Hamish Downie’s Five More Questions With Christopher McCombs
Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…
Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?
Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.
Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.
TGG: For anyone who doesn’t remember, could you tell us about yourself and the Benza one more time?
CM: My pleasure! My name is Chris and I am an actor and model based out of Tokyo, Japan. I moved to Japan from Las Vegas after studying Japanese at the University of Las Vegas. At the time I was modeling to pay my tuition and I was initially just going to stay here and work as a model for half a year and go back to Las Vegas, but I was booking a lot of television shows in addition to modeling work and decided to stay.
The Benza is a story about two foreigners living in Higashi Nakano (a suburb of Tokyo) and what happens when their toilet breaks and they set out to buy a new one. Spoilers: They get caught up in interdimensional war and must save the world. It’s also a look at what it’s like to be a foreigner living in another country and some of the obstacles we run into. The cast, regardless of country, primarily performs entirely in Japanese.
We started as a short film in 2018 and caught the on-demand content boom just as distributors began looking for independent content. We received an offer to turn the short film into a series and have been working on it since.
TGG: Without giving any spoilers away, can you let us know what we are in for in the new season?
CM: If you’re a fan of The Benza, there’s a lot more of everything you love about the show. Literally. In the first season the episodes are all in the twenty-minute range, but for the second series all the episodes are from thirty minutes on. The entire main cast returns from the first season, and several of the cast members from the spin-off series Benza English (Kaori Ikeda, Maria Papadopoulou, and Shizuka Anderson) join us to reprise their roles. On top of that, we have some great new characters like Max (Maxwell Powers) and a pair of bikini scientists.
There’s quite a few new musical numbers as well I’m dying to gush about. Main cast members Kyle (Kyle Card), Inko Sensei (Haku Inko), and Tamura (Masahito Kawahata) have fantastic songs all produced by Takahiro Nomiya, the musician behind all the original music from series 1. We’ve been working as a team on this for over three years now, so you think at some point I would stop feeling surprised by how talented everyone is, but I’m still amazed all the time.
TGG: I know the feeling. It’s amazing how talented, talented people are. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from the making of the new season?
CM: I’m sure you can relate with this as you make your own content as well, but the largest take away was learning to pace ourselves. We went from the ending of Benza English right into pre-production on The Benza Series 2 while simultaneously starting work on a video game adaption of our show. Also, there was a pandemic.
From its conception, The Benza has always been a self-sponsored project. We have had several offers for sponsorship along the way, but with sponsorship comes conditions. In order to keep making the show the way that we want to, we realized quite early on that we were going to have to come up with the money on our own. That means that sometimes even if we want to go charging forward, we need to take a step back, generate funds, and make a careful plan to keep ourselves under control. In general, each season costs about 1,500,000 yen to make. It may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind we’re on our third season. It adds up!
I don’t think at any time we have been over our heads financially, but there were a few times it felt like we were close. Luckily, we came at series 2 with two amazing directors, Raito Nishizaka and Michael Williams. They really helped hold things together and are excellent at making sure I’m not getting too crazy with the cost of some of the insane ideas I have.
TGG: So, with two seasons and a spin off in the bag, are there plans for more? What’s next for you Chris?
CM: At the moment, we are aggressively working on finishing the video game version of The Benza called The Benza RPG with the lead programmer Guilherme Martins. It’s about a 30 hour long retro RPG set in the world of The Benza. All of the main cast voices their respective characters and there’s over 300 new lines of dialog we’ve recorded just for the game.
We’re currently on the last leg of development, but it is already available for free on iOS, Android, and PC and Mac on Steam. The amazing news is that we have been granted permission from Nintendo to develop for the Nintendo Switch and we hope to release for the Switch early September.
The game and working with Nintendo feels very full circle to me. My dad, David McCombs, bought my brother and I a Super Famicom when we were kids and we had a lot of Japanese games growing up. If he wouldn’t have done that, I don’t think I would have had any sort of connection to the Japanese language and probably wouldn’t be here. I really want to do this right, so we’re going to spend the rest of the year getting the game as close to perfect as we can.
After that, we move on to the third and final series of The Benza. The whole team is on the same page as to where this story is headed, and we’re all excited to tell one last story together. It’s really crazy, I just finished writing the first episode. The last first episode!
TGG: How exciting! Finally, how can we best support you and watch the new season of “The Benza”?
CM: The Benza Series 2 is currently streaming in Japan on Amazon Prime Video. Rumor has it series 2 will be available in other territories late March, 2022.
For those who are not Amazon Prime members, we have recently expanded to Plex which is an excellent region free method of viewing The Benza and Benza English. You can log in with your Facebook account or Google account and watch for free with advertisements.
It’s available in 190 countries and it has such a slick layout. I really recommend it!
Outside of The Benza, you can catch me Mondays through Fridays on Onishi Hiroto’s Basic English Recipe (『大西泰斗の英会話☆定番レシピ』 ) on NHKe and NHK World Premiere and Bento Expo on NHK1 and NHK World Premiere.
Amazon Prime Video: https://www.amazon.co.jp/The-Benza/dp/B07QMVBC6W
The Benza RPG (Steam): https://store.steampowered.com/app/1449370/The_Benza_RPG/