Story inspiration can come from a number of places, but Shoko Hara’s animated short Just a Guy is the only short I can think of that was inspired by a serial killer’s personal letter to the filmmaker. The tale of three woman, who all had some kind of relationship with the “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, Hara uses her connection to this story to explore whether anyone could overlook his heinous crime and see him as “just a guy”.
After a friend of the filmmaker started a correspondence (“multiple letters and half-nude pictures”) with Ramirez, Hara was asked to take part in a photoshoot for the prisoner, as he had an “obsession with Asian women” (Hara is Japanese). “I would have to wear red-polished toenails”, the director explains as she discusses her friend’s request.
Revealing that she agreed to take part “out of curiosity”, shortly after her friend sent the pictures to San Quentin State Prison, Hara received a handwritten letter from Ramirez, asking her about her childhood and talking about the rollercoasters he always wanted to ride in Japan. Though she was “too scared to answer” at the time the director looks back at this decision with a hint of regret and admits to being “haunted by questions ever since”.
Since then, a fascination with Ramirez developed, one that provoked Hara to explore the question of what makes a woman fall in love with a serial killer in the first place? Seen as “misfits and crazy people”, the director was keen to showcase the human side of the women who choose to enter a relationship where your only interactions happen behind a perspex screen.
Sporting a lurid, twisted aesthetic, combining archival footage with collage/clay-mation/stop-motion techniques, the visuals feel perfectly matched to the film’s provocative subject. Keen not to add to Ramirez’s “rockstar” image, Just a Guy finds the fine balance between providing facts, without ever aiming to glamourise his evil deeds – as Hara explains in this interview with Laura-Beth Cowley for Skwigly:
Online for a limited time, Just a Guy has had an outstanding festival run, playing events worldwide and winning the Golden Dragen at Krakow Film Festival and the Grand Prix an Animafest Zagreb. To see more of Shoko’s work, you can view her studio website, which she runs with Paul Brenner.