Takashi Miike (born August 24, 1960) is a highly prolific and controversial Japanese flimmaker. He has directed over seventy theatrical, video, and television productions since his debut in 1991. In the years 2001 and 2002 alone, Miike is credited with directing fifteen productions. His films range from violent and bizarre to dramatic and family-friendly.
Miike’s theatrical debut was the film ‘The Third Gangster’ (1995). 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 labeled his “Black Society Trilogy”, which also includes ‘Rainy Dog’ (1997) and ‘Ley Lines’ (1999). He gained international fame in 2000 when his romantic horror film ‘Audition’ (1999) his violent Yakuza epic ‘Dead or Alive’ (1999), and his controversial manga adaptation of ‘Ichi the Killer’ (2001) played at international film festivals. He has since gained a strong cult following in the West that is growing steadily with the increase in DVD releases of his works. His latest film ‘Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai’ premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. I reviewed ’13 Assassins’ a week or so ago.
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 black sense of humour and for pushing the boundaries of censorship as far as they will go.
I think his best film is ‘Audition’ (1999), the film has been likened to ‘Misery’ and ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ due to its graphic violence. However, the torture scene in the movie is very brief, and only a few shots show the actual torture, focusing more on Asami’s sadistic enjoyment of it. Among filmmakers featured on Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments” (on which the film appeared at #11), notable horror directors including Eli Roth, John Landis and Rob Zombie found the film very difficult to watch,given its grisly content; Landis said that the film was so disturbing that he couldn’t enjoy it at all. Massive internet movie site, Bloody Disgusting ranked the film fourteenth in their list of the ‘Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade’, with the article saying “Considered by many to be Takashi Miike’s masterpiece, this cringe-inducing, seriously disturbed film boasts one of the most unbearable scenes of torture in movie history… It’s revolting in the best possible way; the prolific Miike goes for the jugular here, and he cuts deep.”
One of his most controversial films was the ultra-violent ‘Ichi the Killer’ (2001), adapted from a manga comic 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 BBFC 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).
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”.