Tag Archives: Takashi Miike

CAPSULE: TAKASHI MIIKE’S “DEAD OR ALIVE” SERIES (1999, 2000, 2002)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Riki Takeuchi,

PLOT: The original Dead or Alive, is a crime/yakuza adventure with a bizarre ending; Dead or Alive 2: Birds involves two hitmen who eventually join forces to kill for charity; and Dead or Alive 3 is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Still from Dead or Alive 2 (2000)

WHY THEY WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The three films in this trilogy are unrelated except that they each star Riki Takeuchi and Shô Aikawa. The best, the original, is the least weird, while the sequels grow increasingly strange, but drop off in quality. They are necessary entries for Miike fans, and worthwhile ones for followers of Japanese extremity and pop-surrealism, but none of the three manage to nail the right combination of weirdness and distinction to earn spots on the List of the Best Weird Movies Ever Made.

COMMENTS: It’s only natural that the first entry in Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy would be the best: otherwise, why try to recapture the magic twice more? Not only is it the pick of the three entries, it also starts with the series’ most memorable sequence: a scorching five-minute heavy metal montage of strippers, cocaine, noodles, blood, gunfire, sodomy, and more blood (and more noodles). This virtuoso sequence is equally thrilling and confusing; but, as it turns out, all of a piece, telling a tale of yakuza warfare between rival gangs. What follows is a relatively straightforward, though densely plotted, crime story, with a Chinese gang facing off against a Japanese gang facing off against the cops. Of course, Miike the provocateur can’t resist throwing in a gag-inducing, scatological prostitute drowning. That’s unnerving, but he ends the tale with a bewildering curve ball that abandons the shaky realism of the previous story altogether in favor of a Looney Tunes apocalypticism. There are no survivors, and the audience may feel scorched, too.

The second installment, subtitled Birds, again moves in an unexpected direction. Rather than rivals on opposite sides of the law, Takeuchi and Aikawa are now hit men who, through incredible coincidence, grew up as childhood friends before independently finding their way into the assassination biz and being assigned to take out the same target. Unexpectedly, Birds almost plays like an art-house drama for the first two acts, striking a nostalgic tone as the two killers return to the island orphanage where they were raised and reconnect with each other and the community. Miike always zigs when expected to zag, so it’ s almost natural that he would follow the adrenaline rush of Dead or Alive with the reflectiveness of Birds. The second film morphs, too, with an impressionistic third act that sees the assassins sprout wings and go on a proceeds-to-charity killing spree that includes a Mexican standoff with a dwarf.

Dead or Alive 3: Final is in many ways the weirdest of the series, but unfortunately suffers from lower production values. On Arrow’s DVD, a note appear before the movie explaining that there are no HD masters of the film in existence and they used the best materials available (which include burnt-in Japanese subtitles for scenes in which characters speak untranslated Chinese and English). Most of the video has a jaundiced yellow-green cast to it, which may have been intentional, but does not make for an attractive visual milieu. The plot is inspired by (to the point where you’re tempted to say “rips off”) Blade Runner, but with Miike twists. In this dystopia, an evil mayor with a skinny sax-playing boytoy enforces homosexuality by the use of medication, and procreation is a crime punishable by death. Aikiwa uses his replicant superpowers smoke cigarettes to the filter in a single inhale and to snatch bullets in midair or redirect them with u-shaped tubing that’s lying around post-apocalyptic Japan. The final battle between Takeuchi and Aikawa is a wire-fu spectacle in an abandoned warehouse which ends in a typically nonsensical, out-of-nowhere fashion with the two molded together into a penile mecha.

“What is this?,” Takeuchi asks of the characters’ predicament at the end of Final. “I don’t know,” Aikiwa responds. “It’s this.” That’s probably as good a description of Miike’s whacked-out movies as you’re going to get. In the supplemental material, the director says, “the films I want to make are ones where I can say, ‘I don’t know how I feel about it as a film, but I like it anyway.'” There’s a punkish “take it or leave it” attitude in the Dead or Alive films, which experiment with logic and narrative from within the most formulaic genres, making Miike something of a grindhouse . The series spans the director’s most fertile and febrile period, from 1999-2002, when he was making up to eight films a year. It’s the period that also brought us such singular atrocities as Audition, Visitor Q, The Happiness of the Katakuris, and Ichi the Killer. I wouldn’t count any of the Dead or Alive films as top-rank masterpieces in the Miike universe, although the first comes close. But they are all expressions of the director’s vision: uncompromising unexpectedness, with one brow held high and the other low.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… for someone on Miike’s wild and amazingly dexterous wavelength, these films represent nirvana: a hit of pure aesthetic cocaine.”–Chuck Bowen, Slant (DVD series release)

286. AUDITION (1999)

Ôdishon

It’s a pretty strange script, he must’ve been taking some really bad drugs when he was writing this stuff.”–Takashi Miike on Daisuke Tengan’s Audition script

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: Seven years after the death of his wife, Shigeharu Aoyama decides it is time to marry again, but he has no idea how to meet an appropriate mate. His movie producer friend comes up with a plan: they will hold a fake audition for a movie role where the widower can secretly interview dozens of women. Aoyama becomes smitten with shy, mysterious Asami and asks her out; but when she disappears just as things start to heat up between them, he goes on a quest to find her, only to discover that his ideal love may not be the innocent creature she seems.

Still from Audition (1999)

BACKGROUND:

  • Based on a novel of the same title by Ryū Murakami.
  • This was only Eihi Shiina’s second acting role, and her first lead, after a career as a model.
  • Along with than the relatively tame 1998 drama Bird People in China, Audition was Takashi Miike’s breakout film, after specializing mainly in yakuza pictures seldom seen outside of Japan.
  • Audition was ranked #21 in Time Out’s 2016 List of the 100 Best Horror Films. and included in Time’s 2007 Top 25 Horror Films.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Poster and cover images always feature Asami holding a syringe, a moment that hints at bad things to come. But the weirder images that sticks in my mind are the shots of the mysterious beauty sitting in her apartment, head down, hair covering her face, telephone within arm’s reach. The implication is that she has been sitting there, motionless, in a trance for the entire time she has been offscreen, just waiting for Aoyama’s call. Also, she has something lying in the background. Something wrapped in a burlap bag…

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Thing in the bag; disembodied tongue; torture hallucinations

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Takashi Miike’s most accomplished film, Audition initially shocks because of how normal it seems, before the director slyly pulls the rug from under our feet and launches us headfirst into a nightmare of pain. Fortunately, a perfectly positioned 13-minute hallucination sequence gives this movie the surreal hook (meathook, as it were) needed to elevate this master of the perverse’s best-made movie onto the list of the weirdest movies ever made.


Trailer for Audition

COMMENTS: Audition‘s broad outline is this: an older man falls for a Continue reading 286. AUDITION (1999)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, DAY 1: 7/17/2016 (“AS THE GODS WILL” WITH TAKASHI MIIKE Q&A SESSION)

I had 30 tabs of Losartan, an unopened bottle of acid reducer, a handful of melatonin, and three half-full bottles of e-liquid. The only thing that worried me was the e-liquid. Health Canada considers them unapproved nicotine delivery devices, and insists I get my nicotine fix from something with a longer history of safety, like cigarettes.

We flew over bat country at 10,000 feet, so that was not an issue. Poor hairy bastards can’t handle the thin atmosphere at 747 cruising altitude.

To cut the preliminaries short, skipping any mention of Newark’s carnitas tacos, I arrived in Montreal in time to pick up my press credentials with 15 minutes to spare, and had time for a much-needed shower before heading off to the night’s big event, a screening of Fantasia Lifetime Achievement Award winner ‘s As the Gods Will, with the director in attendance. It was the Fest’s first sell-out screening, and they weren’t kidding when they advised badge holders to get there forty-five minutes before the scheduled start. Arriving about forty minutes early, I walked past film fans lined up around the block to get the best seats in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium, which must have seated 500. Finding the end of the badgeholders line, which now curled anarchically well beyond the snaked red velvet ropes, I was slightly nervous that I might not make it in, but when the doors opened a few minutes later the ushers clicked me through and I found an excellent aisle seat on the upper tier.

Miike probably could not have dreamed of a more favorable audience before whom to screen As the Gods Will. The buzz from the seats was incredible before the show began, and Miike got a standing ovation when his name was announced. The mostly-Francophone audience howled with laughter at every gore set piece, spontaneously clapped along to a child’s ditty in the middle of the film (a fact Miike later commented on appreciatively), and applauded at the conclusion of every action sequence. Clearly, the audience came in with certain preconceived black comedy expectations. I’m not certain Miike intended every exploding head to be funny—sometimes, you blow out a teenager’s brains to try to bring a sense of urgency to the hero’s predicament. Still, the energy in the room when almost everyone in a huge audience treats the screening like a party is incredible and infectious. It’s a rare moviegoing experience, one that perhaps is not conducive to critical distance, but which nonetheless makes for a hell of a good time.

still from As the Gods Will (2104)Thankfully, the film was up to the audience’s expectations. It’s fast-moving, well-written, gory, funny in spots, and looks fantastic. The spinning daruma doll who shoots laser beams from his eyeballs, Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, DAY 1: 7/17/2016 (“AS THE GODS WILL” WITH TAKASHI MIIKE Q&A SESSION)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida,

PLOT: The Katakuri clan retires to a remote mountain area to run a bed and breakfast, but the place seems cursed, as every guest who stays there dies.

Still from The Happiness of the Karakuris (2001)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: They don’t come any closer to making the List on the first ballot than Katakuris. The only thing that holds it back is a dreadful unevenness, combined with the fact that there are already so many Takashi Miike films either already on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made or still out there in contention.

COMMENTS: The Happiness of the Katakuris begins with a four-minute scene, which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, in which a claymation imp rises from a woman’s soup, falls in love with her heart-shaped uvula, and flies away with it. Unlike the serious and searing Audition, where the director springs the weirdness on an unsuspecting audience in a blistering last act, Miike does not allow anyone here to complain of stealth weirdness. After this bizarro prologue, the story about clan of hoteliers who break out into song whenever their guests die seems refreshingly sane and conventional.

The movie settles down into a narrative after that introduction as we meet the Katakuris: a patriarch and matriarch still very much in love, a feisty grandpa, a son with anger-management issues, and a desperate-for-romance daughter and her love child (who serves as the film’s narrator). The characters are well-drawn and likable, but ill-starred, as the location of their bed and breakfast proves too remote for foot traffic (and also too near an active volcano). When they finally do get a paying customer, he’s only checked in to commit a gruesome suicide (also the occasion for the film’s first musical number). The songs are definitely Karakuris’ high points; the dancers aren’t professionals, but neither that fact nor the unfamiliarity of the language to non-Japanese speakers impedes Miike’s imaginative stagings, which are decorated with simple special effects and colorful, kaleidoscopic green-screen backgrounds. The most memorable moments are a matrimonial fantasy that sends the bride spinning through space with her dashing half-Japanese sailor groom; a disco-ball love ballad between Masao and Terue with the cheesy production values of a 1980s K-tel records commercial; the final number, a direct parody of The Sound of Music; and any time the corpses peek out of their graves and try to dance along.

It may seem strange to criticize a project this deliberately loose and goofy for its aimlessness, but it really is a weakness in this case. Katakuris has energy, but lacks focus. It never decides whether the semi-serious family drama or mordant black comedy is most important, and the claymation action interludes just knock it farther off its axis. There isn’t much of a conclusion, just a series of incidents that eventually fizzle out. It’s much better in its parts, especially the musical numbers, then it is as a whole. But those parts are strange enough to make it a hard-to-forget oddity.

The Happiness of the Katakuris is actually a remake of a Jee-woon Kim’s (non-musical) Korean black comedy The Quiet Family. Miike made it the same year as Visitor Q, an even blacker comedy which also deals with the theme of a “happy” Japanese family. Arrow Video just released a 2-DVD or 1 Blu-ray special edition of the film, although most of the extra features appeared to be recycled from the 2003 Eastern Star DVD release.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As weird movie openings go, this one’s in a class of its own. The rest of Miike’s musical extravaganza isn’t exactly your usual collection of song and dance numbers either.”–Mark Stevens, BBC (contemporaneous)

74. VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

“Some things are truly strange.”–Father from Visitor Q, preparing to commit an unnatural act

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Shungiku Uchida, Ken’ichi Endô, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: Father is a television reporter who was publicly humiliated when he was sodomized on camera by a gang of punks, Mother turns tricks to pay for her heroin habit, teenage Daughter is a runaway prostitute, and Son beats his mom with a riding crop when he’s not being bullied by his schoolmates.  One day, a strange man conks Father on the head with a rock and moves in to stay with the family.  Thanks to his influence Mother and Father gain confidence in themselves, and the family is drawn together, as corpses pile up in their home.

Still from Visitor Q (2001)
BACKGROUND:

  • Visitor Q was made as part of the “Love Cinema” project, where six independent Japanese filmmakers made direct-to-video movies to explore the possibilities of the ne digital video format.
  • According to Miike the film was shot for a mere seven million yen (about $70,000) and completed in one week.
  • There are several times in the film where boom mics are visible.
  • Miike’s  plot owes much to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), in which a mysterious, nameless visitor serially seduces members of a wealthy Italian family.
  • Besides acting, the multi-talented Shungicu Uchida (“Mother”) is also a manga artist, singer, and writer.
  • Visitor Q was one of two winners of the 2010 “reader’s choice” poll asking 366 Weird Movies’ readership to select one film that had been reviewed but passed over for inclusion on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie full of shock after shock, it’s the very last image, a scene of perverse family unity, that turns out to be the most affecting and haunting.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Visitor Q is a baffling parable of perversity.  What starts out as a depraved but unhappy family ends up as a homicidal and unified clan, thanks to the intervention of a mysterious, omnipotent stranger who cracks the father on the skull with a rock and teaches the mother to lactate. Along the way, Miike films the family graphically indulging in every act of sexual deviance he can think of, and even makes up some new ones.

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Short clip from Visitor Q

COMMENTSVisitor Q is a confounding, bewildering movie, and not just because of the Continue reading 74. VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

57. GOZU (2003)

AKA Gokudô kyôfu dai-gekijô: Gozu (full Japanese title)

INDIEWIRE INTERVIEWER: Are there any themes or images you find too upsetting or disturbing to show?

MIIKE: Normal things.”

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Yûta Sone, , Kimika Yoshino

PLOT:  Minami is a journeyman yakuza whose boss Ozaki is going insane, and who has been ordered by higher-ups to see to it that he is killed.  Since Ozaki once saved his life, Minami is conflicted about the assignment; but fortunately, an accident seems to take care of the problem for him.  That is, until the presumptive corpse disappears while he is stopped in a strange town outside of Nagoya, and Minami launches a desperate search for his boss that leads him into a surreal labyrinth of malleable identities.

Still from Gozu (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Gozu was one of five movies the prolific Miike made in 2003.
  • “Gozu” means cow’s head, and the full Japanese title translates literally as Grand Theatre of Perversion and Fear: Cow’s Head (sometimes translated as Yakuza Horror Theater).
  • Like many of Miike’s films, Gozu was originally intended as a direct-to-video release.  A successful Cannes screening got the movie noticed, and it was able to get wider theatrical distribution.
  • Harumi Sone, who plays the small role of the Inkeepers Brother, is the father of star Yûta Sone, and the executive producer of the film.  He brought the idea of casting his son in a yakuza film to Miike, though it’s reasonable to suspect he had a more traditional film in mind.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a film full of shocking imagery, the obscenely drooling cow-headed man who slowly approaches Minami to lick his face stands out.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDGozu may be the culmination of Miike’s “weird and perverted”

English language trailer for Gozu

phase, loaded with his particular fetishes and combining the two genres he works best in: horror and the yakuza (mobster) film.  With its Eraserhead-like aura of personal alienation and fearsome psycho-sexual nightmares, bizarre identity shifts, and a cow-headed man as a mascot, Gozu‘s weirdness is never in doubt.

COMMENTS:  Sexual repression always makes a good base for a weird movie.  Our libidos Continue reading 57. GOZU (2003)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

Due to popular demand, Visitor Q has been re-evaluated and certified weird, and the review has been updated to a full entry. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Ken’ichi Endô, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: A bizarrely dysfunctional Japanese family—dad is a TV reporter on haitus after

Still from Visitor Q (2001)

being sodomized by interviewees on camera, mom is a heroin addict and part-time hooker, son is bullied at school and beats his mother at home—becomes even stranger and more antisocial after a mysterious stranger shows up in their home.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It’s bizarre indeed, but Visitor Q is more interested in grossing out its viewers than it is in weirding them out.  It’s more a shock movie that’s incidentally weird than a weird movie that happens to be shocking.  The film doesn’t lack for surreality, or its own peculiar kind of quality within its type, but it seems to fit more comfortably into the shock genre than the weird genre.

COMMENTS:  Watching Visitor Q, I found myself wishing Miike had the courage to make the hardcore porn fetish movie that he really wanted to make, instead of pulling his punches by wrapping the psychological nudity in gauzily transparent strips of art and satire.  After all, the movie’s prime showpieces are father-daughter for-pay incest, sodomy by microphone, insanely copious lactation, rape, and necrophilia, all shown with as pornographic a level of explicitness as Miike could get away with (there is genital fogging, though unfortunately in a key scene there is no anal fogging).  In a virtually unshockable age, it would have been truly audacious for the bad-boy director to make an out-and-out porn film without artistic pretensions; as it is, by sprinkling his fetish video with a little redeeming surrealism, all Miike risked with the project was being hailed as the Japanese Passolini.

Visitor Q doesn’t lack either for weirdness or technical quality.  Starting with the latter, Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

CAPSULE: ONE MISSED CALL [CHAKUSHIN ARI] (2003)

DIRECTED BYTakashi Miike

FEATURING: ,

PLOT:  Students begin receiving phone calls from their own cell phones, dated three days in the future; the message is their own voice screaming, and they all end up dead at the appointed time.

Still from One Missed Call [Chakushin Ari] (2003)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Weird director Miike adds a few surreal style points at the end, but it’s too little, too late.  For most of the way, this is standard J-horror territory, and a bit dull to boot.

COMMENTSOne Missed Call begins by ripping off a riff from Ringu (1998), with cell phones replacing videocassettes as the technological bogeyman.  Heaping unoriginality on unoriginality, Miike adds recycled ideas from his own Audition (1999), including a slowly revealed child-abuse backstory and multiple false endings. It all eventual ends up as a standard entry in the supernatural Japanese horror (“J-horror”) genre.  The setup is fine, with the students discovering the mysterious, deadly calls from the future, then figuring out that the spirit that makes the calls selects a new target from the last victim’s stored phone numbers, putting them all at risk—even if they’re on the “Do Not Call” registry.  Anytime a ring tone sounds in the movie thereafter, it could be someone’s death sentence.  After the premise is established, however, the movie bogs down into talky exposition. The next target, psychology student Yumi, and man whose sister was one of the first victims try to trace the calls back to their source, where they presume they’ll find the ghost responsible for all this cellular slaughter.  Along the way there is an effective mixture of suspense and satire when a sensationalist television show broadcasts a live exorcism for one of the doomed souls at exactly the time the killer is supposed to strike, as well as a spooky trip through a haunted hospital.  But the needlessly confusing ending, where Miike suddenly decides to burn his personal weird brand onto a generic piece of genre livestock, is unsatisfying and even frustrating.  By the end—despite heaps and heaps of exposition along the way—the supernatural antagonist’s motives, origins, and perhaps even identity are left unclear.

In a time honored tradition of Japanese horror hit adaptations that stretches back all the way to 2003, One Missed Call was remade as a Hollywood flop (with Ed Burns and Shannyn Sossamon) in 2008.  This is a rare J-Horror the Americans could have actually improved with tighter editing and a streamlined storyline, but critical evidence (an amazing 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer!) indicates otherwise.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…in the final act, when the scene shifts to an abandoned hospital and evil comes out of its closet (or rather oozes out of its vat), we are suddenly in ‘Miike World’… Rationality takes a holiday as Miike sends the film hurling into a surreal universe. For Miike fans, all this will be familiar. For those expecting a generic horror flick, Miike’s imagination may be too out-there for comfort — or understanding.”–Mark Shilling, The Japan Times