Kate Director Reveals The Anime That Influenced His 'Rock And Roll' Action Movie [Interview]

Netflix's "Kate" doesn't hide its influences — it wears them loudly and proudly. For director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, those references aren't the films the trailer suggests. It's certainly no "Crank" or an excellent old-school noir, "D.O.A.," but was inspired by the anime Nicolas-Troyan consumed as a kid in France, long before his days as a soldier and visual effects supervisor.

Nicolas-Troyan worked on "One Hour Photo," "The Ring," and "The Weatherman" before he finally took a seat in the director's chair. His feature debut was "The Huntsman: Winter's War," but "Kate" is perhaps closer to his personal taste and style. It's a hitman tale with a clicking tock, in which Mary Elizabeth Winstead's titular character has 24 hours to find out who ordered a hit on her and get revenge — before the fatal poison in her veins kills her. 

To celebrate the release of "Kate" on Netflix today, we spoke to Nicolas-Troyan about his biggest influences, his intense research into the Yakuza, and who the movie's hero really is (hint: it's not Kate).

"Man, you look like Ripley."

Was "Kate" inspired at all by "D.O.A.?"

No, not at all, actually. When I read the script, I didn't even think about it. I know that there is a lot of, like, "D.O.A.," "Crank," blah, blah, blah. It was one that was in the mind of the writer, actually. Definitely not in my mind.

Good movie, though. I hadn't seen it until I heard it referenced to "Kate."

No, no, it's pretty good, but I think it's a very different kind of movie. You know what I mean?

Very different.

People read the baseline. Oh, she has 24 hours to live and she'd been poisoned. So it's like, "I haven't seen the movie, but you know what else is like this? 'D.O.A.' or 'Crank.' It's going to be like this. It's going to be like that." But they haven't seen it. So now you see it, you're kind of like, well, it's not the same thing.

Was the jacket, though, an intentional nod to "Alien"?

So that's a funny story, actually. Originally, it wasn't that jacket, and then it became that jacket. When we started to shoot, she had long hair in the film. And then when we started to shoot her in the jacket with the short hair, we were like, "Hold on, wait, wait a second." Mary and I, we started to talk about it. I was like, "Man, you look like Ripley, you look like a young Ripley." It happened as we were shooting it.

It was not intended, but we didn't fight it. Ripley is the OG. She's in the mainstream, she's the OG of a female lead, strong, bad-ass and stuff like that. So when we realized we had that look, we just went with it. We just embraced it.

"The cyberpunk allure of Japanese animation."

Like you said, there are baseline comparisons, but were you influenced at all by movies like "Branded to Kill" or "Tokyo Drifter?"

Yes. Very much. So "Tokyo Drifter." One of my favorite film is "Hana-bi." I'm a big Takeshi Kitano fan. Japanese iconography, gangster film, that type of stuff, that was definitely a big influence for me. Japanese anime as well, because I'm a big fan of Japanese anime. I grew up with it. The cyberpunk allure of Japanese animation was a big influence for me. It's much more of an influence then the other aforementioned titles.

What anime specifically?

I'm a huge fan of Mamoru Oshii, I'm a huge fan of "Akira," obviously. And then there's a show that I love, "Tokyo Ghoul," which is in the film. It's not Japanese anime, but my favorite director, Hayao Miyazaki, is a very, very big director for me, more about his writing actually than the animation aspect of it. But yeah, those are big. I'm a big fan of "Gundam Suit," huge "Robotech" tech fan. That's the stuff I grew up with, "Saint Seiya," you name it. The '80s in France, the majority of the cartoons we were watching were from Japan, like "Grendizer."

"Rock and roll."

This question and answer contain spoilers for the end of the film.

When it comes to Kate herself, how did you, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and the stunt coordinators want to define her through her fighting style?

She barely makes it every time, and that was really the style. As the movie goes, she gets more and more dirty. She gets less and less precise. So we start with something really cool. And as we go, she becomes more and more desperate. I think that was the style that we were going for, trying to reach in, trying to reach the last force that she had.

If you look at the last scene of the film that is all in slow motion, she barely makes it. And that was the idea, trying to make it raw, trying to make it visceral, trying to make it really difficult. And so, she gives everything she's got all the time.

How'd you strike the tone of this movie, especially for the violence? Like you said, you want it raw and visceral, but the movie is tongue-in-cheek, too.

Well, the thing is like, I think that's me personally. I have a hard time when everything and everyone takes itself seriously all the time. I really have a hard time with that because I don't think that's reality. Being a former soldier myself, I know that when you are in a difficult situation, the only way out is humor. You can be in a very difficult setting in a very difficult time, and sometimes, all you have left is humor because otherwise you're going to jump from a bridge. It's almost a safety thing. If I'm too serious about this, then I'm going to go crazy.

I think the idea of diffusing those moments for me is what brings more fun to it. I wanted the movie to be rock and roll, because let's not forget it's a genre movie, it's an entertainment thing. It's not a documentary or anything. So, I wanted to make the film rock and roll as well. One of the ways to do that is to diffuse a little bit the seriousness or the drama or the heaviness of a scene.

"Everything was heavily, heavily researched."

This question and answer contain spoilers for the end of the film.

Like you said, not making a documentary, but there is that balance of making a heightened and stylized assassin movie, but I'm sure you want to be respectful of the culture, the Yakuza. How'd you go about that?

Absolutely. I think one of the things that you would see in the film is in the character of Kijima, for example, who is portrayed as the kingpin and the Yakuza boss, and ends up being the only upstanding man in this whole story. That's the perfect example of how I want to deal with that. I present someone that is somewhat villainous, somewhat responsible for something bad and is a kingpin of a Japanese gangster organization, but he turned out to be a family man. He's someone that made a lot of mistakes and regrets every single one of them. He has to be the only upstanding person in the film outside of Ani, who is the true hero of the film.

As he says, Westerners ruin everything.

Right. Well, yeah. I mean, that's the story of the film. The Yakuza is a very close unit. It's a very hard thing to get into. It's a very interesting organization. And if someone could actually try to coerce an organization like that, then it would be very profitable, but it's not an easy thing to do, but that's also what the movie kind of talks about.

What research did you do for depicting the Yakuza?

We were very serious about studying the Yakuza organization. For example, in Tokyo it's a republic, so it's a different family. In Osaka, it's different. And then we studied the organization, what's the relationship between people and what they do and what they don't do, what they wear and what they don't wear. Even with the plates on the car. When you see the plates of the cars, the Yakuza use very specific plates and very specific cars. All of that is in the film.

We were very, very serious about studying. We had cultural experts. A lot of my crew was Japanese, as a matter of fact. My art director was Japanese. My script supervisor was Japanese. We had a Japanese specialist on kimono, just on how to tie the bow and put the kimono on. Everything was heavily, heavily researched, and my team was very, very serious about it, from the Kabuki play to everything. Nothing was really heightened, besides the fact that they have tons of guns, which is not true. The Yakuza don't have them.

Serious jail time is why, right?

Yeah, exactly. The gun laws in Japan are so strict that you actually can't really own guns, so that's for the style and the heightened aspect of it. That's the big lie about "Kate" is that all those people have guns, which they don't. But otherwise everything has been really, really, really researched. So you can't have guns in Japan and walk around and shoot people. That doesn't work.

"Kate is not a nice person."

You wanted rock and roll, but it's a very eclectic soundtrack, all Japanese artists, female artists.

For me, it was an opportunity for me to kind of push forward Japanese artists. And so I decided that I wanted all female artists, and I wanted all kinds of genre, and I wanted to push that forth and make people wonder, who is it? Who is that? And try to figure them out. I found them on YouTube, to be honest. And then it was like, whoa. And then I wrote them in the script.

There is another artist that I found also on YouTube. She was doing this hip hop kind of style, and she's at the back end of the film. And I was like, "Wow, she's awesome." Chanmina is the biggest artist, I think, but mostly everybody else is kind of below the radar. I'm hoping that I can bring them up into the light. Band-Maid is a lot of fun. They're very vocal, and they're awesome.

Thinking about the story from the Yakuza's perspective and Ani, Kate is the villain.

Oh, absolutely.

This question and answer contain spoilers for the end of the film.

Did you see her as a villain?

Yeah. Kate is not a nice person. She's not a good person. She was never the hero. The hero, the only good person in this film is Ani. The only real innocent hero of this film is Ani. Kate is not a good person, and she's trying to use Ani to begin with.

With Ani she realized that revenge is not going to give her the thing that she's looking for. And then, she has to change her ways in order to be at peace with what's coming to her. I think she turns revenge into, if I really want to do one thing, then I really have to make something right with this girl that has done nothing to me.

Ani's smitten by the coolness of Kate. Every time she says to Kate, "Oh, you're so cool," that's a knife that plunges into Kate, because Kate knows what she's done. It's reminding her she's a bad person. She's not the hero of this film.

"Kate" is available now on Netflix.