Ryuichi Baba’s face contorts in pain as he falls down dead.
But instead of hitting the cold concrete floor, he thuds onto a soft mattress.
Moments later, Baba springs back to life and makes a thumbs up at the cheering crowd. His stylized death scene just wrapped up a shoot for “Crazy Fighter,” a low-fi action film starring martial arts fighters and ex-gangsters.
Baba spent 20 years with the mafia, only escaping his life of crime six years ago. Now a member of the Takakura-gumi acting agency, he’s part of a crew of around 60 reformed ex-gangsters who find purpose and retribution in playing their former selves.
And their efforts are slowly gaining traction in a country where gangsters are still feared and stigmatized.
“I never aspired to be an actor, but I thought that if I became recognizable and wasn’t a nobody, it would be harder for the mob to hurt me,” Baba told CNN. “That’s why I deliberately put myself out into the media spotlight.”