We’ve seen how impressive the action scenes from the Netflix One Piece Live Action series are; we had the opportunity to interview Sword Stunts coordinator Koji Kawamoto and Stunts Head of Department Franz Spilhaus.
[Interview is edited for clarity]
Were you familiar with One Piece prior to working on the live action adaptation?
Spilhaus: Yes, I was but not as a regular watcher but more of what I had seen and heard from my stunt guys who are a bit younger than me. I’m a super fan now though!
Kawamoto: Yes, I read the comic books.
Did you have to do anything differently for the One Piece live action compared to what you’re used to in the past?
Spilhaus: Well, we really wanted to have the cast do as much as they can on this show, so our approach was a lot more intense in their training and preparation for all their stunt work. Also, we really wanted to remain true to the manga, so we did a lot of research to be sure we got all the beats and emotions as shown in the manga for each scene. With regards to the special abilities of the various characters, we brought in a lot of animation into our previs to be able to visualise what we would see on screen in the fights. This would include things that mere mortals cannot do, such as stretching like rubber! Ha ha!
Kawamoto: I practised how to handle the three swords and studied the poses of the characters.
Did you add any kind of flourishes to individual characters’ fighting styles to make them feel more personal?
Spilhaus: We really wanted each character to have the same characteristics as the characters in the manga, so we concentrated on them a lot. With Sanji though, we realised kicking alone is hard to keep fresh and exciting, so we added some breakdance moves and different kicking styles to his training to keep it exciting, along with some subtle wire work as well.
Kawamoto: I tried to incorporate as many poses from the manga as possible.
Are there any particular scenes you’re proud of from the series?
Spilhaus: Ha ha, all of them! But seriously, they are all very special and unique in their own way as they all tell different stories with different emotions. The details of this, you will have to wait and see on the 31st.
Kawamoto: I think the fight scene between Zoro and Mihawk is worth seeing, and would recommend people to watch it!
Were there any talents in particular that you enjoyed working with throughout the entire production process?
Spilhaus: The cast was so motivated and keen to do the show justice that they all put 100% every day to make it look amazing, and for a stunt coordinator that is awesome, so we loved them all. If I had to choose one who was the most hard working of all though it would be Taz, as he had to learn this skill from scratch and he spent hours and hours perfecting his craft.
Kawamoto: They are all great actors. I was especially excited to work with Mackenyu because he has a great ability to do action.
What was the experience like working with Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro?
Spilhaus: He is an absolute professional and loves the character Zorro so much. He wanted every move to be perfect and that I respected so much. He is a brilliant swordsman in his own right so that was fantastic to have.
Kawamoto: As I mentioned in my response to the previous question, Mackenyu has a really great skill set, so choreographing the fights for him was a very enjoyable experience. I had ideas of what he could do, and I was sure he could bring these ideas to life.
What was the most challenging part of the production? Were there any scenes in particular that were difficult to do?
Spilhaus: There were a few challenging things at first to figure out. The obvious being Luffy stretching, but the most challenging was Buggy and his body coming apart and how to design it and shoot it with nothing there. That was truly challenging, and my assistant coordinator Darrell Mclean was tasked to bring these scenes to life and did a brilliant job of it.
Kawamoto: I can hardly speak English, so it was difficult to communicate with everyone. The Arlong Park set was particularly difficult, as it was a fight choreographed on a small rock.
What’s the craziest thing that happened while you were on set?
Spilhaus: When our stunt fisherman had to dive into the pool to fight Zorro and Sanji and the water was 9 degrees celsius in the middle of winter and every time they came out of the water, their fish masks would be filled with water and they couldn’t see anything, and their hands were frozen so holding the weapons was almost impossible.
Kawamoto: I don’t think there was anything crazy about this one as thanks to our stunt coordinator, Franz, we were able to shoot the fight scenes safely.
We would like to thank Koji Kawamoto and Franz Spilhaus for taking the time to answer our questions. We would also like to thank Netflix Malaysia for setting up the interview.