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Six definitive films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Takashi Miike

@Russellisation

The cinema of Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Miike feels like a genre in and of itself, particularly when you take note of just how many films he has made throughout his career. With over 100 movies in his filmography, Miike is best known for his visceral scenes of extreme violence and over the top special effects, though really his cinema cannot be tied to one genre, in particular, creating an eclectic tapestry of multiple genres, styles and forms. 

From lighthearted children’s films such as Ninja Kids!!! to musical comedies in The Happiness of the Katakuris and poetic period pieces like Sabu, Takashi Miike has created a genre of films defined by his own personality, with each new release imbued with the same counter-cultural identity. 

Citing Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Gosha, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and Paul Verhoeven as just five of his favourite filmmakers, Miike is inspired by challenging tales of gory science fiction as well as experimental cinematic features. 

Marking thirty years in the film industry in 2021, let’s take a look back at just how Takeshi Miike ascended cinematic heights, from straight-to-video releases to big-budget action films in six definitive films. 

Takeshi Miike’s six definitive films:

Fudoh: New Generation (Takashi Miike, 1996)

Starting his professional career in 1991, Takashi Miike began his trend for several projects in quick succession, releasing Fudoh: New Generation in 1996 as one of five other films released in the same year. 

Many of these early projects came in a brand new format of low-budget filmmaking, named V-Cinema, Japanese direct-to-video titles that became popular in reaction to the slow momentum of the film industry in the 1980s. Without the close eye of censorship boards and major studios, Takeshi Miike thrived, becoming a challenging filmmaker that would change the fabric of 1990s Japanese cinema. 

Despite Miike producing multiple V-Cinema films before Fudoh: New Generation, the 1996 release was different as, according to Tom Mes in Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike, the producers believed the film was “too good” to be released straight to video. A fitting introduction to the style of Takeshi Miike, the comic-book narrative of the film follows a gang of teenage assassins who terrorise an organised crime syndicate. 

The Bird People in China (Takashi Miike, 1998)

If you’re looking for variation in the filmography of Takashi Miike, The Bird People in China is a fantastic example of the director’s versatility, creating a mellow, lyrical film that explores the ecology of the country and the third world in comparison to the first world. 

A far cry from the violence of his early V-Cinema films, The Bird People in China is a strange humanistic drama that follows a salaryman and a member of the yakuza who travel to a rural village whose inhabitants are learning to fly. A fantastical, introspective story, guided by a tremendous care for creativity, The Bird People in China is one of Miike’s early classics, helping to establish him as a major contemporary director, far from a one-trick pony as he left the world of V-Cinema behind. 

Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)

Whilst Miike was already finding success in his native Japan, it wasn’t until the fantastic 1999 film Audition that his filmmaking prowess would truly be recognised worldwide. 

In this strange tale of a widower auditioning local women to be his new wife, Miike crafts a slow burner that patiently culminates into a gripping drama. Though, behind the curtain something far more sinister is brewing, delivering one of cinema’s most surprising and most uncomfortable tonal deviations. Few films can imbed themselves into the minds of every viewer, though one particular image in Audition is so unforeseeable, and so instantly disturbing, it will inhabit the shadowed corners of your mind for long after. 

It was likely this same violent, twisted tone that attracted purveyor of ferocity Quentin Tarantino, who would call Miike’s film a, “True masterpiece if ever there was one”. Showing Miike’s proficiency for horror, Audition would be his gamechanger.  

Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike, 2001)

Whilst Miike’s 1999 film Dead or Alive would help to popularise the yakuza sub-genre overseas, 2001s Ichi the Killer would help to consolidate the style of a director becoming increasingly popular in counter-cultural groups, revolutionising the same sub-genre in the process. 

Banned in several countries, this controversial thriller features graphic scenes of violence and cruelty as it depicts the story of a yakuza enforcer who comes across Ichi, a psychotic killer whom he believes would be the perfect test of combat. Underlined by a feverish, punk aesthetic, Ichi the Killer is a strange mix of the sadistic supernatural and brutal crime, starring Tadanobu Asano as Kakihara, possibly Takashi Miike’s most memorable character ever. With bleached blonde hair, bizarre facial scars and a tartan suit, his immoveable impression of the film has since gone down in cult cinema history. 

Gozu (Takashi Miike, 2003)

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of Takashi Miike’s true versatility, Gozu is a mix of crime, drama and horror, following a yakuza enforcer ordered to drive his colleague to be unwittingly assassinated, only for the victim to strangely disappear en route, sparking a bizarre spiralling of events. 

Eliciting the experimental style of David Lynch, a known inspiration for Takashi Miike, this surreal road movie frequently breaks the boundaries of reality in the search for a dreamlike truth. Though more like a twisted nightmare, Gozu features an array of eccentric characters, including a cow-headed minotaur and the boss of a gang whose life relies on the pivotal existence of a soup ladle. 

Gozu shows the style of Miike metamorphosing into something far grander, yet idiosyncratic and defined.

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)

Whilst Takashi Miike has defined his career with stories of yakuza crime and sadistic horror, his most recent success has been in the entirely different genre of the samurai film. Still eliciting the same iconic gore that he has become ubiquitous with, 13 Assassins also demonstrates just how far Takashi Miike has come as a filmmaker, going from low-budget V-Cinema, to blockbuster action cinema. 

Celebrated as one of his finest pieces of cinema, 13 Assassins is heavily inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s jidaigeki as well as Seven Samurai and Ran, telling the story of a group of renegades plotting to assassinate a cruel warlord. Concluding with an epic 45-minute climactic battle sequence, Miike combines each of his previously attained skills, gorgeously utilising frenetic violence and gore to fantastical extents. 

Nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2010, 13 Assassins makes for Takashi Miike’s greatest contemporary film. Hard to believe he started as a mere purveyor of straight-to-video cinematic fodder.