Even in a cinematic landscape now well-smeared with blood and violence, Japanese filmmaker, Takeshi Miike, is another proposition altogether. His films pulsate with an originality and intensity all too rarely glimpsed on-screen. Ichi The Killer (2001), the insanely violent film based on the Manga comic of the same name, is Miike’s most notorious flick, and with good reason. Even serial killers would have to admit that Ichi is a violent spatter-fest that raises gore to a surreal art. The confounding thing about Miike is that he can make a zany blood-filled epic like Ichi but also create a quiet, thoughtful piece like The Bird People In China (1998), action-packed Yakuza flicks like Dead Or Alive (1999), a totally unique, twisted vision of family life in Visitor Q (2001) and even a romantic movie, albeit one with a deeply deranged and twisted third act, in Audition (1999). In fact, judged on his work alone, Miike is probably one of cinema’s most mysterious modern personalities. After all, what kind of mind could produce such disparate visions, yet imbue them all with such intensity?
In Australia, most of us have been introduced to your work through Ichi The Killer and Audition. But when did you get your start as a director and how did it all begin?
“I started directing in 1990, when I was about 28-years-old. But before that I had been working in television and direct-to-video movies in various roles, as a runner and eventually an assistant director. But my beginning was in ‘street videos’ [low budget, straight to video Japanese productions.]”
Was it always your ambition to direct, or is this something that came relatively late in life?
“I never had so-called ambition and I still don’t! I started out as an assistant director and the reason I became a director was because there was nothing else that I could do. There is a different system in Japan to the US and Europe, I think. During my ten years as an assistant director, I acquired many skills to help me make films, but I still don’t have this ambition you talk about.”
Would you say you have a distinct style of filmmaking? Is there a unique Miike style?
“I’m like any director – I take what I am given. I take any work. I even work with producers I have never worked with before. I think it’s fate if someone calls me and wants me to direct. I appreciate the fact that someone has called me. I don’t seek to create a conscious style but I think, in a way, that works in my favour.”
Violence seems to play a pivotal role in much of your work. Why is that? Why explore themes of violence and cruelty?
“I make other films as well as the violent ones. I think audiences – both in Japan and elsewhere – look for violent scenes from ‘Director Miike’. Then after they see them, they talk about them and I become known for my violent scenes. Really, I make all kinds of films, and not just violent ones.”
Certainly films like Audition and Ichi The Killer have gotten strong audience reactions because of the violent scenes, usually positive ones. Is there another side to this? Do you cop much flak from the media or negative press in Japan about this?
“In Japan, large scale movies get attention from reviewers but not really the kind of films I make. There are alternative reviewers who see them but they usually respond in a positive way. They might remark that the film is violent but that’s it. It’s much more a western thing, I think, to have this kind of attention.”
Ichi The Killer is a totally unique film, and vastly different to Audition and even more so to The Bird People In China – which is almost a fairytale. Not many directors vary themselves so much. What directors do you think you are like, or have been inspirations to you?
“The major difference with me from other directors is that I’m not a big movie fan. I watch more movies now, but really – not very many. Also, I don’t work in Hollywood – I work in Japan. It’s a completely different system. I don’t normally think about other films or other directors when making a movie. I think perhaps that makes me different from a lot of directors.”
Visitor Q is a very taboo-busting film [dealing with incest, rape, paedophilia and numerous other touchy subjects]. Is it important for you to explore taboos and break boundaries, or was this just a job that was given to you?
“Rather than break taboos, I want to talk about how this movie has been made. It was the lowest budget I have ever taken and due to this fact it was like an adventure. The only cue from the producer that I was given was that it was a movie about love. I wrote the story in three days without worrying about what to write or what not to write. So it was more of a result of how the movie was made rather than an attempt to break taboos or anything like that.”
Which of your films has satisfied you the most artistically?
“Visitor Q is actually my favourite, because it’s experimental and afterwards I realised a movie can be made with a very low budget. I didn’t have to worry about ratings, or audiences, so I was very free with this movie and as a result it was very satisfying.”
Will there ever be an Audition sequel?
“Basically as a director I would rather create a new work rather than continue a story already made. For instance, I would never make a sequel to Audition because the power would be lessened.”
You had a cameo in Eli Roth’s movie Hostel – basically as a tribute to how much he loves your work. How does it feel to know that you have such a varied, and loyal, fan base?
“I am very surprised and very pleased. It is the power of the movies that takes them all over the world. It makes me feel that film is a very powerful medium.”
For newcomers to your films, is there anything you’d say in an advisory capacity or as a word of warning?
“I think if something happens after my films…know that it’s reciprocal. I’m not the only person responsible for my films, so please forgive me and don’t blame me! [laughs]”