Never before have our delicate sensibilities been so rattled and questioned by the radical vision of a filmmaker—one whose films we can’t seem to stop admiring in disgust yet with such guttural and animalistic envy. Sure, most of us grew up watching Freddy scraping the kidneys out of Elm Street’s teenagers and loved watching Jason spike copulating couples together with large rusty rods, but what initially began as gruesome entertainment always remained on a superficial level, eventually leading to the slew of American horror genre spoofs. This has left North American film makers to scramble for answers on where they went wrong with their lucrative early 80’s horror flicks and to turn towards Asian influences for remakes of the genre. Simply put, Freddy started too closely resembling his spoofs while viewers were in demand of a new type of realism to disgust and fright them.
With our eyes focused on the Asian market to jumpstart the North American horror genre artificially (with such films as The Grudge and The Ring), it was only a matter a time before a home-grown Japanese film entitled The Auditionby a “disobedient film student” named Takashi Miike stand out from the crowd of copycats and was hailed internationally as a revolutionary model for all those attempting to write or direct horror and gore. However, the North American horror market was in shambles; simply put, the North American taste for the social commentaries and raw realism, mixed in with the large amounts of gore, realistic body mutilation and the exposure of new social taboos was limited. Even Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, a film hailed for its innovation, had its social limits.
Known amongst his Yokohama film student classmates as “the disobedient guy who never showed up to class, already carving a Tarantino-rebel like personality in his early twenties, Takashi Miike found creative solace in the productive and innovative side of film rather than from the institutionalised, academic filmmaking techniques.
After working for less then ten years behind the scenes of the Japanese television world, he found his break in the straight-to-video market, popularised in the early 1990’s with young film companies in search of cheap filmmakers for very low budget films. Eventually, the Japanese wild child evolved into the world of mainstream and high-budget cinema with his 1999 international success, The Audition, and has since created a large cult following mostly comprised of a generation nostalgic for the days of Freddy and Jason.
In The Audition, a widower searching to fill the emotional void in his life takes up an offer to hold a fake audition in order to screen a series of potential girlfriends. The man chooses an angelic woman with long black hair that reminds him of his wife and ends up calling her for a semi-date. The sweet woman immediately becomes a diabolical machine and starts torturing the widower for the entirety of the movie with no specific motive or justification. The story goes beyond Fatal Attraction or Crush and other love-torture horror films in part due to the lack of a musical score to underline our feelings and no plot justification of the torture. An urban legend specialist would elaborate on the need for men to stop objectifying women and to be wary of their most primal instincts.
In Visitor Q, Miike explores the social, familial and sexual taboos that lock us into a certain role in our multilayered societies. The movie is filmed as through a handheld digital camera wielded by the spectator, unable to stop the recording due in large part that we are continuously shocked throughout the film. The story opens up with a young middle-class suburban girl humiliating her wealthy father after prostituting herself to him and blackmailing him for more money with videotaped evidence of the incest. The mother, whom the teenage son continuously beats, also prostitutes herself to support her heroin addiction. She tries to hold the family together with warm meals and her own breast milk–a symbolic and literal act. Their upside-down “Leave It to Beaver” life comes to a halt when an unannounced visitor brings the family “happily” together in more ways than one. The premise goes beyond what François Ozon tried to do in the French film Sitcom (a movie that is very similar yet less gruesome than Visitor Q), since Takashi Miike attacks reality television, social complaisance and uninhibited sexual pleasures all the while provoking strong and contradictory sensations of disgust and wonder.
In 2001, the Japanese director presented Ichi the Killer, a yakuza revenge story that binds both the gore and social taboos found in his two previous movies. With Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike has found a niche for his artistic and cinematic skills, and under commercial influence, has continued to film a line of television and cinematic films (such as Dead or Alive – The Trilogy). Yet none of his present films have been so bold or controversial as his first two international breakthrough hits.
The common thread that runs through Takashi Miike’s films is quite clear: to shock our sensibilities, explore social and sexual taboos created in our ultra-industrialised world and to ask ourselves if we have any limit to our voyeurism on the sexually violent and the violently gruesome.