But, you know, he's a director, and he's totally up front about it. "I grew up wanting to be a director, so naturally I grew up watching movies, reading comics. I really liked Mad Max and Highlander, Evil Dead, Day of the Dead, so at 17 I looked around realized, 'this is Japan. We don't make action movies any more,' and went off to New Zealand for film school."
When he talks about directing, and being a director, it really feels almost like some kind of martial art -- like when he describes training the cast for Azumi. "I told them, 10 people with swords, and you can't beat me, the director."
"On the first day, we did some training, had them run around, swing a sword, and they were terrible. I turned to the action director and said, 'I can't do this.' He patted me on the shoulder and said, 'It's okay. Kids nowadays -- they're all like that. We'll manage.'"
And if directing is a martial art, he's clear on his influences and where he wants to go. When asked to direct Godzilla, his first reaction was "Why me?" But his second reaction -- "Of course I was excited, because I loved Godzilla in the '70s. But I told them, honestly -- I always try to be honest with producers from the beginning because I don't want to get into trouble -- that I haven't watched a Godzilla movie in 15 years. I didn't like modern Godzilla. I told them that if I made it, it would be something completely different, more like Godzilla v. Mechagodzilla -- that's my favorite."
He's a director who makes brilliant, genre-defining action movies, and he's brutally candid about it. "After Azumi, there some action movies, big-budget action movies, being made -- but they're shit. All of them -- you know the kind of movie I mean. I think I'm the only guy in Japan who knows how to do action."
"So I'm going to get people I can trust, and produce two or three action movies over the next year."
Laughter and applause. "Japanese audiences -- they don't react like that, so I feel very lonely sometimes. It's like I belong in the U.S."
And the crowd is carried away in a rush of emotion, and the panel's run out of time, and I think everyone in the room felt like the day had just become that much more awesome.