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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Work of Takashi Miike

     Takashi Miike is one the most notable and controversial directors working today. He works with many taboo and bizarre subjects and attracts attention through shocking, violent works. Although Miike is known internationally for his horror-like elements, he has worked in many different genres, often combining them in a unique way.





     Takashi Miike was born outside of Osaka, Japan. He began directing in 1991, while he was in his early thirties (“Biography”). According to his biography on IMDB, he had been to film school, but hardly ever attended class (“Biography”). His first films as director were mainly straight-to-video. Miike gained international attention with his 1999 film, Audition. It started out as a subtle drama, but ended as surreal horror with the main character getting tortured and his foot brutally cut off. The violence was considered highly graphic, thus garnering attention for the film.

     This trend continued with 2001’s Ichi the Killer, which contained even more blood and gore. The film was filled with depraved acts of sadomasochism and torture. A character is tortured with metal hooks stuck in the skin of his back and gets burning oil poured on him. The main character slices off his own tongue and a women gets her nipples cut off. According to Guardian, the film “required three minutes of cuts by the British Board of Film Classification because of its ‘extreme sexualised violence’” (Rose). Many of Miike’s other popular movies such as Visitor Q (2001) and Gozu (2003) didn't make traditional narrative sense and were filled with disgusting acts.

     For instance, in Visitor Q, a man has sex with a dead woman, feels wetness, and then assumes she is miraculously responding to him only to find out that that the wetness is feces. In addition, Gozu features a fully grown man coming out of a woman’s vagina. These films and more have caused Miike to have a strong cult following all around the globe.

     It is understandable then that Miike became known as a horror director whose films showcased extreme violence and sexual content. Disgusting and violent movies seem commonplace in today’s film world but he takes it to a whole new level. No subject matter or action is off-limits.

     Miike also had a small role in director Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005), which was a graphically violent horror movie, referred to by many as “torture porn.” Miike’s reputation as a horror filmmaker was so great that he was allowed to direct an episode of the “Masters of Horror” TV program in 2006, which has featured episodes made by John Carpenter, Dario Argento and other directors known for horror. However, is this really an accurate representation of Miike’s films?

     IMDB lists 82 credits under Miike’s name as director; this includes TV episodes and straight-to-video releases (“Takashi Miike”). Only 8 Miike films are categorized as horror. These include the previously mentioned Gozu, Visitor Q, and Audition. The others are Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), One Missed Call (2003), Izo (2004), The Great Yokai War (2005), and Detective Story (2007). Miike’s segment of Three…Extremes (2004) is also categorized as horror.

     However, even these films defy the traditional standards of horror. Audition is only horror for a half-hour at most. Miike himself does not consider Audition to be a horror film. “For me, Audition is not horror. At least, there is no monster, it's not supernatural. It's a story about a girl who has just slightly strange emotions, so it's not impossible to understand her,” he states (Mes).

     Audition is really more of an art film; fans of traditional slasher movies will likely be bewildered by the last half-hour and bored by the first hour or so. And Gozu and Visitor Q are far removed from a typical horror film. Katakuris combines horror with elements of the musical and comedy genres. Only One Missed Call seems to be a straightforward horror flick; it was remade for American audiences.

     The truth is, during his prolific career, Miike has worked with a wide variety of genres and tones, often mixing them in bizarre ways. He has made many Yakuza crime films, such as Shinjuku Triad Society (1995), Fudoh: The New Generation (1996), and Full Metal Yakuza (1997). Miike also directed a superhero movie called Zebraman that was released in 2004. His film The Great Yokai War is a children’s fantasy film. He has directed action, comedy, thrillers, fantasy and science fiction.

     Miike sometimes creates movies that are mainstream and easily understood, while other times he makes dense art films. For example, his segment of Three…Extremes is quite confusing and contains an ambiguous narrative. He seems to jump from genre to genre with ease. In fact, he appears to not even be concerned with genre. As quoted in Midnighteye.com, Miike said, “I don't think about genre at all. My films are categorized as being in a certain type of genre. But myself, I don't make the movie thinking about which category the film belongs in” (Mes).

     The playful mixing of genres is a key aspect of the Miike oeuvre. Many of his films contain scenes that seem like they are from a different movie, and tones often shift drastically without warning. When referring to his film Gozu, Miike stated, “What I really wanted to try to do by having these two elements in Gozu is to find that there's a new genre, combining two different elements and try to challenge something that [didn't] exist before. So in way, having kind of two genres together, there's so many possibilities that you could do, but not having a genre, it's more that I can try to do something different by having the different elements from the other genre” (Otto).

     Miike’s diversity is much greater than most filmmakers, yet he still injects his personality into his work; he is far from a director-for-hire that just does what his producers tell him to.

His work takes postmodern ideas to an extreme level. Miike seems to make no distinction between high or low art. One of the most interesting examples of his mixing of genres is Sukiyaki Western Django, which combines western and samurai elements into one movie. There’s gunplay one scene, and a swordfight the next.

     The film also contains many historical references, as well as homages to earlier films by directors such as Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. Django also mixes comedic and dramatic elements. The Japanese cast speaks heavily accented English, which adds to the humorous aspect. For this movie, Miike cast Quentin Tarantino, another director who mixes genres, high and low art, and references numerous other films. Both use pastiche and play with the concept of genre.

     Miike is one of the most intriguing figures in film today. He became famous for his intense depictions of graphic sex and violence; his horror-like movies gained him international notoriety. However, he has directed films in almost every genre, indicating that he more than just a shock artist. He can make mainstream family movies, gross-out flicks, and deep art films. Additionally, Miike often mixes multiple genres in one film, making him an excellent example of a postmodern director. Sukiyaki Western Django epitomizes this by being a western samurai film.



Works Cited
"Biography for Takashi Miike." Internet Movie Database. <imdb.com/name/nm0586281/bio>.

Mes, Tom, and Kuriko Sato. "Midnight Eye Interview: Takashi Miike." Midnight Eye. <midnighteye.com/interviews/takashi_miike.shtml>.

Otto, Jeff. "Interview: Takashi Miike." IGN. <movies.ign.com/articles/532/532760p2.html>.

Rose, Steve. "Blood isn't that scary." Guardian., 2 June 2003. . <guardian.co.uk/film/2003/jun/02/artsfeatures.dvdreviews2>.

"Takashi Miike." Internet Movie Database. <imdb.com/name/nm0586281/>.

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