A few thoughts on the Work of Takashi Miike
What makes a person like a film? Is it a convergence of thought processes that stirs one’s curiosity enough to take the trouble of watching it, trying to understand it and in the process enjoy it too? Some people may like a film while others may hate it altogether. Well, I’d like to leave that question unanswered as we all may have different thoughts on that one. On that note, one director whose films I have recently watched and come to really like is Takashi Miike.
Miike is a Japanese director born in Yao, Osaka. The 51 year old has made quite a number of films in his career and hopefully will still continue to be as prolific in the future as well (although there are no indications to the alternative).
What really interests me in his work is the kind of themes that some of his films portray and the way they are shot. He has indeed directed films that have very different themes but the ones that I have watched are mostly centred around the violent, shocking, grotesque, horrifying – all in all films that are very dark and morbid in nature.
The controversial nature of his films have often violated the delicate sensibilities of viewers and censorship officials. Frankly, I don’t blame them. Some scenes in his films are indeed extreme. In Ichi the Killer, there is a scene towards the beginning of the film, where the central character, Ichi, is watching a man beating a woman in order to get himself hard enough to have sex with her. Ichi, is himself, getting turned on by watching the spectacle and is masturbating as he watches. The scene is as graphic visually as is its theme. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that these scenes are windows into the psyche of the characters. They answer the how’s, the what’s, and the why’s of the way the characters behave. These are, however, not your everyday characters and their world is thoroughly bizarre.
Imprint was Miike’s entry for the Masters of Horror series in 2005. The film has a bit of incest, a bit of torture, rough sex, prostitution, violence, desperation, a doomed romance, crushed hope and an overall victory of what one may term as evil. The film was deemed to be so ‘disturbing’ that it was not aired by the Showtime cable network, which had bought the rights to the series. Although Imprint is in fact, a lot more fantastical in its story elements and it has an actual “monster”, it does seem to credit the creation and nurturing of the evil to real world scenarios like the child born out of an incestuous relationship and the subsequent rape of the child by the father.
Audition is another film that leaves a lasting impression on the viewers mind. If true horror is something so jarring to the senses that it is unbearable for a person to watch, then this film is truly horrifying. The killer is a beautiful young girl who is polite and soft spoken. Not really your average psycho killer stereotype at all. However, right from the time that they introduce her in the film, it is clear that there is something wrong with this girl. Its just something that you can feel (all credit to the actor, Eihi Shiina and Miike). The tension builds up all through the film and culminates in the final uber-disturbing torture scene. Indeed, Miike seems to have a real talent for bringing out the nitty gritties of the art of physical torture. The aforementioned film, Imprint, also has a torture scene of comparable brilliance. The brilliance is, in my opinion, in the ability of the director to elicit from the audience the kind of emotional reaction that he desires. Emotions of horror, revulsion, pain, pleasure, fascination – each of which makes the viewer uncertain as to whether he should shut his eyes or keep them wide open.
Miike has also directed the film Crows (Kurozu) Zero, and its sequel, Crows Zero 2, both of which seem to have gone viral amongst teenagers and young adults over the world and in India, especially in the north-east states. The film’s are just ‘very cool’, as most people who I’ve asked would say. The characters are young, tough and everyone has a chip on his shoulder. Right from the word ‘GO!’, the epic streetfighting style battles go on and on. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that both the films are just two huge brawls with a bit of story in between breaks. Some might say that this makes the films monotonous but I say – ‘MORE!’. The fight choreography is stunning and realistic in that you don’t see the hero beat up a whole gang by himself and emerge from it with his Ray Ban’s still on and his hairstyle intact (case in point – Indian films featuring ‘hero’s’ like Ajay Devgan, Suneil Shetty and of course the indomitable Sunny Deol, to name a few). Of course, there are a few scenes that are larger than life but its just Miike’s style of humour.
One of Miike’s relatively recent films that I watched and greatly enjoyed is 13 Assassins. The story is, as evidenced by the title, that of a group of 13 assassins who are formed to assassinate a cruel and sadistic young lord, Matsudaira Naritsugu, who is the brother of the Shogun. The film takes place in the mid 17th century which is just before the Meiji Empire of Japan was formed and the Tokugawa Shogunate was ended.
The characters in the film, particularly those of Lord Naritsugu and Shinzaemon are very interesting. They are very obviously portrayed as being on opposite poles of morality. While Naritsugu is a young, narcissistic, power drunk and despicable person with no thought of the consequences of his actions. Shinzaemon is an honourable and humane person bound by the Bushido code of the Samurai. Naritsugu randomly inflicts pain and suffering on others without having ever experienced true physical pain himself. In some ways, he is like a spoilt child, manipulative and unmindful of the full extent what he does. As he dies in the end, he thanks Shinzaemon for giving him the most fun day in his life (something wholly unexpected, at least for me).
The character of Kiga, a hunter of animals in the forest who joins the 12 samurai and thus completes the band of 13 assassins, is very similar to characters played by Toshiro Mifune in Akira Kurosawa’s films, notably in Seven Samurai and somewhat in Yojimbo. Whether this is a coincidence or some sort of homage to Kurosawa is unknown to me although the latter is probably true because Miike is apparently an admirer of Kurosawa’s work.
The film also has beautifully created battle scenes as 13 samurai prepare to take on over 200 soldiers. The pace of the film goes at a thumping rhythm and there is never a dull moment as the cuts take you from one scene of the battle to the other. While very brief, there is again a scene of torture and horror in the film, which is mostly narrated, but whatever is shown visually, does unfailingly draw a cringe from every viewer.
These are, I guess, the sum total of all the Miike films that I have watched to date. I do hope to watch more of his work but then again he has been involved in over 50 films and that is a very tall order to fill. Nevertheless, I think I will end up watching most of them. What can I say, I’m a Miike addict! Now what that says about my psychological make up is anyone’s guess but I don’t really care. Sue me! By the way – you should watch some Takashi Miike films too if you enjoy cinema and haven’t watched any of his work. It is definitely an experience. Whether it is a good experience or not is totally up to you.