The idea for “Kimura's Vengeance,” an 11-minute film airing Nov. 8 at the Edina Film Festival, came in a flash.
It was January 2012, and Evan Kail was writing his senior thesis at the University of Minnesota on the Hagakure, a 300-year-old guidebook for how to be the perfect samurai.
Since taking Japanese classes at Edina High School, Kail had been interested in the culture, language and art of the Far East. Reading through the ancient text one snow-swept winter day, Kail was struck by a moment of creative clarity.
“I came across this one passage about how when you set your eye on something and it’s taken from you, you pursue it,” he said. “Before I knew it, I had put aside my senior thesis and I was writing a screenplay instead.”
The film follows Kimura, a Westerner who lands on the Japanese shore during the Edo Period, a time when befriending a Westerner meant swift death.
“This is about a clan that takes him instead of turning him over and are massacred for their betrayal,” Kail said, “and it’s upon Kimura to reclaim vengeance to the one that massacred his clan.”
Kail wrote the screenplay in English before translating it first into modern Japanese and then, with the help of tutors and native speakers, into medieval Japanese.He teamed up with Tomas Aksamit, a classmate at Edina High, who enthusiastically offered to direct the film, and the pair searched their bank accounts for the $7,000 or $8,000 needed to pay for costumes and actors.
“When doing a period piece, it doesn’t matter how good the story is, how good the acting is, if you can’t sell the period, it’s going to look staged and unrealistic,” Aksamit said.
Aksamit and Kail went location scouting and settled on a snowy river nestled in the Minnesota River Valley, near Henderson.
“Tomas and I are working very vigilantly to expand the Minnesota film scene, and a samurai project shot in Minnesota, making the woods look like ancient Japan, seemed like a really good opportunity to show what you can do creatively with landscape here and terrain,” Kail said.
For a flashback sequence, Aksamit chose the Edina Art Center, where director Michael Frey let them transform a painting studio into a movie set.
“Tomas is a master at making a painting studio look like Japan,” Frey said in a statement. “It was fun to see costumes and equipment spread out in the studio and hear the crew discussing aspects of filming.”
Much of the movie takes place on a blank snow-covered field, which presented a number of cinematographic difficulties.
Second takes required time-intensive shoveling to recreate the impression of fresh snow. (Aksamit recalls a horse’s bowel movements wreaking havoc on set.)
Some cast members were asked to stage martial arts scenes at 10 degrees below zero, wearing little more than kimonos and samurai armor
“We were filming the final fight scene, and both of them were so cold that they were moving like rock statues, completely rigidly,” Aksamit said. “We ended up having to re-shoot.”
And then there was the time Aksamit almost died.
As one of the actors with a slightly blunted spear was charging, he slipped and fell toward Aksamit, who was crouched over a camera. The blade narrowly missed, but Aksamit was shaken.
“He ends up coming right at me with the spear,” he said. “A crew of five people in the middle of nowhere—not the best place to get stabbed with a spear.”
Aksamit and Kail are entering “Kimura’s Vengeance” into a number of film festivals and are already working on their next project, a web series about a Private Eye.