Saturday, June 18, 2011

Takashi Miike: Master of Diversity

Takashii Miike is a director who shoots films with machine gun speed and a Samurai’s sword precision. They guy simply doesn’t stop working! As I write this, Takashi Miike has been involved in 85 films since he first started way back in 1991 when his cinematic career started with a straight to video film called Toppuu! Minipato Tai – Aikyacchi Jankushon. Currently he is working on three films: one of them is called Ninja Kids (2011), a children’s film about a kid called Rantaro and his adventures in a ninjitsu academy. To give you an idea of the speed at which Miike works, keep in mind that in 2002 alone Miike made 8 films! It goes without saying that he is an extremely prolific director who doesn't just stick to one genre, he tries them all. And he waists no time in doing it. In this way, he reminds me of Ridley Scott a director who is continually trying a different genre. Miike could make a Yakuza Film like Fudoh: The New Generation (1996) just as well as he could make a children’s film like Yatterman (2009). He can make a drama like The Bird People of China (1998) just as well as he can make a horror film like Audition (2000). He’s films can go from the extremely surreal Yakuza film Goku (2003) to the experimental potpourri of genres known as The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001). As you can see, Miike’s filmology is anything but conventional.

What makes a Takashi Miike film, a Takashi Miike film? Believe it or not, even though he covers a great many genres with his films, they do have a uniqueness to them. Certain elements set them apart, some elements bond his films together. For example, a lot of Miike’s films are extremely violent or gory; the gore on his films can be extreme, but at the same time cartoonish, kind of like reading a very violent manga where buckets of blood spray in the air. But even though his films can get quite graphic and gory, they always have a depth of philosophical exploration to them. For example, Miike’s segment for Three Extremes (2004) entitled ‘Box’ wasn’t just a short film about twin sisters who work as contortionists in a circus, this visually engaging short film was also an exploration on the theme of incest. Much like the films of David Cronenberg, often times there’s are a psychological or philosophical exploration behind Miike’s films. Another thing that makes Miike, Miike is that he loves his Yakuza films! In this he is similar to Martin Scorsese who loves making his gangster films. Go through his filmography to see just how many of his films are about Yakuza's, there's quite a bunch of them. I'll be reviewing some of them soon, I'm going to try and focus on his Dead Alive series, so look forward to that!

But what I like most about Miike films is that they are not afraid to explore taboo subject matter. This probably has a lot to do with the freedom that Japanese filmmakers have, they don’t have as many restrictions as American cinema, they don’t have to deal with an MPAA rating and judging their films. Films from around the world can go deeper, explore themes further. And when it comes to themes dealing with human sexuality, well, Miike goes pretty far. Again, same as Cronenberg, Miike’s films mix the psychological, the sexual and the violent. It’s no wonder Miike sites Cronenberg as one of his favorite filmmakers. These two directors dont fear exploring the darker areas of the human psyche and sexuality, so when you watch a Miike film, expect lots of nudity and sexually explicit situations. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to fathom how the same guy who made the controversial and ultra violent Ichi the Killer (2001) is the same guy who made the big budget children’s fantasy film The Great Yokai War (2005)! That’s like saying that David Cronenberg had directed The Never Ending Story or something. But such is the nature of the great Takashii Miike, as a filmmaker he is totally unpredictable. You never know what he’s going to do next. And that to me is part of what makes this very unique filmmaker special. 

With this article I don' t even cover a tenth of Miike's films, he has so many films in his filmography that it would take way more then one article to do that. But don't worry! Since here on The Film Connoisseur I’m currently on a Japanese kick, I'll end up reviewing some Takashi Miike films in the next couple of days. In the mean time, I thought you guys would like to read a bit about some of Takashi Miike’s body of work. The films I’ll be mentioning on this article are a small sample of his vast filmography. The main idea is that you guys and gals out there who have yet to experience a Miike film will get an idea of what this very special Japanese filmmaker is all about. Enjoy!

Film: Fudoh: The New Generation (1996)

Synopsis: This one is all about a family feud that takes place within a Yakuza family. Riki Fudoh is a teenager in highschool, but he is a little different: his father is head of a Yakuza Organiztion! One day, Riki sees his own father killing his brother, and from there on in, it is Riki’s mission in life to bring down his father’s Yakuza organization. In order to do this effectively, Riki get’s starts building his own army of underage killers. Amongst these killers is a beautiful girl who can shoot darts out of her vagina! Yes, you read that last comment right. Pretty soon, Riki takes over the school and controls it entirely, once his army of misfits is complete, he goes up against his own fathers organization in a climactic fight to the death. This is one of Miike’s earliest films, he made it when he was still making straight to video films, yet it shows he’s always been fond of shock, and gore. This one is full of gory moments including a Yakuza that chops his sons head clean off in order to appease his Yakuza master. 

Stand Out Shock Scene: One of Riki Fudoh’s body guards in the school is a girl who can shoot poisonous darts from her vagina. At one point, she shoots one of her darts, which shoots out of her vagina along with a huge spray of blood. In reply to her surprised enemy she says “sorry, I’m on my period!”

Film: Full Metal Yakuza (1997) 

Synopsis: Ever wondered what a Japanese version of Robocop would be like? Well, wonder no further, this is it! Miike making this film makes perfect sense when we take in consideration that he’s such a big fan of Paul Veerhoven; the director behind Robocop (1987). Still, Full Metal Yakuza is in no way a rip off, it's not an exact copy of Veerhoven's 80's classic. Full Metal Yakuza has many things that make it even more hardcore than Robocop ever was. For example, the main character in this film isn’t a cop, but the contrary, a wannabe Yakuza. He aspires to be the best Yakuza, but he isn't. In fact, he ends up getting killed by a rival Yakuza gang. Lucky for him that a scientist takes his body and replaces the damaged parts with robotic parts…as an added bonus, the scientist is so nice that he reverses his impotency by giving him a gigantic robot penis! He even has his old Yakuza boss’s heart beating inside of him! Now he is out for revenge on those who wronged him. Miike made this one straight to video and it’s low budget is very evident, especially when it comes to the quality of the image and its special effects. This was a film made cheaply, and quickly for the straight to video market. But the film has enough gore, creativity and depravity to keep you interested all through out. Not Miike’s brightest or deepest, but it is so violent and depraved that its entertaining.

Stand Out Shock Scene: Full Metal Yakuza takes the head of one of his enemies and hurls it so hard through the air that it travels from one building to the next!

Film: Audition (2000) 

Synopsis: Audition was the first Miike film to bring him international acclaim. Thanks to the boom that J-Horror films experienced around the start of the millennium, Audition along with Ichi the Killer were the two films that got Miike's name known to American genre fans. Nowadays his name is a house hold name amongst horror fans, and lovers of Japanese Cinema, but back then, when Audition was first released on dvd, he was just starting to get recognition outside of Japan . This film tells the story of a wannabe actress named Asami, who is desperate to get her first acting gig. She ends up going to an audition for a film. Problem comes when the audition that she goes to turns out to be a farce. You see, a producer wants to help his friend find a new wife, so he sets up a fake audition just so his lonely friend could meet a bunch of girls and pick one as his new wife. Problem comes when the girl doesn’t like the fact that she’s been lied to! Then, her psychotic side emerges and things get ugly from there on in. This film takes a while for its tension and horror to kick in. For it's first half, the film actually feels like a love story. It's only during it's last half that the film shows its ugly claws and rips your heart out. 

Stand Out Shock Scene: When Asami puts on her black plastic gloves and picks up some piano strings, get ready for some grueling, torturous scenes of bloody mayhem! Not gonna spoil it for ya.

Film: Visitor Q (2001) 

Synopsis: This is one of my personal favorite Miike films because it is so thought provoking and such a critique on family life and family dynamics. One day, a mysterious character simply known as “Visitor Q” suddenly pops up and joins a Japanese family on their day to day lives. Thing is that this family is anything but traditional, in fact, everyone in this family is a little messed in the head. The Father wants to have sex with his daughter, who is a prostitute. The son, beats his mom, who in turn is a drug addict. Miike is obviously portraying terrible characters as a way of commenting on negative family behaviour. Q functions as the ultimate watcher, the ultimate voyeur. An observer of human behavior. He rarely comments on things, he just watches. In most occasions, the family ignores Q as if he wasn’t even there. This made me see the character of Q as a godlike figure. One of Miike’s most thought provoking films. This film was part of a series of films called “Love Cinema”. These films where shot by six independent filmmakers, as a low budget exercise, to explore the benefits of shooting on low cost digital video and a miniscule budget, as a way of showing that a lot can be achieved with very little as long as the talent behind the camera is good, as it was with this film. The result was a film with a very real, documentary style look, something that is growing in popularity in American cinema. Examples of this style of filmmaking in American cinema are Paranormal Activity (2007) and The Last Exorcism (2010). 

Stand Out Shock Scene: At one point the mother who is not pregnant and has no babies, starts to squeeze her breasts until milk starts coming out of her nipples. Then, to freak you out a little more, her husband helps himself to a couple of drops. Paging Dr. Freud…

Film: Gozu (2003)

Synopsis: Once again Miike revisits one of his favorite premises: The Yakuza Crime Scene! On this film, we meet Azamawari, the leader of a Yakuza family who is worried about the strange and erratic behavior of Ozaki, one of his henchmen. So he does what any intelligent Yakuza Lord would do, he orders one of his other henchman to take Ozaki to the town of Negoya to have him killed. Azamawari does not want a loose cannon like Ozaki on his organization. Problem comes when Ozaki’s would be executioners take him to Negoya; that’s when things start to get just a little bit weird on this movie! This film has got to be hands down one of the weirdest films in Miike’s filmography, and that’s saying a lot! When we finally arrive at Negoya, it’s as if we’ve somehow entered The Twilight Zone or a David Lynch film. Take your pic. Speaking of Lynch, this film has a very strong Lynchian vibe going for it, again, this is probably Miike’s way of paying his respects to one of his favorite filmmakers. But again, Miike is even more unhinged then Lynch could ever be. This movie is extremely freaking weird. If I had to compare this film to a Lynch film, I’d say its close to what Lynch did in Lost Highway (1997). But nothing I say will prepare you for this movie; you simply have to see it. Highly recommend it for one of those nights when you just want to see some fucked up weird shit. 

Stand Out Shock Scene: Ozaki (the unhinged gangster) sees a person walking a Chihuahua out on the streets and is convinced that it is a ‘Yakuza watchdog’ for a rival Yakuza family. So what does he do? He walks out into the street, grabs the dogs’ collar, gives the dog a couple of swings in the air and then smashes the little Chihuahua against the crystal window of the restaurant where his boss is eating at. This my friends is just one of many moments in this film, trust me, they get way crazier.

Film: The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) 

Synopsis: This is the best of example of just how prolific a director Miike actually is. This film is difficult to categorize within any particular genre because it covers so many of them! This film is a kaleidoscope of genres! At times the film feels like a comedy, because this is film about a family of depressed individuals who’s hotel, called ‘The White Lovers Inn’ is practically going out of business. Problem is that practically every customer that comes into the hospital ends up either committing suicide or getting murdered. Then the dead customers turn into zombies. Then there is a musical number. And then it’s a love story. And it keeps jumping from genre to genre like that. The film even has some stop animation sequences. This is a very off beat film, but at the same time, very light hearted and fun. Funny thing is that even Miike’s attempts at making a comedy ending up being disturbing and dark. 

Stand Out Shock Scene: A zombie musical sequence, where zombies toe tap and head nod as they dance to a happy song about enjoying life while we are here, reminiscent of Monty Python’s musical numbers like Life of Brian’s “Always look on the bright side of life”.

Film: Three Extremes (2004) 

Synopsis: This excellent horror anthology film is composed of three different stories by three different  directors. And they are not just any directors! These guys are special! The first one called ‘Dumplings’ is directed by Chinese director Fruit Chan. ‘Dumplings’ is about a woman who makes these magical dumplings that make you look younger! What’s the secret ingredient for youth? The second one called ‘Cut’, directed by Chan Wook Park (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) is about a disgruntled movie extra who wants revenge on the film director that never gave him a leading role. And finally, Takashi Miike directed the one called ‘Box’ about a pair of twin sisters who work as contortionists in a circus with their dad. Why does dad favor one daughter over the other? Miike’s short is very beautiful to look at, very dark, very gothic and very surreal. But like some of the best Miike films, its message is a powerful one. Three Extreme’s is an excellent anthology film. You get three films by three excellent directors who know a thing or two about great cinema. If you haven’t seen this one yet, get ready to be shocked by three awesome horror stories that fall more on the artistic and intellectual side of things.

Film: The Great Yokai War (2005) 

Synopsis: This isnt your traditional Miike film. As I’ve mentioned on this article, Miike loves trying new genres of film, and this time around he took a stab at directing a children’s film. On this one we meet a young boy who is one day chosen (during a village festival) to be the Kirin Rider. A warrior that is meant to protect everyone from evil spirits, and evil in general. Problem is that his magic sword is broken and he needs to find the magical blacksmith that can fix it, he needs his sword fixed in order to prepare for the coming Spirit War or Yokai War. The final brawl is one filled with thousands upon thousands of spirits and many uneven half assed effects. Some effects work, some don’t. The film is uneven that way, there is stop motion, there is CGI, there’s men in suits and every monster is completely different then the last one. It is interesting for that alone, all the different monsters that pop up on screen, and trust me, at one point you’ll be seeing literally thousands of monsters. It was interesting to see Miike directing a children’s fantasy film. I’d like to see more of these, like Zebraman (2004). 

Stand Out Shock Scene: A giant turtle spirit flies through the skies and a bystander looks at it and says “oh, its only Gamera!” making reference to 'Gamera' a popular Japanese Kaiju film, and one of Godzilla’s many enemies.

Film: Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) 

Synopsis: This film is about a gun totting vigilante that arrives to a town where he is caught between two gangs both of which are fighting to get to a treasure first than the other. The stranger will give his services and help to the highest bidder. So he plays both sides. This flick is a hyper stylized homage to spaghetti westerns; it’s a love letter to films like Django (1966), which is also about a gunslinger who is caught between two feuding factions. There’s lots of love for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) as well. My main problem is that plot can get a bit confusing at times, you can get lost at times, but thankfully there is enough eye candy to keep us entertained. Tarantino himself makes a cameo in the film as an aging gunslinger remembering the good old days. It obvious that Mike and Tarantino both share an appreciation for westerns, it makes sense that Tarantino is now making his own Django film entitled Django Unchained, cant wait to see how that one turns out! 

Stand Out Shock Scene: Two characters are having a fight, one has a sword, the other a gun. The gunslinger shoots a bullet and the sword swinger slices the bullet in half with his sword! Then, the continue their sword and gun fight, with the gunslinger using his gun like a sword. You gotta see it to believe it.

Well, thats it ladies and gents, hope you enjoyed the article. I'll be exploring some Takashi Miike in the next couple of days! Look forward to more reviews of his films. 


A hero never dies said...

Miike is a fascinating filmmaker, as you say it seems he can turn his hand to just about anything, my personal picks are The Great Yokai war and 13 assassins. Looking forward to seeing your reviews.

Andrew said...

Great entry....
Some excellent images right there. I love a lot of this interesting artist's work, as well.

Franco Macabro said...

@A Hero Never Dies: Im dying to see 13 Assassins, but apparently its not available on Netflix till July, but as soon as it is available, I'll be reviewing it here.

Thanks for commenting A hero never dies and welcome to the blog!

@Andrew: Im gonna try to get my hands on the Dead or Alive series of films soon as I check em out, I'll be posting the reviews here.

Unknown said...

You just listed several of my favorite movies up there! Gozu happens to be my favorite Miike film, it's just such a challenging film, so different, you leave with a different view of it every time.

Franco Macabro said...

Im dying to give Gozu a re-watch soon, as you said, its a film you can enjoy again and again and just when you think you got it figured out, blam, you dont. Samething happens to me with Lynch's Lost Highway, which has many similarities with Gozu.

Gozu and Visitor Q are two of my favorites, Gozu because its so damn weird and dreamlike and Visitor Q for its depth and themes. I like how the film analyzes family life, both through the character of Q who functions as a watcher, and also through the father who is filming a documentary of his family.

Nathanael Hood said...

I have to say...I've seen three of his films (Audition, Ichi the Killer, Gozu) and I didn't really like any of them. But this article has inspired me to check out more of his work.

By the way...I want to personally invite you to participate at my blog's Monster Movie blogathon.

Here's a link to the information page:

Franco Macabro said...

Some of Miike's films require an aquired taste for the bizarre, thanks for the invitation, I'll check out the link. Thanks for commenting!

Nathanael Hood said...

Thanks! I really, REALLY hope that you'll participate this time around. The last blogathon was a MASSIVE success.


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