A modern-day master of Japanese cinema.
August 24th marks the birthday of one of Japan’s grand masters of film, Takashi Miike, a director that has not only mastered horror, but all aspects of genre. Today, we look back at the many faces of Takashi as he continues to shock, overwhelm and delight his fans in so many ways.
Takashi was born on 24 August 1960 in Yao, which is a small town on the outskirts of Osaka, Japan. His main interest as a youngster was racing motorbikes professionally. That changed at the age of 18 when he went to Yokohama School, which was founded by renowned director Shôhei Imamura, and studied film. Takashi was offered a position to work in television and gained experience in many roles before becoming an assistant director. His first break was in the ‘90s when he directed his own low-budget films, and in 1995, he released Shinjuku Triad Society, his first theatrically distributed film. From then on, he altered direct-to-video V-Cinema with higher budgets and distributed them on an international scale.
As a teenager, I remember reading all of those wonderful, splatter punk novels back in the ‘80s, books with glorious titles such as Stake, Night Show, The Scream, The Light at the End, and many more. Like a junkie, I would annihilate and consume those novels, always waiting for my next fix.
The same emotions flooded me when I discovered Takashi’s film Dead or Alive, a wonderful Yakuza flick that begins with ferocity in montage cuts. I felt annihilated after just the first few minutes. The film continued into a steadily moving Yakuza crime drama with only an ending Takashi could provide.
Feeling a sudden tremble of guilt when watching Dead or Alive for the first time, a peculiar awareness took hold once again, the horror endorphins reignited as Takashi’s vision engulfed me and I concluded, at that point, that the crime genre could pass as horror.
I walked away from Dead or Alive thinking, “Maybe I’m some wuss who is just used to the usual run-of-the-mill cinema.” This was back when the J-horror scene began, and Asian cinema was relativity new to me at this point in my life.
Horror had, and perhaps always will, give me a sense of vitality, that exhilaration of being alive and experiencing those blood-curdling moments that sends chills down my spine and, more importantly, feeling childlike in the process.
Shortly after, I discovered Shinjuku Triad Society, which also used the familiar formula of the Yakuza cop genre themes, but reconstructed the recipes into something new. Shinjuku Triad Society continued the same deliverance as Dead or Alive.
I felt that this style provoked a need to explore deeper, so I delved more into Takashi’s work. I turned to his masterpiece, Ichi the Killer. For me, Ichi portrayed a higher level of filmmaking – whereas the previous films I’ve seen were the equivalent to a mild, codeine-like substance – Ichi was the true, morphine-based addition to the cannon of his work. The face of Takashi Miike had become a divine vision, a punk rock virtuosity with a certain anti-establishment against the mainstream. A director above the rest. Eli Roth has quoted numerous times on how Takashi’s work is the equivalent of punk rock – hence Takashi’s brief appearance in Hostel – where, even though Takashi cannot speak a word of English, he agreed to make a cameo.
Takashi’s work shows us a magical, mysterious freak show, giving audiences a wonderful world of psycho females, insane gangsters, monsters, a zombie musical and even a remake of Kinji Fukasaki’s Graveyard of Honour, which certainly excelled the original. It is plain to see that Takashi Miike is a master of all genres, including science fiction with God’s Puzzle and body horror with Gozu, a film that plays out like a slow-moving drama injected with bizzaro fiction overtones and a finale that would have any David Cronenberg fan in suspense. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the amazing J-horror entry One Missed Call.
Takashi’s style has a familiar rawness and grind that first started in the pinky violence movies that flooded the Japanese film industry from the ‘60s onwards, with exotic titles such as Go Go Second Time a Virgin, Sex and Fury, Prisoner Scorpio 902, and the many Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) Yakuza crime drama epics and, most notably, the Yakuza Papers. In fact, this series of films inspired William Friedkin’s French Connection, giving birth to a new type of Hollywood crime film in the seventies.
If punk rock films with excessive violence, sex, gore and added dashes of bizzaro are your flavor, I would highly recommend any of the above.
I cannot wrap up this tribute to Takashi Miike without mentioning Audition, the ultimate fatal attraction thriller. Audition, as it stands, is a masterpiece and one of his best thrillers, if not best. Then there is also Imprint, which was produced by Mick Garris for his Masters of Horror series… which was actually banned from the airwaves.
In conclusion, it is impossible to square off the many faces of Takashi Miike or categorize him in one label. His refusal and true will to create summarizes as to why he has never worked in the Hollywood system, and shows his nature to never surrender to the mainstream. Just when you think surrender is inevitable, the grand master of Japanese cinema, Takashi Miike, always delivers a true if not bizarre journey through Japanese culture.