Meredith, Evan and I are in Montreal right now for Fantasia Fest, the lengthiest film festival in the world and one of the foremost in the genre realm. Receiving a lifetime achievement award this year is Japanese maestro Takashi Miike, a director who pumps films out in insane quantities and with equally insane qualities.
Offered a chance to interview the man behind genre classics like Audition, Ichi the Killer, and Happiness of the Katakuris (pictured above), I was at once excited and intimidated. But in contrast to the wild energy behind his work, Miike proved a calm and gracious interviewee. Due to the slowdown inherent in interpretation, we only got a few questions in, but Miike’s answers were surprising and thoughtful, as you’d expect from an artist with his depth of experience.
You release, at times, five movies a year. How do you keep up that pace? It must be exhausting.
My aim is not to make a lot of films. That’s not my goal. But the reason is very simple and evident. A lot of directors say “no” a lot. They try to avoid a lot of things. For example, if they’re talking about the budget, they say “no, we can’t do this.” If someone proposes an actor, they say “no, I don’t want to work with this actor.” Or with a script, “no, I don’t want these lines.” The problem with that is they’re cutting out a lot of possibilities in their work. There are things they cannot discover if they reject everything.
I am a director now, but in the past, I worked as an assistant director. That's my background. I usually give the okay to a lot of things. If, for example, it’s a low budget production, I can do something that’s interesting because it’s low budget, and I'm more free to do things. I don’t want to say that a low budget is a good thing, but we can make good things happen. Even if I don’t like an actor, if that actor is very famous, I want to know them better, and try to see who they are.
I think that, keeping this in mind, you can make a lot of films.
Having worked in a wide range of genres, from crime to horror to musical and superhero films, what excites you about doing such diverse work?
Actually, I don’t think too much about genre. Genre is something that’s not very clear, and it’s the distributors who decide what genre a film is - whether it’s a romantic comedy or whatever. It’s all decided after we make the film.
If you make a film in the context of the yakuza, there are occasions where the yakuza are funny. And if you just took those funny elements, the film would be a comedy. Even if a character is violent, they might sing at some point. And if you just take them singing, the film’s a musical. So I don’t think much about the genres of the films I’m making.
What I find difficult, on the other hand, is when I’m making a horror movie. In a horror movie, the aim is to be scary. So when I have to make a horror movie, I feel more pressured to make it within that genre.
If you weren’t making movies, what would you be doing?
I think if I wasn’t making films, I’d be in Osaka, welding metal or painting walls. It’s not a job where you need a very high technical qualification, but the more you make, the more the feeling of it becomes important. If you do that for twenty years, there’ll be something in it that represents you.
We at BMD are really into karaoke. Are you?
I don’t know if I like karaoke. But a lot of Japanese people like karaoke, and to make connections and communicate with them, if you don’t go to karaoke, it can be very embarrassing. So to keep that connection with people, it’s important. And it’s very easy, because if you just sing, it’s going to be okay. You don’t have to do some complicated thing - you just have to sing. And when you drink a lot of alcohol and you sing, it becomes very joyful.
There is one point that I don’t like. It’s that I’m expressing myself with something, creating something, and people are very glad for it, but they don’t give me money. That’s the bad point of karaoke.
What’s the most disturbing movie you’ve ever seen?
That’s a very difficult question. Half of the movies I’ve seen are disturbing. Actually, I don’t see a lot of movies. I go see the premieres of movies, or I watch movies all night, with a lot of beer.
Especially when I watch Japanese movies, I think about the way they have to make them, and that disturbs me a lot. I can sense the person behind the film being pressured by the system, and that’s disturbing.