5 Essential Takashi Miike Films
by Nav Qateel
This is a selection of films from the master of weird, Takashi Miike. If you’ve recently seen a Miike film and have caught the bug, you may want to work your way through this list of movies from the Japanese auteur. Miike has made almost 100 films but the vary wildly in style and quality, as the filmmaker races through so many at breakneck speed. The 5 films listed are the movies I consider to be essential viewing for anyone interested in the controversial filmmaker, and they also demonstrate Miike’s broad range and talent. When it comes to Asian Extreme Cinema, you don’t get any better than cult director Takashi Miike. The film’s are in no particular order.
Audition was Miike’s first major success outside of his native Japan, and I consider it to be among his best. It tells the story of Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi, The Grudge), a middle-aged TV producer and widower, who’s persuaded by his friend to hold auditions for a TV show, so he can meet a suitable woman for companionship. When the beautiful Asami (Eihi Shiina, Tokyo Gore Police) turns up, Aoyama is instantly smitten, but the quiet girl turns out to be a very scary prospect. When Asami finds a photo of Aoyama’s dead wife, and thinks she’s been deceived, the jealous psycho will stop at nothing to get her revenge. Audition is a good example of Miike’s style and while it may be a tad too long, this is one all Miike fans have to see.
Ichi the Killer (2001)
Based on Hideo Yamamoto’s manga of the same name, Ichi the Killer is one of the most violent films you’re likely to come across, with extreme torture being one of its key ingredients. The star of this Miike film is the iconic Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, who is known for 47 Ronin and the Thor franchise. Asano plays yakuza enforcer Kakihara, who is hunting for his missing boss. Kakihara is an extreme sadomasochist and when he learns there’s another killer out there by the name of Iche; a man sicker than even he, Kakihara is determined to track him down. Ichi the Killer is non-stop action where anything and everything goes. Out of all of Miike’s many films, Ichi the Killer is the one most people know the filmmaker for.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
This is way different for Miike but it still has his trademark weirdness. It tells the story of the Katakuris family who have a guest house in the mountains where hardly anyone comes to stay. When the occasional guests do finally start arriving, they each die under bizarre circumstances. The guest house was opened up in that location because the father believed a new road would be built, bringing in lots of business. Instead, the four generations of Katakuris’ struggle from one disappointment to another and from one musical number to another, as we get to witness them burst into song at the most inopportune of times. There’s also claymation thrown in for good measure, along with dancing zombies and karaoke making this one of the most satisfying and strangest films you’re ever likely to come across. This is an absolute blast and a must see for anyone wanting to sample something by Miike that has less bloodshed than his usual fare.
Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)
Sukiyaki Western Django is a mixture of genres and like so many Miike films that just shouldn’t work, it somehow does. In this rootin-tootin samurai-western, two families feud while a new stranger in town watches to see which side he should align with. Corbucci’s Django has inspired a lot of people, with Miike and Tarantino among them. The inspiration it had on this film is abundantly clear. Quentin Tarantino is a huge Miike fan so it was only fitting that he should have a role in this one. Unfortunately, the part called for him to put on a deliberately fake Japanese accent which was embarrassingly bad, even for QT (no more Aussie accents, please!) What sort of balanced it out was the fact that the film was shot in English with very few of the actors even understanding what they were saying. This was a nod to the Spaghetti Westerns’ that had actors giving a rough approximation of their dialogue, which would be later dubbed over with English-speaking actors performing the lines. Here, Miike decided to simply leave the phonetically-delivered dialogue, just the way it was, and as such subtitles are a must to understand the majority of what’s being said. Sukiyaki Western Django is like, not only a blend of Samurai and the Wild West, but also Miike’s cheapest and most expansive movies combined.
13 Assassins (2010)
13 Assassins demonstrates what Miike is capable of and just how skilled the director really is. 13 Assassins is a remake of the classic Jûsan-nin no shikaku from 1963, and it tells the story of a brutal feudal lord who’s threatening to bring down the shogunate with his crazy behaviour. He has no regard for the lives of his subordinates or their suffering. 13 samurai swear an oath to put an end to the Lord’s raping and murdering. To get us to hate this cruel Lord, Miike pulls no punches. Doing what he does best, Miike shocks the audience by letting us see one of the victims. A strange-looking woman is sitting on the floor and when her kimono is removed to reveal he naked body, we can see she’s far from complete. Arms, legs, tongue and presumably several other items have been cut from this poor woman’s body. We also get to see a young family being used as target practice as the Lord shoots them with arrows. Of course, this serves to help create and stir our emotions, so we can root for our 13 heroes. 13 Assassins lets the Miike naysayers know, he too can make great movies if he puts his mind to it. But I would argue that even the cheapest and roughest of his films, are potentially great.
With so many movies to choose from it’s hard to know exactly where to begin with Takashi Miike, but I hope this short list will point you in the right direction. If you find you enjoy any two from this list, then it should be safe to assume you’ll enjoy many Miike films. Takashi Miike is certainly an acquired taste but if you’re willing to experiment a little and take a chance, you’ll find no other filmmaker who’s quite as rewarding.
You can find all of Miike’s films listed here.