Friday, March 17, 2006

Sick films for a sick-day

(Ok, I'm a little less out of it now... so I did a bit of editing, but the vocab is still pretty broken record. It's interesting when you write something while you are tired or sick and then come back to it later. I guess I just really like the words gleeful and debasment. I'd take away my Pixies listening privileges for a week, but I haven't listened to Doolittle in about a month. Oh well, light headed guy ranting about a a bunch of his films he watched over a few months. If your going to ramble on like a one legged dog at flee circus, might as well be about something no very important)

So I'm sick as a dog and stuck at home for the day with lots of homework to get out of the way. Normally I don't talk much about film on this blog. I figure the cinephile in me gets vented out in enough places that it doesn't need to show its geeky head up here, but seeing as this is related to school I figured what the heck.

I've decided not to do my original project for Eastern Thinking class, which was a report on Buddhist filmmaker Takashi Miike. There are two big reasons, one: I never got hold of a copy of the book Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike, and two: I really got tired of the project. Basically the man made 49 films and 3 TV shows in 11 years, and I tried to watch as many of them as I could hunt down before I got close to the deadline, then write up how he incorporates various Buddhist principles into his creative process and approach to filmmaking. I got through 11 and a half films and about 1/6 of a miniseries.

Miike is an interesting cat. He's in his early 40s but dresses like a cross between a New York gangster and a yakuza (Japanese mafia). He once explained in an interview that his look is due to the popularity among youths in Japan to attack old men.

His work is completely unpredictable. He's like a cross between Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Baz Luhrmann and John Waters. He can make films that are the most morally debased, vile and disturbing things ever imagined, and then turn around and make a wonderful children's film with less trouble than it takes most people to change t-shirts. I don't like all his films, some I hate, but the ones I do like tend to be with a pretty enthusiastic love. He's not for everyone though. In fact, of the people that I know actually read this blog, I would not recommend any of these except Sabu and The Bird People in China. Many of them have sick horrible content, but for someone who is interested in film as much as I am, there is something very interesting about what Miike is doing. Agitator is a perfect title for a book about Miike. He's stirring shit up and making cinephiles think about a lot of things.

Anyway, figured I'd dump the list of ones I saw here with a few "brief" thoughts (it's hard to sum up a reaction to Miike film... unless you just type "WTF!" twenty times bold 40 pt. font.) on each I saw. If you watch one of these I don't want to hear you come crying to me about how it scarred you for life. I've warned you. Many of these films bothered me!


One of the best horror films to come out in 2000 from anywhere! This is one of those horror movies I whip out when I come across someone who thinks nothing can disturb them. Easily one of the best horror movies I've seen since Frailty. Like most movies on this list though, I would not recommend it to many people. When you look at some of the other horror movies that it has inspired (notably Saw and Hostel) the gore is not too terrible. Where Audition triumphs is in character development. The first half of the movie is a romance, with a few very disturbing shots mixed in - that you somehow forget about as you become immersed. The second half of the film takes these characters that you have developed feelings for beyond typical horror movie cleaver fodder, and goes at them with ABSOLUTLY NO MERCY. This is Misery, Fatal Attraction, "Play Misty for Me" and every other movie that ever made men afraid to date women rolled into one... with razor wire. I could write a book about this film. It's the reason I took interest in Miike.


Miike has many times said that two of his favorite American directors are David Lynch and David Cronenberg. These also happen to be two of my favorite directors. On that same twisted level that puts Blue Velvet in my top ten favorite films list... I love this movie. It's got more Freudian surrealist craziness then even Freud could probably handle! For people who like Lynch and Cronenberg this film is a must. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, this film should be avoided like some strange pill that a wild-eyed guy at a basement party offers you.

Ichi the Killer

Along with Audition this was how most Americans were introduced to Miike. Basically the most unbridled (ok there were a few bridals... but they weren't used in a very bridled kind of way!) romp into debased violence one could imagine. The idea was to make a film so violent that to edit it would only make it more disturbing. It's an interesting social experiment (like most of his films) that aims to mess with its audience. There was at least one scene I had to take a break from. At many parts the film seems pretty cool, but then it just goes too far, and it does it with complete consciousness.

The Bird People in China

Took me a while to get back into watching Miike after Ichi. Fortunately this film is a complete change of gears. It's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. It's about a businessman and a yakuza that travel deep into the jungles of China to survey a village that's been cut off from society that has a valuable emerald vein that they plan to mine. As they spend time in the tranquil village they have to come to terms with the fact that what they plan to do will destroy it. It's a very slow film, but with scenery this beautiful, who cares. I'd put it up there with films like At Play in the Fields of the Lord. There's also a great road trip element... and people learning how to fly! As in... without airplanes!

One Missed Call

Miike throws his hat into the now way too over saturated market of J-horror ghosts films like Ringu, Dark Water and Ju-on (The Grudge). His contribution is flawed, a tad slow, but filled with a handful of really great moments. Anyone who can't get enough of that genre should see it. The ending is a decent return to form and the "I'm all alone" scene is pretty startling.


The soul of a brutally executed samurai wanders through space and time as a vengeful force of pure irrationality bent on destroying all existence. He sees reality as a scam put on by false gods, swindlers who bring froth oppression and suffering with their imaginary laws and order. As Izo rages on killing anyone who stands in his way, from the ghosts of those he killed in his past life, the gods themselves, to even his own mother, he strips away more and more of his humanity and becomes a demon.

Expressing an eternity of conflict on film is not an easy thing to do. It gets very repetitive and depressing. The philosophies are extremely nihilistic, yet interesting. Similar to Lost Highway and Waking Life in some respects, it is a wonderful introduction for the states to Japanese folksinger Kazuki Tomokawa who plays a kind of balladeer. Another meaty film to analyze to the moon and back.

Visitor Q

Satire or not, I can't recommend this film to anyone. It looks at the breakdown of the family unit in Japan and explores the cultures obsession with reality television. Right up there with Ichi, it's a gleeful romp through pure an utter debasement. Another film I had to shut off a couple times. This puppy puts John Waters to shame.

Dead or Alive

There's a lot of people that Audition was trying to make some very feminist statements. Miike's work dances a fine line between strong often very maternal women and misogyny. This gets even more blurry when you take into account that many of his films look at characters who are by nature misogynist (like yakuza and other degenerates). This was not a good follow up choice for Visitor Q. There are some extremely cruel people in this that do some very sick things that got in the way of my enjoying the bigger scope of the picture. Although I did enjoy how the ending so blatantly sticks its tongue out at the audience. It doesn't quite give you the finger, but it is truly in the spirit of someone that makes so many movies that they can just mess with their fans from time to time without really pissing them off.

Deadly Outlaw: Rekka

Another V-Cinema (straight to video) over the top gangster film. I like this one because it's more action than debasement. There's a cartoonist glee to it. The terrible acting is pretty funny but the woman that plays the lead's mother is surprisingly good. I haven't recognized her in other films but I hope that someone has given her more work. People that like impossibly huge guns will love this.

The Happiness of the Katakuris

I... love... this... film.

Ok... it's a musical about a family that open up a bed and breakfast out in the sticks that seems to be cursed because every ever so rare customer they get winds up dead by dawn. Determined not to doom their business, they burry the bodies in the woods. The film is so over the top and twistedly upbeat... I mean... there is a musical number with zombies... and anytime there is a scene that is a little too much for the budget, they just switch over to old school Mtv-style claymation! Everyone who is in love with cracked-out movies should see this. It's amazing that this is the same director that made Audition. Perhaps the best part of it all would have to be the making of footage of Miike acting out the zany dance steps for the actors. PURE GOLD.


Miike makes a completely straight period peace drama about a man wrongfully sent to an island prison and his friends back home. Very moving and quite impressive. I really liked it. proof that Miike can do whatever he wants. Definitely worth checking out if you'd like to see a period film set in Japan where samurai ARE NOT cutting each other's arms off every 20 minutes or less.

Shinjuku Triad Society

The first in his Black Society Trilogy, I've yet to finish it. It was his first major film, but I'm just worn out when it comes to these ultra-violence high exploitation rides. The film is about a (Chinese?) mafia's human organ black market. The whole theme of the film is how humans are exploited every day on all levels from sexually to... well... the organ donner black market. What I saw of it was shocking, moving, and at times really, really disturbing. But I'm tired. I have a strong stomach, but this whole ride has been a bit of sensory overload. I'd like to give the film another chance later... but god... I need a break!

MPD Psycho (episodes 1 & 2 of 6)

Thought I'd give him one more try. This was a made for TV miniseries from 1999 I think. It's bad. I'm not sure if I only saw the first episode or both, but it was too low budget and the concept was way too absurd for me to stay interested in for five more rounds. The first serial killer was interesting though and I can't help but wonder if Robert Rodriguez came across this when working on Sin City.

So yeah, I just need a break from it all. Maybe a little Wallace and Gromit, or something nice like that. I'm not sure I'll bother with much more of his earlier stuff but I'm really interested in where he's heading. I think since I started watching him he's already made two films and directed an episode of Masters of Horror.

But yeah, I think I'm going to go curl up in bed with me Irish tea and copy of Lost in Translation or Before Sunrise and make the best of being too sick to do anything really fun.

Oh, and Happy Saint Patrick's Day!


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