Switch Hitting for the Exploitation Cinema Team
From Master Italy to Master Japan...
I've pretty consciously avoided talking about Takashi Miike.
Now you take Seijun Suzuki, and there's a film buff's director who most people still haven't heard of.
Miike, on the other hand, is becoming akin to David Lynch. He's mostly for film buff/arthouse crowds but enough of the mainstream has seen something by him. This also leads to a lot of less than shining stars blathering about him endlessly on the internet.
It's one of those funny things about being able to separate movie people. Most of the folks I know who like the same stuff I do don't feel the need to overstate the painfully obvious. You don't watch a Russ Meyer flick, and then proceed to harp on and on about the fact that it's stars are women with big t!ts. Everyone on earth who has ever seen a Russ Meyer flick knows that Russ likes casting women with big chests.
Take Miike's Ichii the Killer. I've seen it. I enjoyed it. I don't need to read another half-baked review about what a "weird effed-up dark flick, man" it is. It's the perpetual restatement of the incredibly obvious. You can take a good long look at the video cover and figure that out. Besides, most things that advertise being unrated or uncut...well, they tend to have a reason for that which usually pertains too...that's right: Sex and Violence.
I don't recall a movie restoring any gratuitous money shots of fluffy bunnies that were too intense for audiences.
In a like way, though I enjoy Miike's work, there's taste lines to be drawn. It's similar to fans of Italian giallo and horror films. Some of these folks love the intense atmospheric moods, the thrilling suspense, and the weird beauty of it all. For them it's a time period or a style of film they enjoy. Then there's those who like them too much for the naked girls and the messy carnage. The former tend to be able to admit that these are often bad movies, but stylishly made. The latter tend to defend even the most blatantly crappy to the end. Not to mention the latter just tend to be creepy about it period.
Seriously, if Ichii or Audition was your number one favorite movie...you'd be creeping me out.
Back to Lynch. Miike and Lynch have similar aspects in terms of a psychological depth and propensity for sudden and brutal violence. The difference being that Lynch usually tends to stay steady and deliberate, and Miike tends to keep the thing constantly hyperkinetic and over-the-top. But even in their lighter moments, both always seemed to have something going on.
Their other similarity is reviews like this:
On Mulholland Drive: "they are all directed like they actually make sense, when they don't. He assumes the audience is following his film, when he knows they aren't." - From a source I'd rather not list...
Ahem. No. You (the writer) assume that. Also, I'm curious, who says it doesn't make sense?
Anyhow, we're verging onto a territory I loathe concerning film criticism: what things "mean" in movies. If you've ever worked on a movie as I have, you'll find that more often than not, most things don't mean a thing. That's not to say never, but part of the problem is the authorship of movies. Some directors take a lot control and are involved in writing, shooting, art, wardrobe, and editing, while others merely put actors through a scene. But that's enough on that.
The reason I brought up Miike was I saw one of his newer films this weekend. Whoa, fricking' needle-nose nelly.
The short name is Gozu. In case you were wondering...yes, it's David Lynch in a Miike a world. No David didn't work on it, but you can see the influence.
Low-level yakuza, Minami, is entrusted to take his beloved boss, Ozaki, to be diappeared in a small town following his bouts of extremely bizarre behavior. Minami accidentally completes his taks prematurely, but while stopping at a roadside diner, Ozaki's body disappears. Now Minami has to deal with some of the world's strangest townfolk in order to find his dead boss and complete his mission. Along the way, he meets a woman who claims to be the dead man, and who knows things only Ozaki would know. All of the heavily Freudian proceedings are of course leading to a crazed ending...Miike style.
The difference this time, between this film and say Audition, is that instead of leaving the psychology there to be read, he paints the walls with it. At no point should you not know what's going on if you haven't had at least one entry level course on psychology that at least touched on Freud. Instead of taking the movie as story, think of it as the literal acting out of those Freudian fantasies.
Ok, ok...that doesn't explain the guy with the ladel up his @$$... I just chalk that up to plain old Miike.
What makes the movie, to me, very effective is a similar thing to what makes up Lynch's effectiveness. Lynch's creepiness is the horror that can be found in common, safe, and often quaint places. It's the stuff of the horror underneath. Well, Miike's not that subtle. There's nothing comfortable about this smalltown, where the local rice vendor is about the only sane person. What makes this movie creepy is that it's all in the daylight. Most of your horror and thriller movies prey on the night and the dark. This movie's primarily in the sunshine in mostly familiar small town locales to anyone, but it seems like there's nowhere safe or sane for Minami to hide.
It's almost painfully obvious that Minami wants his boss Ozaki...but not quite in that way. It's a theme that's been dealt with before, like Purple Noon, but here it's definitely a little different. There's often some amount of envy to the alpha male in question, but also a certain degree of attraction. It's probably one of the most taboo subjects of male bonding even at the height of male bonding.
It's obviously taboo to Minami. What's the easiest way out of this? Make the man you love, when you don't love men, into a woman. Of course, when you cross the line, and give into that desire, woman or not, that's when the trouble starts. I won't give it all away, but if you saw the original Von Trier version of The Kingdom, you're not so much in for a surpise as a more graphic version of the same (à la "Here Comes...Udo!!").
In the end, I really really enjoyed this film. I like having the heebie-jeebies from time to time, and I really enjoy going "oh gross" while having a good laugh. It's fun. What's more, this sort of bizarre gross-out festival works best when it actually seems to mean something. And yet, Ichii the Killer is still the pinnacle to me of quality story, sheer excitement, levels of meaning, and utter disgustingness. The thing is that Miike lays it on so thick in these two movies in particular that it's hard to stay disturbed. I just start laughing.
On a side note, what I appreciate about movies like this is their alternate portrayal of filmed sexuality. I haven't seen a Miike movie yet where sexuality wasn't abberrant and disgusting. I'm sure that in real life there are people like the crime boss in this movie who get off by having a kitchen utensil stuck up there @$$. But if they expect anyone to take them seriously, if they've ever seen this guy, they've got another thing coming. There's not a single shed of glamor in any of it anywhere. The nicest sex scene probably came in Audition, but the carnage that resulted fueled the last half of the movie. It's much like the seduction scene in Ichii, where the seductress only ends up in getting herself split in half. It's extreme, but it also reminds you of the many levels of responsibility one must take for sex. Also, it reminds us of the squishy, fleshy, dirty carnal side of it as well.
I'm not suggesting that just anyone go out and rent Gozu, but if you're into thinking while being grossed out...well, you've found you a movie. (Oh, and good luck finding it. I don't believe that it's readily available and floating around out there, but I'm sure you can find someone who's got it.)
Remember, if you watch or read anything I recommend here...it's forever at your own peril.