Batman hits Tokyo


“Welcome to a world without rules” is the tag-line for “The Dark Knight,” but, as usual these days, the press conference for the movie held at Roppongi Hills sure had a few. Rule No. 1, of course, was: Do not ask the stars questions about anything except the movie.

Given leading man Christian Bale’s tabloid headline-making hotel-room altercation with his mother and sister just days before, this rule really came as no surprise. What was surprising is that a member of the Japanese press corps broke it, asking the star obliquely about his troubles. Bale, who’d been glowering intensely for his entire time on stage — perhaps in a bid to intimidate any would-be scandal-sheet reporters — dismissed the question out of hand, saying “It’s a private matter.” Fair enough.

For the most part, the press conference was your typical love-fest. In attendance were stars Maggie Gyllenhall, Aaron Eckhart and Bale, as well as director Christopher Nolan and producers Charles Roven and Emma Thomas. We learned that — surprise! — everyone loved working with such talented people. Gyllenhall noted how “that’s something everyone says at these things, but really, in this case, it was just remarkable how incredible everyone was at their job. . . . It’s very unusual that you work on a movie where everyone is amazing.” You get the idea.

Nolan’s conception of The Joker and the late Heath Ledger’s performance in the role is clearly the film’s high point, and Gyllenhall described working with Ledger as “an extraordinary experience. He was so free. Every good actor has to try and find the space to be free, and he was really beyond anything I’d ever experienced.”

Nolan, while praising Ledger’s performance, explained that he chose him for the role “because he was a fantastic actor. I’d seen his work in ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ for example. And I was looking for an actor of consummate skill, but also an actor who would be fit, and have the confidence to take on such an iconic role and make it his own.”

In terms of how he constructed The Joker’s role, Nolan elaborated: “The main thing The Joker stands for is anarchy and chaos, so it’s very important that he not be after any financial gain or things like that. The thrust of his villainy is that he takes pleasure in tearing down the structures around him, the structures of society.”

Bale, in an accent wavering between Welsh and several shades of American, concurred, saying: “The thing about The Joker that’s so good is that while he’s an agent of chaos and destruction — and claims these are the only two things you can believe in — and mocks society’s faith in order, there’s a certain amount of truth to what he says. He really manages to get underneath Batman’s skin, to the point where he’s questioning his own ethic that he will not kill.”

Director Nolan had been getting a bit of a rep as an auteur — with films like “Following” and “Memento” — before he took on the Batman franchise, and he was asked whether he approached the Batman films differently. Nolan, who writes his film’s screenplays with his brother Jonathan, noted that while working from comics is new, other films of his have come from short stories and novels. “They all come from different places,” sais Nolan, “but at the end of the day . . . I try and absorb (the material), so it feels like something personal to you.”

With that, the director was off, with a plane to catch, leaving his cast on stage to wave at the cameras. With “The Dark Knight” having garnered the biggest opening week ever at the U.S. box office, one imagines Mr. Nolan will be getting more than a few offers this week.