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Maybe the trick to getting your head around the career of Takashi Miike is first to realize that the maverick Japanese director hasn’t tried to redefine genres across a 100-plus-project career. Instead, he’s tried to defy them.
“My style is that I have no style,” Miike says with a laugh, when asked how best to describe his filmmaking technique.
Miike hosted a master class in front of an enthralled and packed room of fellow filmmakers and fans as the Singapore International Film Festival drew to a close last Sunday, after being handed an honorary award for life achievement the night before.
The 59-year-old also brought with him his latest film, the romance-tinged actioner First Love, and across the master class and later, sitting in a nearby café as he waited for lunch to be served, Miike did his very best to explain his methods.
“Some people have iconic directors in their mind, or they want to make particular styles of films they have seen before. I think this is a waste of time and energy,” said Miike.
“I think what people think about my films depends on the film they see. It’s all different and opinions are all different.”
It’s a career that has seen the filmmaker successfully leap from the horror-romance of his international breakthrough Audition (1999), to the streetwise savagery of the manga-inspired Ichi the Killer (2001), to his modern take on a samurai epic Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai(2011). There has also been pure farce (2002’s Shangri-La) and thrillers (2013’s Straw Shield) thrown in for good measure.
Miike revealed that he would pretty much agree to scripts and projects on a “first-come, first-served” basis. It’s only when the cheques have been signed and the deals sealed that he starts to add the distinct “Miike” touch.
As an example, the director showed a clip from his yakuza epic Dead or Alive (1999).
In the script, Miike explained, the scene simply called for the two protagonists to point their guns at each other, and then to shoot.
By the time it got to filming, Miike had one guy ripping his own arm off, then producing a bazooka seemingly from the back of his trousers, while his opponent then pulls a swirling ball of nuclear energy from his pocket which blows both — and half of Japan — away.
“These two actors were enormously popular so why waste them on a short scene?”was how Miike explained that particular situation. “Their energy on screen was enormous so why not use that and create something spectacular. That scene taught me that no matter what, you have to be entertaining.”
Other instances of this thinking — and this genius — abound, from the sweet smile and then little giggle given by the young female torturer in Miike’s blood-soaked international breakthrough Audition (1999), to the cute little toy dog used to set off a series of explosions in First Love.
That film premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes and Miike has virtually been on a world festival tour ever since, taking in the International Film Festival of India immediately before his trip to Singapore, and now preparing to hit the southern Chinese enclave of Macau.
In Singapore, he told his audience films such as First Love were most definitely more about their romance than their violence.
“Right now in Japan there are two trends,” said Miike. “There are the blockbusters and there are very light love stories where you can have a good cry. So my stories of outsiders are sort of chased away [from cinemas]. But I want to show that even outsiders can have a good love story.”
Miike said he often includes extended fight scenes with multiple characters simply because he wanted to give actors with even the smallest of roles a chance to shine.
“I want them to feel good about themselves,” he said. “I want them to go home and think, ‘This beer tastes better than yesterday.’”
Miike directed his first feature at age 30 and said that meant he felt there were decades left in which to expand his reach. Next up — set for release in early 2020, is a film version of the TV series Secret × Heroine Phantomirage!, about a group of middle school girls who try to right the world’s wrongs, with the help of some magical keys.
“I think with this type of story and these kinds of characters I still have many things to say,” said Miike. “I still have many things to explore.
“You know when I was a high school student I wasn’t a very good student. Upon graduation we were asked if we would become a full working adult or go to university. I decided to go to film school and still to this day I try to avoid being a full working adult.”
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