THE COLLABORATIONS OF KEITA AMEMIYA AND YÛKO MORIYAMA
Keita Amemiya is an artist and designer who got a start writing and directing for TV before breaking into feature filmmaking in 1988 with Murai Ninja, a film that was a mash-up of ancient Japan sword epic and Star Wars-esque sci-fi flick. The film showed evidence of a director still in need of some experience at the helm, but it also had a unique look and design that displayed some interesting potential. Amemiya lived up to that potential in 1991 with the now cult classic Alien, The Thing, Terminator, hybrid Zeiram and hasn’t stopped working since.
Yûko Moriyama was a Japanese TV and movie actress who had a brief acting career from 1991 to 2000. She was very pretty and only five foot four, but could convey a toughness and strength that made her believable as an action star. She worked for Keita Amemiya in three films ranging from 1991 to 1997, including his breakaway hit, Zeiram. In all three she played women warriors and that seemed to get her typecast as such for the rest of her short career. She made an impression, however, that has earned her cult status despite acting for less than a decade.
Zeiram had a beautiful bounty hunter from space coming to earth to hunt a biological weapon which could absorb the genetic material of victims and use it to it’s advantage. That beautiful bounty hunter was named Iria and played by the adorable yet tough Yûko Moriyama, who was twenty-three at the time and it was her first feature film. The flick became an instant fan favorite with it’s live action anime style and the incredible creatures, costumes and gadgets from the mind of Amemiya. It also made an instant cult star out of Moriyama, whose Iria had the beauty of a Japanese anime girl and the kick-ass combat skills of Natasha Romanov. The FX were quite good for a low budget flick, ranging from animation to prosthetics to old fashioned stop-motion. There was plenty of action and the film is now considered a cult classic of Japanese fantasy/sci-fi cinema.
Three years later Amemiya brought his genetic horror back and his leading lady with him, as Iria returned to Earth to battle another Zeiram creature, this time infused into a combat robot. Her A.I. partner Bob was back, too, as well as, her bungling earth sidekicks Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) and Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru). Zeiram 2 wisely kept it fresh by having a different look and abilities for it’s title creature and for Iria as well. The sequel once again featured the stunning and unique design work of it’s visionary director and the traditional genre mixing action. Moriyama was sexy and cool as Iria and while the film didn’t quite live up to it’s predecessor, it is still an action-packed, fun flick with the trademark look of an Amemiya film and with bounty hunter Iria being kick-ass as ever. Unfortunatley for fans, it would be another three years before director and actress would team again…
The artistic director and his leading lady worked together one last time, but sadly not a third go around for his heroine from space, Iria and her arch enemy. Moon Over Tao took place in feudal Japan with an object falling to earth that contains a hideous and almost indestructible creature that would kill anything it crosses paths with if unleashed. The ever-pretty Moriyama plays not one, but three alien women, Abira, Marien and Kuzto, who all have come to Earth to reclaim the object for their own personal reasons. The actress doesn’t disappoint, being beautiful and badass as usual. Amemiya would provide yet another entertaining genre mash-up with three times the Moriyama. The flick is a gory good time and once agin has some very unique design work, but still doesn’t quite equal the fun and action of his 1991 cult classic.
Keita Amemiya continues to write, direct and design for films, TV and video games to this day. Moriyama apparently retired from acting after 2000 with her final film being a Hong Kong flick set partially in Japan called Tokyo Raiders. The actress is still a cult favorite among fans for her portrayal of Iria and it’s disappointing that she left acting so soon and never reunited with Amemiya at least one more time to make the Zeiram flicks a trilogy. Their collaborations are available on DVD and for those looking for more, there was a Zeiram animated prequel series that brought the titular creature and a younger Iria back, though Amemiya and Moriyama were not involved.
(You can read my full reviews for their three collaborations by clicking the highlighted titles, or on the movie posters above -MZNJ)