istor Q, the 2001 film by Japanese director Takashi Miike, contains one of the most disgusting sequences in the history of commercial movies: When a TV producer, distressed that a former female colleague has dismissed his idea for a new show (the subject: how his bad parenting has led to his son’s routine humiliation by classmates), he kills the woman and has sex with her corpse. Problems arise, however, when rigor mortis sets in and the hapless hero’s member gets stuck inside his victim-slash-lover. Naturally, he calls his wife and kids, who save the day. The sequence is the defining moment in Vistor Q, a parody of a sitcom scene in which an embattled family comes together and learns what love is all about.
Miike has a unique gift for making gruesomely campy moments seem more like provocative social criticism than garden-variety exploitation. Best known in the U.S. for Audition a psychological thriller about a middle-aged widower who organizes an open call for a girlfriend and gets more than he bargained for Miike has become famous in Japan, where he is renowned as the master of the low-budget crime movie. Since 1991, he has directed more than fifty-one feature films (six in 2002 alone). It’s an output unequaled by any major art-house director since Fassbinder hit his drug-addled streak in the early ’70s. (And, like Fassbinder, Miike is responsible for his share of slapdash stinkers.)
This month, U.S. audiences can sample Miike’s action chops via the release of Dead or Alive: Final, the third installment of the wildly popular Final franchise. In addition, Vitagraph Films has launched a traveling three-film retrospective that includes Audition, City of Lost Souls and The Happiness of the Katakuris. I interviewed Miike by email from Japan. Unsurprisingly, he was too busy to promote his work in person. Matthew Ross
Why did you choose to become a filmmaker, and how did you get into the business?
I used to like motorcycles when I was a kid, so my dream job was to be a mechanic. But I felt my plans would be wrecked since I didn’t like taking tests. I wanted to remain a student instead of becoming a member of society, so I went into film school, because it didn’t require you to take a test to get in.
You work at a pace that, to Western standards at least, is almost superhuman. Why do you make so many movies?
When I was an assistant director, I had experience with many different types of directors and many different kinds of sets. I was very busy back then, running from set to set. I still have that feeling; it’s a natural pace for myself. People look at me as abnormal or obsessive, but everybody has their own way to create. The creative side shouldn’t be denied. Films and filmmakers shouldn’t be evaluated within a relative view.
Do you think the quality or character of your work would change if you made only one film a year?
Actually, I hope this will happen. Allow me to say it this way: I don’t make films to protect my individuality or sense of self-worth. On the contrary, I feel that making films is actually an attempt to destroy these things.
What kind of stories are you attracted to?
Something simple. Films should be as simple as life: day and night repeat, and finally death will confront you.
Do you consider yourself an exploitation director?
I think so, but that’s just one chess piece. It’s the same answer as before. You can expect different forms of exploitation, depending on what kinds of films you make and whom you work with. But I don’t try to be exploitative. If you become bankable, people want you to do the same thing next time. That repetition can make filmmaking unpleasant.
Much of your work confronts the idea of genre, either by taking existing genres such as the crime movie or art film and pushing them to their ultimate extremes, or perverting existing genres like the family melodrama. How do you explain your approach to genre? Is the notion of genre something you even believe in?
Apparently audiences require “genre,” and so it was born. But one can’t deny its existence it’s just a process of reality. Because of that, I don’t need to protect or deny the genre. “Destroying” genre is allowed as long as you respect what people have done in the past.
Audition was adapted from the novel by Ryu Murakami. I’ve heard some rumors that you may also adapt Murakami’s cult novel Coin Locker Babies. Is that still happening?
I have heard that rumor as well. I’ve got to make a confession. I started that rumor. That’s why it exists. But it’s just a rumor.
What are your future projects? Do you plan on taking a break anytime soon?
I’m making a film about farmers and ninjas and stuff, but it’s not samurai. Regarding a break: I try not to think about it, because I’m a natural-born lazybones. I’m afraid to be idle.
Many of your films contain extreme subject matter. What is it that attracts you to rendering shocking moments on screen?
When I discard my foolish ambition to please others, my films become shocking. Why would such events happen? That’s exactly what I want to know.
Do you ever take into consideration the audience’s reaction? Do you even consider the audience when making your work?
If I say I’m not conscious of the audience, it’s a lie. Audiences always exist in my head. However, I blend into that audience as well, but I’m in the best seat. I threaten myself: “Entertain me!”
Why do you think your films have become so popular in Japan?
Am I popular in Japan? I didn’t know about that.
Why do think you’ve finally begun to attract a more global following? Has it changed your approach to filmmaking?
Do I attract attention? That’s no good.
Japanese film is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in world cinema. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure) and Hideo Nakata (the Ring series) have also begun to build international audiences. How would you explain this trend?
All is vanity. It’s a short-lived dream; a bubble. However, a dream is the best nutrition for living. Anyone who has eaten a feast once will hate a simple meal. I hope Japanese movies won’t become basehearted in the future. n°
Top image: Eihi Shiina in Audition. For more information about Dead or Alive: Final or this winter’s Miike retrospective, visit Vitagraph Films here.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Matthew Ross is a filmmaker and the managing editor of Filmmaker magazine.|