Takashi Miike Masterclass Recap
Written by Charlie Chua
Photos by Paolo Ty
This article is a recap of Takashi Miike’s Masterclass held on 1 December 2019 at National Museum of Singapore as part of #SGIFF30.
An air of confusion filled the room when Takashi Miike remarked how “filmmakers should not put a personal stamp on their films”. This seemingly ironic statement coming from a director whose stylistic use of violence and gore that has become so synonymous with his name raised one too many eyebrows. Miike’s films are so recognisably his, that it is hard to imagine how he has created a personal stamp without trying to make one.
Granted, Miike has had three decades to develop it. During which, he has directed over one hundred theatrical, video and television productions, establishing himself as one of the most versatile and proficient filmmakers today. His most notable work, Audition (1999), a psychological horror film is one that many consider to be his magnum opus.
Two decades, and nearly 60 feature films later, Miike is still going strong. This year, he released First Love, which was screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May, and more recently, at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).
As this year’s recipient of the SGIFF Honorary Award, Miike conducted a masterclass that was moderated by Kirsten Tan who directed Pop Aye (2017).
When asked about his trademark use of violence and twisted humour, Miike remarked how “strong characters can be expressed through violence”, and that his intention is not to create violent characters but rather to show how violent characters can be. Regarding his use of twisted humour in First Love, he added that he traditionally uses it to “bring out the humanity” in even the worst of characters, which in this case was Kase (Shota Sometani).
Miike went on to explain how he crafted “true horror” when making Audition, by discussing a clip where the protagonist Aoyoma (Ryo Ishibashi) is getting his foot severed by Asami (Eihi Shiina). “The act of (Asami) cutting the foot may be frightening, but it was only when I asked the actress to smile as she did it that the scene became true horror”.
At one point, Tan played Miike’s favourite scene from another one of his films, Dead or Alive (1999). For those wary of spoilers, the scene takes place during a climactic showdown between the two main characters.
The scene opens with Ryuchi (Riki Rakeuchi) and Detective Jojima (Sho Aikawa) clambering out of their respective vehicles on a deserted highway. Jojima proceeds to tear off his mangled left arm with his remaining right, before pulling out a rocket launcher from thin air. Just when things could not get more bizarre, Ryuchi pulls out a mystical fireball from his chest, and readies it at his opponent. Upon simultaneously firing their weapons, a blinding explosion emanates from where the projectiles collide. The film then cuts to a computer-generated clip of Japan from space, where the resulting shockwave wraps itself around the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, eradicating everything in its path.
When the lights came back on, everyone broke into raucous laughter and applause. Speaking about the scene after, Miike said, “I had to negotiate very hard to have them both (actors Rakeuchi and Aikawa) in the same film. Because both were so influential, I couldn’t let one win and the other lose. It had to be a draw”.
“In the original screenplay, it says that they meet in the street, and shoot each other and that’s it. But I thought about it and realised that, if they were facing off, it should be more dramatic, especially since the actors were famous beyond comprehension. So, I created this scene, such that the energy they release is enough to affect the entire Northern Hemisphere”, and indeed it does. Lastly, he added, “the filmmaking process in itself has to be entertaining. That’s why I love this scene from Dead or Alive”.
Miike is clear that when it comes to filmmaking, filmmakers must not only focus on what they want to see but to consider what audiences want to see. A key mantra that he sticks by is really to “erase yourself from the film” when making films.
He goes on to claim that he accepts screenplays on a “first-come-first-serve basis”, which seems fitting given his track record of films that belong to a plethora of genres. He has directed everything from psychological horror, to an exploitative manga adaptation (Ichi the Killer, 2003), and even a horror comedy musical (The Happiness of the Katakuris, 2001).
Upon asking Miike on how he explores such a variety of genres, he revealed how he is averse to the idea of genres being a cinematic principle. He believes that the term, ‘genre’, was only born in order to communicate what kind of film audiences can expect.
“In terms of genre, I have this fear. When you’re making the film, the genre doesn’t matter, but when you’re delivering the film to viewers, viewers want a certain categorisation (of) what the film is about. Like, is this a comedy, musical, etc.? It’s a short summary of what the film is, but I don’t like this categorisation. So, I feel that, as filmmakers, we should be liberated from this categorisation of genres”.
Perhaps it is this pursuit of artistic liberation that makes Miike’s films so entertaining whilst still retaining cinematic merit. Perhaps this is what makes Miike’s personal stamp so unique, regardless of how unintentional it may be.
Finally, Tan asked if Miike has ever doubted his own creative decisions, to which he responded, “it’s a waste of time doubting or hesitating. Life itself is not as long as you think it is, so it’s best to just do it. After you do it, even if you regret what you’ve done, you can still learn to accept it and move on”.
– Charlie Chua