As part of our Asian cinema season, Diabolique is focusing on specific directors for themed weeks, dissecting a selection of their filmographies. This week is dedicated to Takashi Miike, and the team has collaborated on a group article that slices open the wounded, saturated, and visceral body of his films to provide a unique insight into their personal relationship with his works.
Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006)
Takashi Miike’s work is most notorious for its flare for the violent and graphic, in everything from Audition (1999) to Ichi the Killer (2001) to Sukiyaki Western Django (2007). The man’s certainly got style when it comes to blood; however, for me, his use of color and spirituality sets him apart from other gore masters as a true artist. No film typifies this better than Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006), also known as 4.6 Billion Year Love (46-okunen no koi).
An adaptation of Ato Masaki’s novel Shonen A ereji, Miike presents the journey of Jun (Ryuhei Matsuda) and Shiro (Masanobu Ando), two young men serving prison sentences. Both convicted murderers – Jun brutally murdered his rapist, while Shiro raped and murdered a woman – the two develop a close bond that progresses from friendship to obsessive love to a deep, spiritual connection involving the conquest of the self to become an individual worthy of enlightenment and self-acceptance. At the center of the film is a mystery: Jun has killed Shiro, and investigators are attempting to discern motive.
This film moves me in a way that is both difficult and profound to describe. Miike’s use of reds and whites in this film impact me in a way that both soothes and causes a deep longing for aesthetic beauty to turn into something less tangible. Each shot provides something beautiful, despite the stark subject matter – after all, this is a film about hopeless, violent cases. I find that when I watch this film, something within me is stirred to the point of silent, contemplative emotion that makes me question not only the nature of salvation for Jun and Shiro, but if there is such a hope for me as well.
In the end, Big Bang Love, Juvenile A doesn’t have to be violent or gory. It leaves me in a pensive state whilst simultaneously appreciating the beauty contained in the surrounding world. That, my friends, is the hallmark of an artist. No gimmicks, no brash headline-grabbing – simply, art.
Fudoh: The New Generation (1996)
During the early ‘90s, Takashi Miike cut his teeth as a director working in the V-cinema market, releasing a slew of basic genre films, predominantly in the action and crime genres, that have since faded into obscurity for the most part. The rise of direct-to-video cinema allowed new filmmakers in Japan to emerge and find work catering to a booming market, and this allowed for Miike to hone his craft as he gradually found his voice. As Tom Mes highlights in his brilliant book, Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike, Miike grew into his art over time, though during his V-cinema years, he did show glimpses of what he would go on to become (35).
By the time Gokudô sengokushi: Fudô (Fudoh: The New Generation) was released in 1996, Miike already had a theatrical release to his name with Shinjuku kuroshakai: Chaina mafia sensô (Shinjuku Triad Society, 1995). Like that film, Fudoh: The New Generation was originally intended for the V-cinema market, but it made its way to theatres and continued his transformation into the filmmaker we know him as today. Based on Hitoshi Tanimura’s, it tells the story of a gangster Riki (Shosuke Tanihara) who recruits a group of youngsters to help him avenge the death of his brother, who was murdered by their mobster father to settle a debt. On paper, it sounds like a cliché vengeance yarn, but if the film showed anything it was that Miike was a genre maverick in the making. Like the hard-edged and bizarre genre films that earned him his worldwide reputation, Fudoh: The New Generation is full of graphic violence, deviant sex and a bizarre, twisted sense of humour.
Fudoh: The New Generation is also a coming-of-age tale of sorts, as it explores a group of young people facing adulthood with violence serving as a metaphor for their post-adolescence. As Mes states, similar themes were explored in Kenka no hanamichi: Ōsaka saikyō densetsu (The Way to Fight, 1996) and Jingi naki yabô (1996), and they also featured in latter work, like the glorious high school shoot em’ up Aku no kyôten (Lesson of the Evil, 2012). Furthermore, the film also explores Japan’s generational gap and alienated youth culture during the ‘90s recession years, which saw youth crimes escalate and detachment from everyday society increase. Beneath the outlandish elements that the film is best remembered for, Fudoh: The New Generation reflects some of the problems evident in Japan’s ‘Lost Decade’ – especially among young people.
Overall, Fudoh: The New Generation might not be Miike’s best work, but it’s a fascinating film nonetheless. It is the product of a filmmaker who was really starting to find his voice, and a significant step towards his subsequent legacy as one of the finest auteurs to ever emerge from the East.
Lesson of Evil (2012)
I’m a latecomer to the Takashi Miike party, having only seen my first Miike movie in 2014 courtesy of Mr Billy Chainsaw’s underground film club. ‘We haven’t seen a movie with buckets of blood for a while now’, Billy said in introduction to Lesson of Evil (2012), and he certainly wasn’t kidding about the buckets of blood!
The subject of Lesson of Evil is the young and charismatic English teacher Mr Hasumi (Hideako Ito) who arrives at his new school and quickly sorts out an exam cheat ring as well as preventing the games teacher from sexually abusing one of the female students. However Hasumi is not the great teacher we would all have liked to be taught by; soon he is bedding the girl himself, he has the whole school bugged so he can blackmail both staff and students, and a complaining parent is incinerated in a surprise house fire.
A botched attempt to frame the games teacher for the faked suicide of his teenaged mistress, and being linked to a chain of suicides at another school drives Hasumi over the edge and he starts loading cartridges into his shotgun just in time for the school sleepover party,
At just over two hours I found Lesson of Evil took a while to get going, but once the sleepover massacre kicked in Miike really hit his stride. Galloping through a completely frenzied half hour of expertly choreographed bloody mayhem, the film raced to its frenzied conclusion.
Nicely lit and shot, the extensive use of Kurt Weil’s Mack the Knife (both jazz and Weimar variations) as Hasumi carries out his wicked deeds is a sound design masterstroke. Although nothing else in this film was quite as disturbing as the sight of the games teacher sitting at a drum kit.
My first proper and soul staining introduction to Takashi Miike was the methodical dark drama Audition (1999). I was introduced to this film as a part of a 3:06 minute discussion piece during Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments back in 2004. I was always taken by horror in different ways, so when I found this mini-series, I watched each episode, engulfed by each film on the list as I was listening to icons, legends and selected masters discussing the impact of each film. As we entered the final episode, we came upon the only Asian genre entry out of the 100 films and scary moments.
Audition at #11 appeared as filmmaker Eli Roth spoke, a violin score played and a unique beauty covered in a dress and leather apron held a needle ready to insert. Personalities like John Landis, Rob Zombie, Linda Marotta and Roth discussed as well as cringed and gasped over the uncomfortable power this film has, over the visuals of Asami (Eihi Shiina) slowly luring the unsuspecting Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) into her web of torture and gleeful sadism.
Watching the video clip of the phone ringing as Asami stares at it, her posture unflinching with a sudden breath of silence that crashes with the roll of the sack… It infatuated me, got under my skin, creeped me out and made me want more! Upon that experience, I went out immediately and purchased a copy of the film which was the dark gateway to my love of Asian horror. Films like Infection (2004), Ab-Normal Beauty (2004), Oldboy (2003), Living Hell (2000), Dark Water (2002), The Eye series and more became my nightly viewing. More than a decade later, it is one of my top five Asian horror films, and is just as effective now as before.
With this film’s influence, I have staged photo shoots, collected different copies of the film and poster art (including a framed one-sheet in my office), been engulfed by reading material, and more. In 2015, I had was lucky enough to watch Audition on the screen at the Ithaca Fantastik film festival in Ithaca, New York. It was more than I could have ever dreamed as the sound of the film, texture on the screen, cultivation of the cautionary tale and the reaction of the audience (with a majority who never had seen it but only heard of its infamy) made for an experience as a horror fan that I treasure. The power of this film, the ability to frighten and create unease in the strongest fans shows the craftsmanship of Miike and the legend of this film.
No stranger to controversy, Takashi Miike’s Imprint, his notorious entry in Showtime’s short-lived Masters of Horror series (2005-07), was banned from cable broadcast in the U.S. for being “too disturbing”. The episode is based on an award-winning story Bokke kyote/Too Scary by Shimako Iwai (aka Shimako Takeuchi), an author, filmmaker, and television personality recognized for her provocative storytelling and brazen attitude. With the equally audacious Miike at the helm, her bleak source material (adapted by screenwriter Daisuke Tengan) is actualized into the director’s grotesque and truly unsettling vision of human ruin. Miike’s effort is layered with subtext that broadens the piece beyond the sensational depictions of torture that draw the most attention; the film functions as a voice for victims – particularly vulnerable women – perilously overlooked during a period of immense cultural change.
In Nineteenth Century Japan, a boatload of men approach a remote island enshrouded in mist in the hopes of finding a brothel housed ashore. The boat’s most conspicuous passenger is Christopher (Billy Drago), an American journalist in search of a lost love called Komomo (Michié) whom he seeks to make good on a promise to return with her back home. Upon reaching their destination, they encounter the bloated corpse of a pregnant young woman floating in the water to which most of the men respond callously – their attitudes galvanizing the grim tone set by Miike from the outset.
In these initial goings, we are led to believe Christopher will be the focal point; Imprint, however, is unmistakably a story of women, specifically the subjugated inhabitants of the island – a place of “demons and whores” – who serve as prostitutes for a cruel Madam (Toshie Negishi). Christopher is distraught to learn of Komomo’s death from a disfigured young woman (Youki Kudoh) who explains that she ended her own life after losing hope in his rescue. The skeptical Christopher, drunk from sake and eager for a “bedtime story”, pushes her to confess the truth. Through revised versions of her story, she reveals her own devastating past and ties to Komomo’s tragic fate.
Imprint exceeds its reputation as a disturbing work of fiction, a gut-punching Kaidan modeled after Akira Kurosawa’s Rashômon (1950) in which the viewer is given three differing accounts of the same story. Miike uses Iwai’s desolate foundation as a platform to address issues of exploitation and abuse experienced by the women, as well as an opportunity to comment on changes in Japanese culture as the two hundred century Tokugawa shogunate rule fell, and the country opened up to Western trade. It’s no accident that deeply troubling scenes of torture share connectivity with crude methods of child-birth and abortion depicted in the film, particularly the employment of rope and fabrics used for hanging and binding human bodies, as well as needles that painfully probe and prod. Impending modernism had yet to rescue women from these brutal methods, and Komomo’s story – as elusive as it appears – is the device through which the viewer witnesses the cruel hopelessness that persisted; she represents the whole of Japanese womankind, and suffers considerably as a result.
Despite utter gloom, Imprint is rich in exotic atmosphere, exquisite costuming, and remarkable period detail enveloping the characters. That a film exhibiting such uncompromising agony can resonate so elegantly is a testament to Miike’s undeniable artistry. The film ends on a stunning ambiguous note that leaves the uncertain viewer rattled to the core as one of Miike’s most nihilistic displays of fathomless suffering, cultivating an important cultural history lesson from the macabre.