Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Icon Of The Month: Takashi Miike

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That's right, this month the fantastic Takashi Miike, is my icon of the month.


Miike was born on August 24, 1960 in Yao, Osaka, Japan, an area inhabited by the working class and immigrants. His family was originally from Kumamoto Prefecture. During World War II, his grandfather was stationed in China and Korea, and his father was born in Seoul. His father worked as a welder and his mother as seamstress. 

His main interest growing up was motorbikes, and for a while he harboured ambitions to race professionally. At the age of 18 he went to study at the film school, primarily because there were no entrance exams. By his own account Miike was an undisciplined student and attended few classes but he graduated from Yokohama Vocational School of Broadcast and Film (Yokohama Hōsō Eiga Senmon Gakkō) under the guidance of renowned film-maker Shohei Imamura, the founder and Dean of that institution.


When a local TV company came scouting for unpaid production assistants, the school nominated the one pupil who never showed up: Miike. He spent almost a decade working in television, in many different roles, before becoming an assistant director in film to, amongst others, his old mentor Imamura. 

Miike's first films were television productions but the "V-Cinema" (Direct to Video) boom of the early 1990s was to be Miike's break into directing his own films, as newly formed companies hired eager young film-makers willing to work cheap and crank out low-budget action movies. Miike still directs V-Cinema productions intermittently due to the creative freedom afforded by the less stringent censorship of the medium and the riskier content that the producers will allow.



However it was "Shinjuku Triad Society" (1995) that was the first of his theatrical releases to gain public attention. The film showcased his extreme style and his recurring themes, and its success gave him the freedom to work on higher-budgeted pictures. 

"Shinjuku Triad Society" is also the first film in what is labelled his "Black Society Trilogy", which also includes "Rainy Dog" (1997) and "Ley Lines" (1999). His international breakthrough came with "Audition" (1999) "Audition", and since then he has an ever expanding cult following in the west.


Then came along the violent yakuza epic "Dead Or Alive" (1999), and his highly controversial adaptation of the manga "Ichi The Killer" which played at international film festivals. He's also released "Visitor Q" (2001) and the "Dead Or Alive" Trilogy completed by "Dead Or Alive 2: Tôbôsha" (2000) and "Dead Or Alive: Final" (2002).

The release of "Ichi the Killer" (2001) was quite controversial due to it's ultra-violent nature. Adapted from a manga of the same name and starring Tadanobu Asano as a sadomasochistic Yakuza enforcer. The extreme violence was initially exploited to promote the film: during its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, the audience received "barf bags" emblazoned with the film's logo as a promotional gimmick (one typically flamboyant gory killing involves a character slicing a man in half from head to groin, and severing another's face, which then slides down a nearby wall).


However, the British Board of Film Classification refused to allow the release of the film uncut in Britain, citing its extreme levels of sexual violence towards women. In Hong Kong, 15 minutes of footage were cut. In the United States it has been shown uncut (unrated). An uncut DVD was also released in the Benelux.

In 2005, Miike was invited to direct an episode of the Masters of Horror anthology series. The series, featuring episodes by a range of established horror directors such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and Dario Argento, was supposed to provide directors with relative creative freedom and relaxed restrictions on violent and sexual content (some violent content was edited from the Dario Argento-directed episode "Jenifer"). 


However, when the Showtime cable network acquired the rights to the series, the Miike-directed episode "Imprint" was deemed too disturbing for the network. Showtime cancelled it from the broadcast lineup even after extended negotiations, though it was retained as part of the series' DVD release. Mick Garris, creator and executive producer of the series, described the episode as "amazing, but hard even for me to watch... definitely the most disturbing film I've ever seen"

While Imprint has yet to air in the United States, it has aired on Bravo in the UK, on FX in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela, on Nelonen in Finland and on Rai Tre in Italy. Anchor Bay Entertainment, which has handled the DVD releases for the Masters of Horror series in the US, released Imprint on R1 DVD on September 26, 2006.


Miike has garnered international notoriety for depicting shocking scenes of extreme violence and sexual perversions. Many of his films contain graphic and lurid bloodshed, often portrayed in an over-the-top, cartoonish manner. Much of his work depicts the activities of criminals (especially Yakuza) or concern themselves with non-Japanese living in Japan. He is known for his dark sense of humour and for pushing the boundaries of censorship as far as they will go.

Despite his notorious reputation, Miike has also directed movies in a range of genres. He has created lighthearted children's films ("Zebraman" and "The Great Yokai War"), period pieces ("Sabu"), subdued pictures such as the road movie "The Bird People In China", a teen drama ("Andoromedeia"), a farcical musical-comedy-horror in "The Happiness Of The Katakuris", and even a video game adaptation in "Ace Attorney". Other less controversial works include Agitator, a character-driven crime drama.


While Miike often creates films that are less accessible and target arthouse audiences and fans of extreme cinema, such as "Izo" and the "Box" segment in "Three... Extremes", he has created several mainstream and commercial titles such as the horror film "One Missed Call". Miike claims that "Starship Troopers" is his favorite movie and that he admires film directors Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Gosha,  David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and Paul Verhoeven.

He has gained a very strong cult following in the West that is growing with the increase in DVD releases of his works. His film "Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai" premièred In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. His 2013 film "Straw Shield" was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.



"I can only work realistically while wanting to depict something unrealistic". - Takashi Miike

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