Miike Takashi — The City of Lost Souls
(Ed: Jason Anderson had done an article/interview for City of Lost Souls. Meanwhile, I had interviewed Takashi two years previously at the Vancouver film festival. I mixed together Jason’s article and quotes with the additional material I had, and rounded it out by lifting some quotes from an article on Takashi that I found at fantasiafest.com)
“I may not look like a compassionate person, but I am very grateful,” says Japanese director, Miike Takashi, during an introduction at the 1998 Vancouver Film Festival. “My film’s seem to be wandering out into the world on their own,” he says through a translator during an interview at the Toronto Film Festival, in town to promote his movie, The City of Lost Souls. Not many people have seen his movies, and the ones, who have seen one of his movies, probably haven’t seen the same one. But the buzz on Takashi is rapidly gaining momentum.
“I also make stuff that would never make it into a film festival,” says Takashi. He has 8 movie releases on his filmography from 1998 to 2000 alone. Skipping film school, Takashi was assistant to the great Japanese director Shohei Imamura on Zegen and Black Rain. He went on to make low-budget ($500-600,000) movies primarily for video or satellite distribution in Japan – sometimes, they’re released in the Japanese cinema for one or two weeks, just to advertise the video. Says Takashi, “In the world of the Japanese low budget film it often occurs that one operates on a project and coincidentally encounters another project, which itself sounds more interesting. Then one simply changes projects.”
Commenting on two of Japan’s most known directors on the international art cinema scene, Shinya Tsukamoto and Takeshi Kitano, Takashi says, “I think they have been critically appreciated in Japan. The problem is it’s very difficult to recoup films only on theatrical release. And, of course, if you take Kitano or Tsukamoto, it’s very hard to imagine them having ancillary markets for action figures.”
One of Takashi’s many latest movies, City of Lost Souls, is particularly unusual in the world of Japanese cinema, because the two leading characters are a Brazilian male and a Chinese female (played by Michele Reis, who was the killer’s girlfriend/boss in the Wong Kar-Wai movie, Fallen Angels). It represents a demographic reality that Japan, in its movies or larger culture, doesn’t necessarily want to reflect – a burgeoning unofficial version. The governor of Tokyo, Ishihara, was embroiled in controversy in late 1999 for statements that “third-world nationals” (ie. other Asians and Iranians and so on) were responsible for most of Tokyo’s crime. Further, there’s a special Japanese word for foreigners who come over to Japan, to make money, and then return home to where their currency’s substantially weaker, taking that money with them. Anyway, they probably can’t settle in Japan, which is notoriously difficult for foreigners to be naturalized.
“It seems like the Japanese have lost their interest in their own cities and their own country,” says Takashi. “They seem to have become numb.” Numb, for instance, to the fact that Japan is fast becoming something other than the homogenous country everyone thinks it is. “I think that actually Tokyo is much more of a mish-mish than that culturally and racially,” says Takashi. “The fact is that it’s apparent before your eyes, living in Tokyo or Osaka. These cities have really changed in the past years. They represent a full mix of Asian cultures now. Actually, the Yakuzas are very influenced by foreign cultures these days. Foreigners have entered their world, and they have to deal with it now. It is the same with the contemporary Japanese society. If you walk down the streets in Shibuya, there are Iranians trying to sell you stuff.”
Takashi’s film, Rainy Dogs, does take place on rain-soaked streets, except it’s Taipei, a city that Takashi regards with great affection, rather than Tokyo. He says, “Taipei looks like Tokyo in the 60s and 70s. The people look more alive, more human. Tokyo isn’t a place you can stay. A lot of Japanese people think the same way. They feel like there’s no place to go back to. While filming Rainy Dogs, staying at the hotel, it felt very comfortable. I can’t be comfortable in Tokyo. Everybody in Japan is thinking, ‘There should be somewhere we have to return.’”
“All the characters in my movies are looking for a place to settle,” says Takashi. Inasmuch as a theme can persist in a filmography so all-over-the-place, this is it.
Seemingly, the only kind of movie Takashi hasn’t made is a romance. “That’s because I don’t understand woman very well,” he says. He’s directed a mystical voyage into the heart of China, Bird People of China; a horror movie called Audition based on a Ryu Murakami story (whose most well known novel was about two babies left for dead in a coin locker, who went on to hellblaze a trail through Tokyo, yet retained beauty and high style throughout); and scores of shady, violent Yakuza movies, like Shinjuku Triad Society, which came through the Vancouver Film Festival in 1997, and also Blues Harp and Rainy Dogs; DOA, which will be the first Takashi movie to get a wider American distribution.
“I’m not especially conscious that I have a style of my own,” says Takashi of his sometimes flashy style. “And I certainly don’t shoot for a jump cut or that staccato editing. I think for many different reasons whether I just want to speed up the tempo of the film or play to a particular scene, but I don’t think of it as a style that I cultivated. Some people would say that my films devolve in my editing. But I always like the concept of scratching, like with records when I was a kid, so maybe my editing is like a form of scratching. I cannot watch TV without a remote control. There are times when I find all those noises and sound effects quite noisy and rackety in my own head, but I don’t quite have the will to eliminate them yet.”
City of Lost Souls, is based on a serialized weekly Hasue Senchu that broke sales records in the not-so-small, not-so-underground Japanese market for extremely violent novels (in the form of manga). It features an unusually stylish version of the Yakuza. “I think there’s some fundamental interest or respect for the outlaws in Japan,” says Takashi. “If they’re going to be that irredeemably bad, they might as well look cool. Actually, the clothes were designed individually for all the main characters by a Japanese designer. And then the designer brought over a London stylist, who implemented them. But I think the real Japanese yakuza have their own profound aesthetics that no stylist can emulate, whether she comes from London or not. And I think no matter how much we take pictures and try to recreate it, as long as the person wearing the clothing is an actor and not a real yakuza, it’s going to be different.”
“The locations that are in both the original model and the script are actually places that are actually extremely difficult to get access to to shoot,” says Takashi, “And rather than try to butt your head against the impossible, for not very effective results, in other words go to places that are really quite shut off from and invisible to the public eye, so I never intended to take a really realistic approach, so in a way it’s kind of a mixed bag of Tokyo and Los Angeles landscapes. And I think if we had taken the original landscapes and the original locations and the real violence of the original and put them together, they wouldn’t have come up together into a very convincing movie. You can’t adapt a Hasue book into a good film without violence, so the only thing I could play with were the locations and the look of the locations.”
Takashi’s violence makes you wince. He says, “I want to shoot violent scenes, but not action scenes. The blood and pain makes it more real to the audience. Hollywood can make nice, violent movies, but I can’t. In my films, people are like monsters or beasts. Their violence is extreme but at least honest.”
“One may be able to say these are violent movies, but actually Blues Harp is about friendship,” says Takashi. “And Rainy Dogs is about relationship between father and son. But I don’t want to show it obviously. Basically, my approach to make an interesting film is that I need to find feelings and emotions that I have lost.”
(An article focusing on Takashi’s film, The Bird People In China, appeared in Space Age Bachelor issue #1.3.)