Short Documentary Films
SHUNJI YOKOKAWA – SALT FLATS WORLD RECORD
“Honda encourages their engineers to propose and create projects that fulfill dreams. For Yokokawa, that was coming to Bonneville and setting a world speed record on a CBR600RR. With two fellow crew members from Japan, Yokokawa and team brought a bike to Bonneville and when it was all over, set an official class record on 170.828 mph.” -Honda
It is 104 degrees in the shade and our two R3D Epics are hiding in the shadows of our sunbounce. The light is so bright we use both sets of f/10 ND filters for the double coverage. And as expected, our T-mobile coverage is inadequate and we are unable to call our translator to start the interview. Shunji Yokokawa is sitting on the bumper of the trailer with a large fan blowing the sweat off his face. His leather jumpsuit is halfway off when we finally get the phone to connect. Shunji walks over and sits on his mark, a stack of motorcycle tires and the cameras start to roll.
The first question is explained to the translator and we pass the phone to Shunji. He nods, and then passes the phone back. “It was one of my childhood dreams to ride in Bonneville and so to make that dream a reality was one reason I came.” he speaks in his native tongue of Japanese. We truly have no way to know what he is saying, but we think the shot looks nice, every shot at the salt flats looks nice, but this time, we have a story. One that started long before we loaded the production van.
“Think how important it is in a 130mph sweeper – when you’ve got the bike on its side and you know exactly where it’s going to end up. When I was on top of my game I could go through that 130mph corner on a four inch-wide line lap after lap.” -Freddie Spencer
A flight from Japan to California, a Honda showroom stock bike and a trailer to transport Shunji Yokokawa and his team members to the Bonneville Salt Flats was all it took to create this lifelong dream, a dream Shunji had harbored, with passion, from boyhood. Shunji’s drive to break speed records began while watching Freddie Spencer swiftly, efficiently taking turns on the Laguna Seca raceway. By the age of 18, Yokokawa acquired his first Honda, a CB900, a bike he hopes to one day modernize.
Shunji is now the Assistant Chief Engineer and Project Lead for Honda. The CB1100 project leader, Hirofumi Fukunaga introduced Shunji and other engineers to the classic Honda collection at the Motegi Museum. Fukunaga had the engineers ride the classic bikes to appreciate their handling and to understand an era of the company that has long since passed. Honda encourages their engineers to propose and create projects, this support of the past and their desire to influence the future led Shunji to the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Riding the Salt Flats is not about instant acceleration, the unique landscape demands a gradual increase from low to top speeds. This haunting and desolate environment allowed Shunji, on a CBR600RR, to crush the SCTA 650cc production class record by travelling 170.828mph (274.92km/h) across the Bonneville Salt Flats. “This was my first time riding on the Salt Flats and it was a challenge to produce traction.” Shunji says, using hand gestures to try and break the language barrier. For the Honda team, this has been a unique experience.
For Vita Brevis, riding on the back of a truck with a steadicam is a typical afternoon. To achieve our tracking shots we ratchet strapped our director of photography to the tailgate and sent him on his way. The 2nd camera is set up about a quarter mile away on sticks, attached is a Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm Zoom Lens. Shunji is posing on top of the red, white and blue motorcycle for a few last photos. In the barren grey landscape, the 24-27mm lens on the Canon MkIII body forces the eye to focus on the bold primary colors.
The background remains hauntingly silent as Shunji removes his helmet and squints, staring flatly into the distance, visually straining to find the edge of the salt flats. “Personally I feel riding on the Salt Flats appealing and maybe it is because I’m consumed by it right now. The bike setup and environment is unique, I would like to come back and compete in a bigger class with the bike that’s behind that 600, the CBR1000RR.” The interview comes to an end. We give Shunji a thumbs up to show we’re satisfied, he returns the gesture. This accomplishment will return with him to Japan, along with a fresh perspective that will likely lead to greater engineering achievements.
CUT TO BLACK
The Octocopter Extravaganza in the dirt: We have two hours to shoot Shunji before he has to leave. So after the shoot we drive into the desert to experiment. Octocopters are temperamental, but an amazing asset to any production. We began already knowing our flight board was acting up. Despite this temperamental tendency and the minor risk it posed, it did not (would not) occur to us to abort the octocopter mission. The final product, brilliant aerial shots. We also created a phenomenal crash reel. Every day is a lesson and great footage can come out of adversity if you remain focused.
Action Products Steadicam
Octocopter: Free Fly Cinema
Canon Cinema Lens 24mm 50mm 85mm,
Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm Zoom Lens
- Staring Shunji Yokokawa
- Director Skylar Nielsen
- Producer Vita Brevis Films
- Cinematography Josh Fletcher
- Cinematography Ian Rigby
- 1st AC Cafe De' Blaise
- Assistant Marcus MacDonald
- Blog Author Josh Fletcher