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Director Profile: Takashi Miike

It must have been around 2000 or 2001 when I first saw Takashi Miike's disturbing drama, Audition. As the film reached it's now infamous climax and the credits began to roll soon afterward, I was sitting in cinematic shock. I was not new to gore and oddity in film, not by a long shot, but I had never seen anything quite like this. It has been said that Audition is essentially a build up for the last fifteen minutes and while with your average movie this may be nothing more than hyperbole, it is not so much of a stretch here. Information comes slowly and tidbits of the absolute horror that we will be subjected to are few and quick; the film actually functions much like nothing more than a slightly off-kilter romantic drama until . . . Well, I will not spoil it for you if you have not been lucky enough to see it. Such is the paradox of Takashi Miike: Born in Osaka, Miike turned to film after abandoning his dream to become a motor mechanic. He has famously said to have little care for the artistic side of film making while in turn, he creates some of the most cerebral and visually compelling images ever put on screen. While he is known primarily for his extravagantly stylized violence, almost cartoonishly copious bloodletting and odd idiosyncratic camera style, he is also fully capable of producing thoughtful and vulnerable moments throughout the carnage. Such versatility has led to a voluminous output by the director featuring the serenely subdued The Bird People in China, the children's fantasy film The Great Yokai War and more straightforward and serious crime dramas like Agitator. Family is a driving theme in much of his work, whether family be the kin and relations with whom we share blood, or the friends and associations were surround ourselves with. He deals much with the Yakuza and other criminals, exploring their everyday lives with much scrutiny and candidness, giving us reasons to both hate and love them. But we are never told exactly how to feel about them. Whether they be seemingly decent people, or the dregs of society, Miike always forces us to decide as to the honor of a character. It is honesty such as that which makes the violence and the shock more palpable. A character may be for animal than human and they may push the boundaries of acceptability, but they are always true to who they are. A character will not have redemptive qualities just for the sake of such things. And that is also the reason why he can achieve such beautiful and moving pictures as well. Miike simply makes each particular movie the way he thinks it should be made. However, it just so happens that his vision of direction, will likely be radically different from ours. The thing most respectable about Miike is his uncanny ability to move in two directions at once: up towards commercial acceptance and down further into decoratively taboo extreme-cinema. In the year of 2004, for example, he released to films so thematically and structurally different, one might think they were achieved by two different directors. The first was Zebraman a cleverly written comedy film about the down and out star of a failed superhero TV show called "Zebraman." The surprisingly warm-hearted movie follows and bumbling father of two as he tackles his own personal issues while preparing to stop what may or may not be an alien invasion. The other film was called Izo and is a violent and surrealistic film that follows a recently crucified samurai as he travels through time and space seeking retribution. The movie is titanically violent and disturbing, but underneath it all it is without a doubt making a poignant and philosophical social statement about the never ending cycles of violence and vengeance. You may not always like what you see, but make no mistake, Takashi Miike is both a visionary and an auteur of the highest pedigree.