“My world is not spectacle and explosion. It’s two people talking.”—Taika Waititi.
Taika Waititi is a filmmaker from New Zealand known for his beautiful filmography full of notable mentions like JoJo Rabbit, Hunt For The Wilderpeople and others.
He has established himself as one of the most unique contemporary directors and is the recipient of an Academy Award, two Academy Award nominations and two Primetime Emmy Award nominations as the filmmaker continues to hone his style.
Born in New Zealand, Waititi was raised primarily by his mother and this influenced a lot of motifs in his artistic endeavours. He studied theatre at Victoria University of Wellington where was half of the comedy duo The Humourbeasts alongside Jemaine Clement, which received New Zealand’s highest comedy accolade, the Billy T Award, in 1999. He started his filmmaking career by making hilarious short films for New Zealand’s annual 48-hour film contest.
On his 45th birthday, we take a look at his short but brilliant filmography as a celebration of his fresh artistic voice.
Taika Waititi Films Ranked:
6. Eagle vs Shark (2007)
This bizarre rom-com is the story of two misfits and the strange activities they indulge in to find love. Eagle vs Shark stars Loren Horsley as Lily, a shy songwriter with a crush on Jarrod (Jermaine Clement), a video game store employee. They bond over revenge on high-school bullies, burgers, and video games. Even though it is less refined than his later works, the 2007 film is still a unique experience presented by a burgeoning filmmaker with a fresh voice.
“My film, Eagle vs Shark, is a romance. It is a small, cute, quaint, quirky, quiet, quivering film about love and acceptance,” Waititi said. “The idea came about from watching people try [to] fall in love. It is a painful and yet hilarious process.”
He added, “I was lucky enough to workshop the script at the Sundance Filmmaker Lab in 2005, and the shoot took place in November of that year. I wanted to make a film which was simple, funny, sad, and awkward.”
5. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
This is the film that established Waititi as a household name. He incorporated his unique filmmaking and narrative style to the extensive mythology of the Marvel Universe. Waititi brought his own brand of humour to the film and made a God seem more human. The 2017 film was a critical and commercial success and landed Waititi the writing and directing job for its highly anticipated sequel, Thor: Love and Thunder.
While speaking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Waititi said, “There’s definitely a challenge with wanting to be true to what the fans want, and to the universe itself. But also, I have to keep reminding myself that I was hired for a reason, and I think one of those reasons is because of the kind of stories I tell, and the kind of films that I’ve made previously. Obviously it has to be me trying to unify my type of storytelling with this kind of content, and hopefully, it all comes out really nicely in the end.”
Continuing, “And it’s a great story in and of itself. The lucky thing is that there are a bunch of geniuses who run Marvel who make sure that, even if it’s a standalone piece, it is part of a great big jigsaw puzzle that could be appreciated as a whole as well.”
4. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
In Waititi’s latest film, he uses a retrospective brand of humour to weave a compelling portrait of what it was like to be a little boy growing up in Nazi Germany. Jojo Rabbit, dubbed an “anti-hate satire” by Waititi himself, is a story about a young boy, Jojo (played by Roman Griffin Davis) and his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi) as they explore issues like love, hatred and life itself.
Waititi revealed his reservations about making the film, “I didn’t want to make some crappy saccharine film, something that just was set in World War II and just had jokes at the expense of the experiences of millions of people. You have a big responsibility when you come to making a film set in that time.
“I feel like if people don’t get the point of using humour to dismantle these regimes built on intolerance and hate, I’m wasting my time with the person I’m explaining it to.”
3. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
This 2014 mockumentary follows the lives of a group of vampires for a few months who share a house in Wellington, New Zealand and who have their fair share of personal problems. What We Do In The Shadows is probably Waititi’s funniest work, deconstructing the stereotypes of the vampire genre with scathing satire. The film has also inspired two spinoffs, the New Zealand series Wellington Paranormal and FX’s What We Do in the Shadows.
“We were trying to create those exact rhythms. We spent quite a while figuring out the style of the film,” Waititi noted. “Going from things like staying with the characters for a little exposition and then we go back to the scene. And how does the story work, and with these characters you’ve always got to explain everything, especially on a TV show, you’ve got to get all the backstory for everything up front.”
He also said, “There’s a lot of talking. We were pretty satisfied with what we did on the film so we decided we’ll pretty much replicate that style and that rhythm, just with different people and because we really liked those actors, Matt, Kayvon, Natasha, Harvey, and Mark. They were great improvisers and they understood what we were doing because they all watched the film.”
2. Boy (2010)
Although this is Waititi’s second feature film, the artistic voice which he employs is surprisingly mature, hilarious and painful. Boy is his most personal film because it draws a lot on his own upbringing in New Zealand. The film features a young boy and a father who abandoned him, trying to reconnect but finding it hard to reconcile fantasy with reality.
Waititi maintained he stood by his work, “I haven’t seen Eagle Vs. Shark since I pretty much finished it and the same with Boy, really. I’ve seen little bits of it like the beginning a lot and I’ve checked in the theatre and had to leave because I can’t stand watching myself, but I’m still really proud of it. The parts I do see, I really love. I think when you’re writing and directing, you try and make films that you would want to see.
“Obviously, by the end of the process when you’ve watched it 200 times and sound mixed and everything, it’s the last film you ever want to see again. But having said that, I’m really happy it’s coming out here [in the U.S.] and I’m still a hundred percent behind it even though it’s kind of strange that I made it years ago.”
1. Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)
This endearing 2016 adventure drama is the crowning jewel of Waititi’s brilliant filmography. Hunt For The Wilderpeople has all the elements which have marked the unique oeuvre of Taika Waititi, moving, funny and heart-warming. It features a rebellious young boy and his foster uncle who go missing in the New Zealand wilderness, causing a national manhunt to be conducted for them.
Waititi spoke of his influences, “A lot of the movie is influenced by Aussie films from the 1980s and so I wanted embrace that. There were even a few Peter Weir-style shots with zooms and cross-fades. We got in touch with Jean Michel Jarre at first because the Gallipoli score is amazing.
“The story is over-the-top and in today’s age, that manhunt would be over pretty quick. I wanted this to me more of a kid’s fantasy as to what happens when you go on the run and the whole country is after you.”