When my old rock and roll alco-compadre DV was here for a whirlwind visit last June, one of the missions on his checklist was to try and track down Takashi Miike movies. He figured, quite reasonably, that it might be easier to find them in the black markets in Seoul than in Chicago.
That didn’t turn out to be the case, and we failed Mission Miike miserably, combing the Yongsan black market and Namdaemun in vain. Still, we had a reasonably enjoyable time trying, which is what life’s all about, after all.
Although DV’s tastes have always been more extreme than mine in most things, I was keen to check out these movies that he was so intent on finding. In the last few months, I’ve been bittorrenting my little heart out, and have managed to download and watch a handful of Miike’s movies, and they’ve, like, blown my mind, man. Phrases like ‘fanatical intensity’ and ‘horrible but exceedingly clever’ are used to talk about Miike’s transgressive oeuvre. That doesn’t even begin to describe it.
So far, I’ve watched

and I’ve never seen anything like them. I don’t know if I love or hate them, to be honest, but I’m glad I watched them. I must admit I don’t know bugger-all about Fine Cinema. I don’t have any trace of the fanboy otaku fetishization of things Japanese that seems to elevate some of the lamest Japanese culture-crud to cult status. I like David Lynch, and Kubrick, and I like Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch too, but I couldn’t possibly engage you in an intelligent discussion of why. I just do, OK?
Don’t know much about no art, but I knows what I likes.
Still, I do know when something I’ve seen or heard or read has reached into my skull and scrambled the curds around. I walk around in a daze for a couple of days, and then puke up some poetry, or get valve-clearing drunk and bang my head against the wall for a while in search of the reset button.
Those are good things, in case you were wondering.
But Miike’s stuff? That’s a whole other kind of thing.
Here’s a little quote from a book called ‘Agitator — The Cinema of Takashi Miike’ :

“When Kiyoshi accidentally strangles her in his rage, he takes her home and deposits her corpse in the garden greenhouse. He sends the visitor (who has been filming throughout with Kiyoshi’s consent) into the house to fetch some garbage bags, then continues to mark the parts of Asako’s body that he intends to cut off for easier disposal. He discovers that he becomes aroused by the sight of her naked body, then turns to the camera and says he finally discovered the feeling he couldn’t acknowledge before: a desire to have sex. If this is what he repressed, then he has been denying himself since his children were born. The moment when being a parent became more important than being a lover, he conformed to his duty and repressed his desires. The choice to make him rediscover a desire for sex (which he will then naturally act upon because realisation equals liberation) instead of a random other emotion is therefore anything but exploitative. It’s quite the opposite: being true to the character and to the film’s theme.”

Which sounds a little out there perhaps, but defensible in terms of story and character. If it offends you, though, you’d best not read further.
Because that paragraph doesn’t begin to describe what happens later in the scene — or what happened in the previous scene for that matter (in which Asako is raped and murdered by Kiyoshi) — events so simultaneously horrendous and hilariously bizarre that you find yourself dazed by the utter nastiness of it. Kiyoshi begins to have sex with the corpse — filmed in unswerving, all-revealing Miike style — and finds himself unable to, er, withdraw, apparently due to rigor mortis. After the corpse voids its bowels on him during his struggle to disengage, doglike, things proceed to get worse.
Yes, worse.
Miike’s been making movies for a little over a decade, and in that time he’s made more than 40 of them. The half-dozen or so I’ve seen so far have opened up and played a flashlight around in corners of my brain that see the light rarely, if at all. The sex scene, if that’s what you can call it, in the last ten minutes of Gozu, for example, as illuminating as it is of the allusively Lynchian psychological mysteries of the main character, had me, unshockable me, sitting there with jaw literally agape at the imagery. I won’t go into details, since spoilers suck, but it was the first movie I ever went back and watched again immediately after the climactic (and utterly bizarre) finish, looking for the threads that led to it.
If you want scrape your mind raw, and get down deep inside the churning sh-tpool that is our modern global culture, get right into some Miike. If you can laugh at rape and murder, giggle along with necrophilia and dismemberment, this stuff’s for you. Indelible memories of Miike were part of the engine behind my rhetorical flourishes in this piece I wrote up the other afternoon. The twining of sex and violence is a worrisome thing, of course. Every Miike movie I watch leaves me feeling a little guilty for laughing, and a little dirty for watching, I admit. But I also feel a little awestruck at the artfulness and audacity of it all. And once the distorting lens has been removed as the credits roll, the parodies of human viciousness that I’ve been watching have illuminated some things for me.
Miike brings it together pretty well himself, in an interview here :

C: In the torture scenes, the needles below the frame are like having needles stuck into your own eyes.
MT: Yes, I did want the audience to feel it. Particularly Japanese men, wanting to have a nice wife, a pretty wife, and to be happy – it’s something they all want to do. I knew by getting them to sympathise with the character, I could make them feel the pain that he’s going through.
C: Can you tell me about your use of sound to create atmospheres? Like the noise of the piano wires…
MT: When things are being severed, I’m using meat with a similar-type bone. When we were recording the sound, rather than turn up the recording volume, we put the microphone very close, almost in the hole – I wanted the audience to feel the vibrations, coming through.
C: Any other influences?
MT: (grins) I like Monty Python.

I’d recommend you watch a few Takashi Miike movies, but you might hate me afterwards.
[Update : In some kind weird blogospheric serendipity, I see Matt’s just posted something about The Happiness of The Katakuris, which was a Miike remake of a Korean film, The Quiet Family. Weird.]

Trippy Visuals, Man

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. I am so glad you wrote about Miike’s movies! I’m not sure what this says about Australian TV programming standards but all the Miike films I’ve seen so far have been broadcast on the (free-to-air) SBS network. So far, they’ve shown Gemini, Audition and Fudoh: The Next Generation — easily my favorite so far. It’s about a young boy (Riki) who sees his father decapitate his other son (Riki’s elder brother) in a bizarre yakuza atonement ritual. Once Riki is in senior high school he forms a group of students and starts out on a campaign of revenge. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for (same with Audition) and was overwhelmed by Miike’s “artfulness and audacity” (as you so rightly put it).
    Now you’ve inspired me to track down a whole bunch more. Any chance you could get DV to assemble a best ten list (or a best twenty list, given that Miike’s made over forty movies)?

  2. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen about a dozen Miike films. The harder-to-find titles (even as bittorrents) are hard to find with subtitles. Midnight Eye used to have the ultimate Miike filmography, but I think they’ve replaced it with other Miike features…
    Good news is that his cult is now big enough that a clump of titles will be easier to find in the near future. Full Metal Yakuza, Kintaro, and Sabu are all being legitimately released for North American consumption this summer; Blues Harp, Andromedia, Bird People in China, and the Triad Society Trilogy (Shinjuku, Rainy Dog, and Ley Lines) have all had English-language grey-market releases.
    I have not seen Gozu yet. I’m hot to see this one.
    I have not seen Gemini, one of the two great weird films directed by Shinya Tsukamoto (the other was Tokyo Fist). The Miike connection is that Tsukamoto played Ichi’s handler in Ichi The Killer.
    One thing about Miike is that he works fast and on many many projects, so the films aren’t always that tight, but the key scenes are amazing and usually make up for the between-scene transitions that lag.
    I have particular soft spots for Visitor Q (possibly the most gloriously fucked up film ever) and Ichi the Killer (flawed, but full of wonderful and humorously violent ideas). Audition and Fudoh are probably better films per se. These are probably the places to start. Happiness of the Katakuris is just plain fun. And Dead Or Alive is a monumental beast, a typical Miike-style Yakuza film bookended by especially memorable opening and closing sequences (the sequels are good, but less important/ground-breaking) — the Dead Or Alive series is also a big deal because they’re the only films starring both of Japan’s biggest direct-to-video stars; it’s always about the big show-down.
    There’s a lot to say about Miike’s use of violence, and in particular sex-and-violence… I’ve heard him say that he’s not particularly interested in the erotic, in sex as intimacy — it’s more a variation that exists in the other human interactions he’s exploring (violence, power, deference, manipulation, etc.)
    In the end, I find it’s about the imagination of his work. I heard him telling a story about the producers of Ichi the Killer asking him if Miike *had* to have someone being tortured by having skewers stuck through his tongue. He answered, “no, it’s a movie, nothing *has* to happen — it just so happens that the character *wants* to stick skewers in the guy’s tongue…”

  3. Well, I can understand the Monty Python influence, based on your description.

  4. I can definitely see it, after reading the interview…
    Thanks, DV, for the extra info.

  5. Thanks, DV. Now I have a good idea what to look for.
    And you’re right about Gemini, of course. Miike made a documentary (released in 2000) about the making of Tsukamoto’s Gemini (1999).

  6. Ah, Takashi Miike… “artful and audacious” is exactly how I’d describe him and why I like his works. Stavros’ list contain the most important movies so I would add Dead or Alive 2, Fudoh and Full Metal Yakuza to his list to make the “best ten” list. But there’s a lot of other good films to try, like Graveyard of Honour and Rainy Dog.
    Tsukamoto did some more great weird films. Especially Tetsuo, which I see as his most important work. Tetsuo was about the most amazing hour I’ve had while watching a movie- with my mouth agape at the exuberant energy and strangeness on the screen…
    He also acted in Dead or Alive 2. Another interesting link is that yet another director acted in Ichi the Killer – Sabu(Hiroyuki Tanaka) played as one of the bodyguards. His movies are way more tame and “normal” compared to Miike and Tsukamoto’s, but still interesting for people with my tastes in cinema. 🙂
    Monday and Unlucky Monkey are good starters for people new to Sabu.

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