Takashi Miike: You Can't Make 100 Films Without Breaking Some Blood Vessels
Japanese director Takashi Miike makes films with a fury. Over the course of his highly prolific and iconic career he’s unleashed rivers of blood, gleefully transgressed every taboo in the book, and has shocked and delighted in equal measure. The release of his latest film, the beautifully gory samurai vengeance story/unlikely buddy tragicomedy Blade of the Immortal, marks a milestone few directors can claim: he now has 100 films under his belt.
Within those reels he’s dipped into nearly every genre—horror, drama, comedy, family-friendly adventure flicks—but his specialty is psychologically intricate and gratuitously violent horror films with subject matter that few directors (or audiences) have the stomach for, on display in the groundbreaking Ichi the Killer and in the shocking and deeply influential Audition.
Part of Miike’s allure is his total refusal to compromise his vision, which is unexpectedly the product of a unique flavor of humility. His unsentimental conception of the role that film (and, by extension, directors) play in society is closer to that of a mechanic than a shaper of tastes or a lofty transmitter of ideas. By his own account he wasn’t a particularly ambitious young man: he enrolled in the Yokohama Vocational School of Broadcast and Film because it didn’t have an entry exam and he wanted to get out of his mother’s house, and he’s claimed that he would have preferred racing motorbikes at that age than making movies.
But film turned out to be a good fit for Miike’s restless energy. He famously takes up just about every project that comes his way, but he puts his inimitable stamp on everything he touches. He’s not out to change minds or people-please. He’s here to pursue his idiosyncratic vision and his love of the craft wherever it takes him. We spoke to Miike on the eve of the release of his 100th film:
Many directors like to treat their work, and therefore themselves, as being extremely important and very high-minded. You seem to have a more humble view of moviemaking and the role of a director. Do you think that is true? If so, why?
It’s not really humility so much as I don’t have conviction. Instead of seeking out ideals, I let go of myself to devote to filming. I pay no attention to my own preferences/personality. Isn’t it that your underlying, inner self that you yourself don’t know about (or don’t even want to know about) is branded into the film with this method?
Does a film have a responsibility to convey a message? Or is entertainment for the sake of entertainment a valid goal in itself?
I don’t like that word, “responsibility.” It's a word uttered by conceited people. Movies are supposed to be more liberating. Beside there’s nothing in the world that doesn’t convey a message and movies are the same. There’s nothing that exists that is without value; intentionally inserting that (value) is a dirty thing in my opinion.
Your films often seem to have a sense of nostalgia for the days of childhood. Are you a nostalgic person? Do you think one era of life is better than any other?
As a child, I was happiest being immersed in delusion/imagination. At 3, I was able to shoot beams from my eyes. At 5, I was freely soaring the skies. I went all the way to space.
However, from the time I entered primary school, my flight altitude gradually got lower and lower, and by the time I moved up to middle school, I was only able to just get off of the ground slightly. My imagination started to run away towards the lull of reality… In other words, the movies exist upon an extension of that [imagination].
The theme of this issue is “Reflection”. What does that word bring to mind for you?
In the midst of darkness, a faint twinkling star. It’s hope and despair, is it not?
Do you think that violence can be beautiful? Why do you think you gravitate towards violence as a tool for expression?
You can’t deny the beauty in violence when considering the physicality of everything. Of course, the goal isn’t to just portray violence. However, perhaps humans can’t be accurately depicted without violence.
Now that you’ve completed your 100th movie, do you find yourself looking back on your career? How do you think your perspective towards film-making has changed over the course of time? In what ways do you think it has remained the same?
I can’t not look back at my career when everyone keeps telling me “100 movies,” “100 movies.” Still, even when I look back, I only see myself tomorrow standing there yesterday, unchanged. I guess the only thing that has changed is my face into an old man and my disappearing muscles...
What do you think a movie, at its best, should do for an audience?
That’s up to the audience. Besides, what counts as a good movie for each person is up to the audience anyways.
What were you like as a young person? Do you still see aspects of that person in you today?
Lazy. That hasn’t really changed. If I wasn’t lazy, 15 films would have been my life’s work.
What drew you to the Blade of the Immortal project? How do you know when you want to take a project on, or adapt material for a film?
I think it’s an excellent manga. People die inevitably no matter how much they struggle to survive so I try to capture the beautiful moments rather than the length [of life]. Even in all that, the man who doesn’t die: Manji. I am very interested in where and what he is protecting at each moment.
What character in your films do you feel is the most like yourself? If you were to make a movie about your own life, what type of movie would it be?
Without a doubt comedy. Moreover, comedy you can’t really laugh to. Essentially, a failed piece.
Your films often have a sense of humor, even amidst dark material. Why is a sense of humor important in film, and in life?
It (humor) is not born because of necessity, I think living itself is humorous. We move with all your might, cry, laugh, get jealous, fall in love, get thrown out then stand up. I’m a tiny corner of this vast universe, humans are all “what are you fighting for” … Humans are hilarious. Still, that is why [humans] are amazing.
What is your favorite part of the film-making process?
Editing… Maybe? No, filming? But script writing is there too… Basically everything.
Would you make a movie even if you were the only one who would ever see it?
I’d probably still do it. Rather, it might actually be blissful. It means I don’t have to mind the producers, actors, or even the audience right? That’s great. Let’s set the budget Hollywood-style!
Have you ever felt insecure as a filmmaker? How did you overcome that feeling?
Not limiting myself to film-making, I’ve never done anything with [full] confidence. That being said, I’ve never felt uncertainty with it. I have the Osaka spirit of “Isn’t life meaningful just living?”
What do you hope your future looks like as a filmmaker and as a person?
The scale of that question is so big that it’s impossible to answer. Besides, is there even a tomorrow for me?
Written by Sid Feddema
Photographed by Françios Cavelier