Academic journal article CineAction

Takashi Miike's Cinema of Outrage

Academic journal article CineAction

Takashi Miike's Cinema of Outrage

Article excerpt

   Despite Western art cinema audiences' appreciation of canonical works
   of Japanese cinema as represented by Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi,
   and Yasujiro Ozu, most devotees tend to forget that a popular cinema
   existed during the same period, apart from Toho's original Godzilla
   series, which never gained Western attention until fairly recently
   via cable and DVD/VHS distribution. This cinema co-existed with those
   prestigious works chosen for screening abroad at film festivals and
   art house cinemas. They also had much to say about changing social
   movements within Japanese society in ways similar to those revered
   works. Takashi Miike's films represent the contemporary incarnation
   of this vital populist tradition.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Takashi Miike was born in 1960 and has operated entirely within the excessive realms of a populist Japanese cinema not commonly known to the Western world. Miike grew up in the working-class Kawachi District of Osaka whose multicultural associations contrasted with the usual image of Japanese society as a homogenous world of salarymen and demure wives and daughters. Film was not his first career choice. Enthusiastically devoted to pachinko, motorcycles, and rock music, Miike wished to become a rock singer. However, after attending Shohei Imamura's film school in Yokohama, he began working as assistant director on Imamura's Zegen (1987) and Black Rain (1989) before gradually cutting his teeth as director on direct-to-video films such as Eye Catch Junction (Topuu! Minipato Tai 1991) and making his feature film debut with The Third Gangster (Daisan no Gokundo 1995). Miike has worked continually in film, video, and television, changing from one format to another in a manner inconceivable in the West, where talents are usually confined to a particular area and those who combine multiple artistic aspirations are regarded with suspicion. He often takes over recognized genres within Japanese cinema such as gangster movies, historical dramas (Sabu 2002), and rock movies (Andromeda 1998), working quickly and delivering distinctive excessive touches due to his high speed adrenalin mode of direction. By 1999, Miike had gained international cult status with Audition and Dead or Alive (both 1999), whose western DVD distribution owed much to screenings at international film festivals, gaining him the notoriety of acclaim by "fan boy" audiences. However, despite the fact that he is regarded both at home and abroad as a director of "bad taste" films far removed from the art cinema circuit of his more distinguished predecessors such as Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu, there is much more to his films than the over-the-top qualities hailed by his "fan boy" following. (1)

Takashi Miike's films contain excessive features of cinematic outrage similar to those found in the work of his contemporary Shinya Tsukamoto which often offend Western sensibilities. Born in the same year (1960) in the Shibuya area of Tokyo, Tsukamoto's films such as Adventures of the Electric Rod Boy (1987), Tetsuo (1990), Tetsuo 2 (1991), and Tokyo Fist (1995) extend "body horror" features associated with the films of David Cronenberg to their most grotesque conclusions with lurid, cybernetic images of bodily tranformations evoking contemporary Eastern images of the logical consequences of Freud's worst nightmares. It appears more than coincidental that Miike has cast his contemporary in two of his own films, Dead or Alive 2 (2000) and Ichi the Killer (2001), playing magician Higashino in the first and the devious controller of the title character in the second. Like Miike, Tsukamoto's films have always focused on the family as his recent erotic excursion A Snake in June (2002) reveals. (2) Both directors belong to a popular realm of Japanese cinema using lurid styles and themes in an outrageous manner. Yet, unlike the debased figure of Quentin Tarantino, these directors belong to a specific cultural context suggesting that their chosen style is much more serious than most audiences might believe. …

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