such a case study in how a human drama and a coming-of-age story could be mixed organically with this larger-than-life tale of monsters and apocalyptic fantasy. If that reminds you of Iké Boys, it’s probably not by accident. I could go on and on. I’m not sure I really count Ghibli as anime, but, man, when I wanna get the waterworks going, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. It’s all fresh inspiration and it shows the new things that can be done.

The leads are so great in this film. Can you speak to casting the characters of Shawn, Vikram, and Miki? Because without them being so great in their roles, I’m not sure this film would work, but they all play it so well.

Well thank you. I’m sure they’ll be delighted to hear that too. It came down to finding actors who I really felt they themselves as human beings were just one step removed from their characters so that the performances would be very authentic. It’s neat because the four of us have formed kind of a unit and a bond. All three of them, we’ve got our own individual chemistry and individual connection. I think so much of it came down to, it came down to finding people who are authentic, who I connected in an authentic way, and then we would just be comfortable with one another and create real lived-in people.

So Quinn and I, to a somewhat spooky degree basically are the same person. Quinn and I just hang out regularly and we can have entire conversations that consist of Farscape quotes or Toast of London references, or just discussing our favorite movie scores. Quinn is a decade younger than me, but we’re just so thoroughly cut from the same cloth and we both so thoroughly marched to the beat of our own drummer. So that is a very rewarding and easy relationship because we’re just so thoroughly on the same wavelength. Then Ronak is on the surface a big colorful goofball, which is all on top of just a very sincere, thoughtful… I guess emotional intelligence would be the word I would use to describe about him and that character of Vik is loosely based on my best friend in high school. So we definitely play off one another in a similar way to my best friend.

Now Christina, I think the connection there is she and I kind of have the same life story inverted. She grew up in Tokyo and studied international school. So English is actually her first language, but she came to the states in search of herself, much like Miki and also much like me in the way that I went from the states to Japan, and so I think we’ve really bonded over our own different versions of the same kind of journey. I also just would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that all of them of course are just so talented and so hard working. Christina, in addition to being a wonderful actress, is a really fantastic musician. She does the end credit song in Iké Boys. So it’s easy to work with hard-working people who are on the same wavelength. That just yields good results.

You just touched on this a bit, but I thought it was interesting how you spent your childhood in Oklahoma, and then you went to Tokyo. While in the film, we see Miki come from Japan to Oklahoma. We always have a complicated relationship with our hometowns. In the movie you kind of have like the people in Oklahoma going, “Why do you want to be in Oklahoma?” So why did you choose to set the film there?

It’s a very specific interesting journey. As a child, I was bored outta my skull, um, which in retrospect was a real blessing. It meant I could daydream and be bored and have fantasies about all the things I could do with my life. So, in retrospect, I’m grateful for having what seemed like a boring childhood. But when I went to Japan and after years of living there, I started to see my home from a fresh perspective. I started to pick up on the things that were unique about it. They were always there, but I just wasn’t aware of them as a child. I was too close to them. Some of just certain kinds of physical beauty, I mean the beauty of the winter sky over the prairie, things that like aesthetics that I hadn’t seen capture on film before.

I thought I have a unique opportunity here to make a film set in my home state from a unique perspective that I’ve created for myself. And just the practical reality of a first feature, you’re not gonna get a lot of money. So you wanna go to the place where you have resources and you have friends and goodwill. It was just a really happy confluence that this came at the same time. It was a really happy confluence that my personal drive and my personal inspiration coincided with the Oklahoma film industry really getting up and running. So it was a lot of things that came together at the right place and the right time.

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