If you’re into extreme horror films, there’s a big chance you’re familiar with (or have at least heard of) Takashi Miike.
In fact, for the second part of my series of articles about extreme horror cinema I’ve received quite a few recommendations for Miike’s films, especially Audition (1999) and Ichi, the Killer (2001). Therefore, I decided to cover these two plus three other titles in Miike’s filmography that undoubtedly would fit in the ‘extreme horror’ category.
Who is Takashi Miike, though? Why is he such a beloved filmmaker in certain circles? Well, he’s a director-for-hire, which means he doesn’t write any screenplay but directs materials that are handed to him. He’s made more than 100 movies (yes, one hundred: it’s not a typo), most of which share similar traits, including extreme violence, over-the-top gore, plain weirdness and taboo-breaking content. Besides the five movies I’m going to talk about in this article, Shinjuku Triad Society (1995), Gozu (2003) and Blade of the Immortal (2017) are three of the most extreme movies by this prolific filmmaker: I love them, so you should definitely seek them out. however, they don’t share any horror-related content (in my opinion), which is why I didn’t include them in this article.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the crazy world of Takashi Miike by taking a quick look at the five extreme horror movies he directed, in chronological order.
AUDITION (1999) – A widower (Ryo Ishibashi) feels like his life is incomplete without love and, as any respectable creep would do, sets up an audition to find the perfect match. Thanks to his friend (played by the always great Jun Kunimura of Kill Bill and Why Don’t You Play in Hell? fame), he finds that Asami (Eihi Shiina) is the girl he wants to help him feel the void. This is a film that gave horror fans some memorable characters: the widower and his rich friend are definitely among them, mostly due to the charisma of the actors playing them. However, Asami really stands out as, without exaggerating, one of the greatest female villains ever: she’s perfectly cast, and her character is very sick, disturbing and rich.
Although I’m a big fan of this film, I feel that it’s somewhat overrated when it comes to extreme horror. Again, as a movie it’s great (besides some pacing issues), but it truly isn’t that extreme: to begin with, the first half is just a drama with some inserts of comedic relief (such as the audition itself, which is pretty hilarious). Yet, most of the scenes that could be considered disturbing or extreme happen either during dream-sequences or off-screen. Still, the now infamous 15-minute-long torture sequence (where there’s no music whatsoever to heighten the tension) is indeed gruesome and gory: it’s effective, though, because of Asami’s motivations and because you care for the person who’s subjected to it.
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VISITOR Q (2001) – What’s your reaction if I tell you that a movie could contain boobie-grabbing, necrophilia, incest, rape, torture, bullying, gratuitous violence and so forth? Visitor Q features all of them in what has to be one of the biggest taboo-breaking movies in Japanese cinema. Content wise, this is probably the most extreme film directed by Takashi Miike, who intended it as a (very) dark comedy revolving around the theme of Japanese family.
Visitor Q is quite a confronting watch that consists of a series of vignettes, each one featuring a good dose of weirdness, comedy, horror and offensive content. The overall movie, if approached seriously, could definitely be considered the holy grail of disturbing cinema, but it’s all played for (twisted) fun, so much that it lessens its extreme impact and makes for a very entertaining experience, albeit not for everyone. There are aspects of Visitor Q I personally don’t like, such as the digital video look, which makes it look cheap and flat; another ‘flaw’ with the film is its episodic nature, which doesn’t make it work as a whole and makes it come off as very disjointed and uneven.
ICHI THE KILLER (2001) – Based on a manga, Ichi tells the story of a sadomasochistic yakuza enforcer (Kakihara) who searches for his missing boss when he comes across Ichi, a repressed and awkward guy who turns into a killing machine as soon as he’s enraged. According to the popular opinion, this is Miike’s most accomplished work and, for once, I can only agree with that. Ichi the Killer is a fantastic film where violence, gore, memorable characters, great pacing, terrific acting all come together to create something magical… in a very twisted way.
Besides, if you’re looking for extreme horror movies, Ichi delivers: the violence in this film ranges from cartoonish to downright sick and disturbing. This combination is what makes the viewing experience so fast and rewarding. Despite the two-hour long runtime, the whole movie is filled with fights, gory sequences, relentless violence and, when the action takes a break, as a viewer you have the time to learn more about the characters and get emotionally attached to them. Upon third viewing, I also started to see and appreciate the movie for its underlaying message about identity and one’s place in society. Finally, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asama) is just the coolest character ever, he really is one of the most charismatic characters ever crafted by Miike. His opponent, Ichi, is played marvellously by nonother than Shin’ya Tsukamoto, director of the Tetsuo trilogy, Tokyo Fist and Snake of June among other fantastic films. If you haven’t seen Ichi the Killer yet, you should seek it out immediately!
IMPRINT (2006) – The 13th instalment in the Masters of Horror American TV series, Imprint was the only episode considered too strong by TV execs to be shown at all on US television. To my knowledge, that decision also depended on the graphic way this short movie (63-minute-long) depicts abortion. “Pro-life” groups were not happy (are they ever, though?). This is quite amusing, since the Imprint doesn’t glorify abortion at all: I think censors don’t even watch the movies they want to ban, they’re too narrow-minded to understand that what you see on screen is just part of the film and not some ‘attempt to corrupt the youth’.
Anyway, Imprint follows Billy Drago, who plays an American journalist who travels to an “island of demons and whores” in search of his abandoned love and meets with Youki Kudoh, a prostitute whose face is disfigured. The prostitute tells him what happened to his lost love in a million different ways, which is what we get to see as the audience. Shot in English and set during the Meiji period of Japanese history, Imprint tries to replicate the composed and art-directed look that was associated with Japanese cinema during the golden age of the foreign film: this very polished look and feel, to me, makes the movie less gritty and extreme in comparison to the other titles in this article. Still, some of the torture scenes in the movie are quite relentless and, if you’re not used to graphic content, quite hard to watch. The movie itself, however, is quite bad, in my opinion: Billy Drago is extremely annoying, the dialogue seems forced and unnatural (Japanese people who don’t speak English trying to speak English is the goofiest thing), the set design is rather unconvincing.
If you’re looking for extreme horror movies and you stumble upon Imprint, you might find a somewhat disturbing flick which is, however, not a good movie.
LESSON OF THE EVIL (2012) – Lesser-known than other Miike films, Lesson of the Evil is a movie I truly love: Seiji, a charming and handsome English teacher arrives, out of the blue, to a Japanese school. He soon earns the respect and admiration from his students but, as soon as he realises that bullying and bad behaviour is increasing in the school, he concocts an extreme plan to deal with the situation. Lesson of the Evil is based on a manga and sees Miike working on the screenplay for the first time: the result is a combination of pure badassery and extreme violence, where not even kids are safe. Hideaki Ito as the professor with a shady past is just a great character that manages to be extremely creepy and utterly charming at the same time; yet, Mitsuro Fukikoshi (Cold Fish, Himizu), in a rather minor role, steals the show as this disgusting professor of mathematics who’s obsessed with Seiji.
Just like Audition, the first part of Lesson of the Evil is just a drama/thriller that’s driven by awesome score, great production values and solid performances. However, when the violence kicks in for the first time, the movie turns into a crazy ride fuelled by shootings, torture and badass action sequences. Although this movie is very gory, it’s never as mean-spirited ad Audition or Ichi the Killer: it feels more like a violent thriller or a slasher flick where the gory bits are played for fun rather than to make you feel uneasy. On the other hand, though, the motivations behind Seiji’s actions are quite confronting. The last 40 minutes of this 130-minute-long picture are pure chaos and Miike even manages to insert some of his now-famous plain weirdness. Unfortunately, the movie takes a big dive (in terms of pacing) in the middle, when during 20 or minutes nothing happens, and you’ll probably feel very bored. Yet, I didn’t get the ending, which seems to imply some commentary about religion that completely went over my head.
Still, if you haven’t seen Lesson of the Evil yet, I can’t recommend this movie enough: despite its shortcomings, it truly deserves a place among Miike’s best work.
Even though I’m a die-hard fan of this director, the movies by Takashi Miike are extreme but not to a point where people would want to turn off the film. Next month, however, I’ll probably bring up some titles that truly deserve a golden spot in extreme horror cinema: they will either have something to do with Mexican atrocities or with guinea pigs…
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