Takashi Miike is without a doubt one of Japan's most interesting directors. He's a phenomenon, an unstoppable force, a cinematic anomaly and last but not least, he's one of my all-time favorite directors. I'm sure most film fans have watched some or other Miike film at one point in their life, but really that's not much of a feat when you know he's nearing his 100th directorial credit. That's when he's not writing, acting or producing on the side.
The problem with Miike is that you can watch 10 of his film and still have no clue what kind of director he is. He is, quite literally, not bound to any genre, any niche or any target audience. He can direct big budget commercial project for kids and follow them up with absurd horror comedies. He made a few Yakuza flicks, but that didn't stop him from directing a straight up TV adaptation of a popular TV series. He made a musical, a western and a remake of Seppuku, because why not. The only way to get an idea of what kind of director Miike is, is to watch all of his films. So that's pretty much what I've been doing.
Miike started his career in the early 90s, at the very bottom of the ladder. His first few films were simple, low budget affairs that will likely appeal to only the most hardcore of Miike fans. They are pretty hard to find too. The oldest Miike film I've seen is Bodigaado Kiba [Bodyguard Kiba], which was already his fifth film. It's decent enough, displaying short flashes of Miike's later genius, but it gets seriously bogged down by subpar production values. It wasn't until Miike directed Naniwa Yuukyoden [Osaka Tough Guys] that his style would begin to flourish.
From then on Miike would start making a name for himself as someone with no limitation to what he would put on screen. Films like Gokudo Sengokushi: Fudo [Fudoh], Full Metal Gokuo [Full Metal Yakuza] and Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha all added to Miike's notoriety because of selected scenes that stuck with people. Besides coming up with craziness, Miike became also known as a prolific director, making at least 3 films per year between 1995 and 2005.
Besides making crazy melanges of genres, Miike also got more proficient at more serious work. Films like Kishiwada Shonen Gurentai: Chikemuri Junjo-hen [Young Thugs: Innocent Blood], Chugoku no Chojin [The Bird People of China] and Nihon Kuroshakai [Ley Lines] show a more mature director, one who doesn't necessarily needs to rely on gimmicks or weirdness to make his films work.
But also more purer genre work got some attention. Miike scored his first big international hit with Odishon [Audition], one of his few straight-up horror films (which is odd for someone who's often pegged as a horror director), he directed Araburu Tamashii-Tachi [Agitator], a more than decent yakuza flick and he made Tengoku kara Kita Otoko-tachi [The Guys from Paradise], an interesting drama set in a Filipino prison.
All of this is still before Miike's strongest period. The early '00s brought a lot of international attention to the Japanese film scene and Miike made the best of that. With films like Bijita Q [Visitor Q], Katakuri-ke no Kofuku [Happiness of the Katakuris], Koroshiya 1 [Ichi the Killer] and Gokudo Kyofu Dai-gekijo: Gozu [Gozu], he amused, surprised, shocked and freaked people out. These are all film that are vintage Miike, impossible to compare and perfect examples of the playful, limitless freedom Miike had created for himself.
Not happy with the variety of project he'd done so far, Miike set out to conquer the festivals. With Izo, 46-Okunen no Ko [Big Bang Love, Juvenile A] and his short in Saam Gaang Yi [Three ... Extremes] he adapted a more arthouse-like approach, though not without losing too much of the weirdness he was known for. These are all great films that further underline Miike's seemingly endless talent.
The next ten years Miike would continue to hunt for things he hadn't done before. Make a straight-up sequel (Crows Zero II), direct children's films (Yattaman), take on a Western (Sukiyaki Western Django), do a game adaptation (Gyakuten Saiban), do a musical (Ai to Makoto), adapt a samurai classic (Ichimei, a remake of Kobayashi's Seppuku), try a superhero flick (Zebraman) ... it just doesn't end. By then Miike was proficient enough at making films that nothing posed a challenge anymore. While not every film is equally great, these are all accomplished films made by a seasoned director.
If you're looking for more recent work then Gokudou Daisensou [Yakuza Apocalypse] and Mogura no Uta [The Mole Song] are prime examples of Miike's unique approach to cinema. Just know that there's no real shortcut to understanding this director. Even after having seen 70 of his films, he still manages to surprise, seeking out new challenges (next up: a scifi space horror and a humanitarian drama) and coming up with wild, original ideas. He's one of my absolute favorites and his oeuvre is varied enough that most people should find something to like. Actually finding it might be somewhat of a challenge, still, when you do it might one of the best things you've ever seen.
Best film: 46-Okunen no Koi [Big Bang Love, Juvenile A] (5.0*)
Worst film: Shirubaa [Silver] (1.0*)
Reviewed films: Gokudo Daisenso - Kamisama no Iu Tori - Hyoryuu-Gai - Mogura no Uta - Yokai Daisenso - Ai to Makoto - Izo - Gokudo Kyofu Dai-Gekijo: Gozu - Gyakuten Saiban - Nintama Rantaro - Bizita Q - 46-Okunen no Koi - Zeburaman: Zebura Shiti no Gyakushu - Kurozu Zero II - Kuruzo Zero - Taiyo no Kizu
Average rating: 3.55 (out of 5)