Tag Archives: takashi miike

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

8 Oct

I’m gonna just come out and say it. I’ve never Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 samurai classic, Harakiri. That being said, I can’t really compare these two movies. Today, I’m going to be talking about Takashi Miike’s 2011 retelling, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. I knew that Miike was capable of successfully crafting a samurai movie after his expertly made remake of 13 Assassins. The difference between these films is how he goes about telling the story. 13 Assassins is a quick paced action film that delivers on the goods when it comes to swordplay. Hara-Kiri, on the other hand, is most certainly not an action film. This is a slow paced family drama that tells of how the caste system in this time period spelled doom for the unworthy.

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On a day like any other the House of Li gets a visitor by the name of Tsugumo Hanshiro (Ichikawa Ebizō Xl), a poverty stricken ronin who asks if he may use the house’s courtyard to perform a ritual suicide. Before a decision is made, Hanshiro is told a story about another ronin, Motome (Eita), who came to the house a few months earlier for the same reason. It turns out that he was bluffing in order for pity to be shown on him, and maybe some money given to him. He is brutally killed for this. Hanshiro then tells a story of his own; a story where he reveals his relation to Motome and the reason behind his bluff. Tensions rise as he tells his story of family, death, and his goal of revenge.

This is a strange movie for a director like Takashi Miike to take on considering his filmography, which is out of this world I might add, consisting of over 90 movies. Look at films like AuditionGuzo, and his controversial Masters of Horror film Imprint. These are brutally violent horror films, and while he does work in other genres, he’s known as being one of the leading horror icons in Japanese cinema. Therefore, to even think that he could tackle a dramatic samurai film such as this is surprising. He handles Hara-Kiri like he’s been making movies like this his whole life. This is a legitimately excellent samurai drama that may leave some in the cold who were expecting an action packed movie with memorable sequences of swordplay.

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Ichikawa Ebizō Xl in his role as Hanshiro may actually be the best part of this movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this actor before, but he reminded me a lot of Toshiro Mifune, the go to actor of Japanese film legend Akira Kurosawa. He brings a feeling of gravity to all of his scenes, whether it’s joyful, angry, or downright somber. Another person who deserves a great deal of credit is Miike’s cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita, who again feels like he could’ve been doing this 50 or 60 years ago when samurai movies were at their height. He makes the scenery really pop in this movie, but also makes the climax of this movie look absolutely beautiful. It was all together a big team effort that really pays off big time in the end.

This is also an interesting samurai movie because it deals with a theme that feels fresh to me. In most of the films involving samurai and their code, their way of life makes them strong and excellent warriors capable of bringing the most powerful of armies to their knees. This is not the case in Hara-Kiri. This film explores the negative side of the samurai code and dares us to think of how honorable they could have actually been. Sure they fought bravely in battle and offered their services, but only to those who were able to pay. The very last line of dialogue sums up the entire movie in a very ironic way, and is an excellent coda to such a thematically powerful film.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is an excellent addition to Takashi Miike’s stunning filmography. The fact that he has made so many quality movies is a pretty remarkable feat. This is not a movie that will leave you on the edge of your seat or one that will it give you a surge of adrenaline. This is a thinking man’s samurai film with themes that question what honor the samurais actually had. If you’re a fan of samurai films or even of Takashi Miike’s work, you have to check out this movie. It sums up his talent pretty damn well.

Detective Story – Review

5 Jan

The job of anyone that is crafting a tale of mystery that takes place in any form of media has a very important, and I’d argue, difficult job. They have to make it intriguing in such a way to keep the audience in the dark and always guessing. Now, the Japanese cult phenomenon director, Takashi Miike, has dabbled in pretty much every genre in his unbelievable filmography of over 90 movies, and Detective Story is his combination of mystery, dark comedy, and his own brand of sick horror.

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Raita (Claude Maki) is a Japanese business man who has recently moved into a new apartment. Coincidentally, Raita’s new neighbor is also a man named Raita (Kazuya Nakayama), a private detective who doesn’t really have both feet planted firmly on Earth. Detective Raita soon begins investigating a series of bizarre murders, in which the victims have had certain organs removed after they were killed. Evidence against the private detective is soon uncovered, so he pulls the business man Raita into the mix of things for help, and the two plunge deep into a sickening quest to clear the detective’s name and solve the mystery of these brutal killings.

There are things in this movie that remind you that you are watching a movie by Takashi Miike. The film was actually written by someone else, but Miike’s style is certainly injected into the story, mostly by the use of his twisted sense of humor and the brutality of some of the scenes. This definitely isn’t as gut wrenching as other films of his like Ichi the Killer and Audition, but Detective Story does have a fair share of scenes that will make the viewer squirm, but laugh at the same time.

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The story is pretty muddled, as is the case of a lot of Miike’s films, but the difference between Detective Story and the other ones is that the others have things happening that really catch the viewer’s attention. The films I already mentioned have a sickening amount of over the top gore, and a movie like Sukiyaki Western Django has pretty insane action and art design that kept me interested, even when the story sort of fell through the cracks. Detective Story doesn’t really have any of this. The beginning and ending are both strong and grabbed me, but the entire middle part is filled with people just running around, doing a whole lot of what seemed like nothing. I felt like the plot got stuck in the mud and was just moving for the sake of a run time.

Now, there are really cool scenes, don’t get me wrong. Unfortunately, my copy of the movie had some things awkwardly blurred out, which kind of pulled me out of the movie for a second. Still there are other scenes that will shock, and others that will make you laugh. Nakayama’s performance is gleefully silly which is nice in a movie that had the potential to be so morbid. A lot of the humor in this movie comes from Nakayama’s ineptness getting in the way of him and anyone else solving the case. There are also a few gory scenes that will be remembered, but that doesn’t really make up for what is a really boring movie.

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I don’t really have much to say about Detective Story because it’s pretty forgettable, save for a few scenes. The story gets so caught up in itself and has this weird way of moving that I felt like I was missing stuff, but it turns out nothing was really happening. I can’t say I was really expecting too much from this movie, but I will say that I expected more. Fans of Takashi Miike will want to see it for his strange sense of humor and a few cool gory scenes, but the rest of the movie falls short and will kinda fade into my memory until it is hardly remembered.

Three… Extremes – Review

10 Oct

Asian horror is one of my personal favorite genres and has been creeping more and more into American culture by remakes and just by curious film enthusiasts out to see something new and exciting. Exciting is just what I would call really good Asian horror films. Exciting, and…well, extreme. Three different directors from three different countries band together for Three… Extremes, a collection of horror films that attempt to take the genre to a whole new level.

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The first film in this group of three is Dumplings from the Chinese director Fruit Chan.

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An aging woman (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) is obsessed with finding a way to bring back her youthful look. She finds help with Mei (Bai Ling) and her home made dumplings, which have been known to have a physical rejuvenating quality. What this woman doesn’t know is the secret ingredient that Mei uses for her dumplings, and the means that she goes through in order to please her customers.

Dumplings is one of those movies that actually got to me, and even worse made me lightheaded. This is, without a doubt, one of the most uncomfortable films that I have ever sat through. Fruit Chan isn’t as much of a horror director as the other film makers in this anthology, but he succeeds in such a way that I was actually very surprised. What really helps this segment along is Christopher Doyle’s work as cinematographer. Doyle combines gritty and sophisticated lighting to really show a contrast in the different locations. This is a disturbing trip into a hell that I’m not too excited to go to again any time soon. Unfortunately for me, Dumplings was also released as a feature separate from this anthology and I’m curious enough to check it out.

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The next film in the anthology is by Korean director Park Chan-wook titled Cut.

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A famous director (Byung-hun Lee) is known not only for his talent when it comes to film making, but also for being a very nice and accommodating man. After a day of filming, he comes home to find his house completely empty, save for an intruder who knocks the director unconscious. Waking up on the set, the director finds himself face to face with the intruder (Won-Hie Lim) and his two hostages: the director’s wife (Hye-jeong Kang), whose fingers are glued to the piano, and a small child. He is then forced to play this stranger’s sick game to determine who is walking out of this in one piece.

Out of the three short films, this one if my favorite for a lot of reasons. Park Chan-wook’s use of camera movement and editing really makes this unique. Along with the nice camera and editing work, the set design is really awesome. It’s this off kilter gothic kind of set that just doesn’t seem quite right, and I mean that as a compliment. Finally, despite it being a horror film with a strong element of torture, it is also darkly comedic. This has a lot to do with the editing, but also Won-Hie Lim is also a great vocal and physical actor that we are frightened by his madness, but can’t help laughing at him. Cut stands above the other two and will not be forgotten.

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Finally, from Japan, we have Takashi Miike and his segment, Box.

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Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) has been having a horrifying dream of being buried alive. As if her subconscious torment wasn’t enough, she has been haunted by the ghost of a little girl, thought to be her long lost sister, Shoko, who shows up in her apartment complex. In order to understand these dreams, Kyoko must search deep within her memories to those that have been locked away. The cerebral quest takes her to an all too familiar place where she has to face the demons of her past head on, all the while learning that her night mares aren’t too far from the truth.

Out of all of these short films, I’m really disappointed to say, that this one didn’t really do much for me. I’m upset about this because I really enjoy Takashi Miike as a film maker, and I know that he is capable of horror on a much grander scale than this. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a beautiful movie to look at with really nice contrasts when it comes to the lights and the darks. Unfortunately, the story is told in such a way that it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the shorts. It plays out as sort of a head trip, with very little that is extreme about it. One scene played out like some of Miike’s best work, but I had a hard time not only following this one, but staying interested.

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Three… Extremes is almost a perfect anthology film, with only the final segment really dragging it down. In that way, it really feels uneven because of the high intensity of the first two, and than the slow, cerebral pace of the final one. I almost wish that it was ordered in reverse order. Maybe than the movie wouldn’t feel so sloshy. Still, to any extreme horror fan, Three… Extremes is a must see.

Gozu – Review

17 Feb

There are movies that exist that make me thankful to live in the world that I do. A good portion of these films fall into the sub genre of surrealism. Gozu, directed by horror icon Takashi Miike, is an example of a movie that pushes this genre to its limits and creates a blurred line between comedy and nightmarish terror. Is it the best this style has to offer, probably not, but it certainly has its fair share of memorable moments and insanity to keep your attention.

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Minami (Yûta Sone) is given a very difficult order by his yakuza boss to kill his mentor and best friend, Ozaki (Shô Aikawa), after it’s become clear that he’s gone off the deep end. After accidentally completing his task, all that is left is to dispose the body at the yakuza dump. All is going fine until Minami discovers that Ozaki’s body is missing from the car. In his odyssey through a Japanese suburban hell to find the body gets stranger and stranger, Minami begins to question his morals, his relationships, and his own sanity.

I consider myself an individual who loves surrealism, being a fan of film makers like David Lynch and Luis Buñuel. Gozu is certainly surrealism to its core, and for that I was pleased. The film still seems a bit off in a bad way. There were times where things got really weird and were supposed to be “interesting,” but I found myself checking the time or playing with my cat. This mostly happened in the scenes involving the motel employees, as strange as they were. Strange doesn’t always mean interesting though. It’s all about the execution and the overall atmosphere of the scene.

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There are still really great scenes of nightmarish surrealism. One of my favorite, and I think hysterical, scenes is when Minami goes into a diner and there’s a man talking on the phone saying the same thing about the weather over and over again. It’s not the most bizarre thing to happen, but it had me laughing and scratching my head at the same time. The goat head’s scene should really be recognized as an excellent piece of horror, if you can call it that. Finally, and I think most importantly, there is the most unconventional birth scene I have ever seen. Forget The Fly. This is the hardcore shit.

A thought that I had after Gozu was over was that there is no way that it would pass here in America. Sure, there are people who’ll get it on DVD and enjoy it, but if it was ever released in main stream theaters, people would be running home to their mommies and daddies. This might sound condescending, but I don’t mean it that way. What I’m trying to say is that America has become so strict with its censorship and its apparent laziness when it comes to certain summer blockbusters. There’s rehash after rehash of old shows or remakes of classic films when there’s films like Gozu that may never see the light of day.

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Like most of Takashi Miike’s work, Gozu is not a very easy film to get through both because of its form and context. It looks very cheaply made when it comes to image quality, even though the special effects look really cool. This certainly isn’t my favorite of Miike’s work and isn’t my favorite surrealist film. It sometimes relished too much in its own bizarre nature, when it was actually starting to get a little boring. Luckily there were excellent scenes in-between that made up for its uneven pacing. If you’re new to Takashi Miike, start with something else like Audition. If you enjoy movies that transport you to a world that you’re more than ready to leave when the film is over, and you can appreciate Miike’s low budget filming style, than you should check out Gozu. Good, but not great.

13 Assassins – Review

3 Sep

The samurai genre seems to be nearly extinct these days. There was a time, however, where samurai films were nationally popular and attracted massive audiences. This isn’t the case now. Fortunately, Takashi Miike has taken a break from his usual over the top gorefests of twisted mayhem to bring a quality samurai film that reintroduces the genre to modern audiences, 13 Assassins.

 

The year is 1844, and the era of the shogun is coming to a swift end. Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the shogun’s  younger brother, is threatening peacetime by murdering, raping, and stealing at random as he travels through towns. A secret meeting is held where the samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is tasked with assassinating Naritsugu. A team of 13 willing samurai assassins is formed and turn a town into a well fortified trap which Narisugu and his men will enter and engage these samurai in battle.

13 Assassins reminded me very much of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Seven Samurai. It got to the point where I was convinced that this was an unofficial remake, but it turns out that it is a remake of a film from 1963, The Thirteen Assassins. Even though it isn’t related to the Kurosawa film, it is certainly influenced in both style and storytelling by Kurosawa. To say otherwise would be very naive.

 

This film may be very easily mistaken as a misleading or boring. With a name like 13 Assassins, one might begin to think that this is going to be an all out samurai action film, and with Takashi Miike at the wheel, we can sure expect buckets of the red stuff and limbs flying in all directions. If that’s what you’re looking for, I can gladly refer you to great Miike films like Ichi the KillerAudition, and his banned ShoTime Masters of Horror episode, Imprint13 Assassins on the other hand is a mature drama that builds up all the tension that is released in an extended battle at the end.

I never really mention just one character in a movie. Normally I’ll try to spend time on all of the main characters. This is not one of those times. I’d like to focus on Lord Naritsugu. This guy is a total asshole that the audience wants to see fail. He attacks men, women, and children of all ages. No one is safe from his violent and malicious personality. He know he has power and can’t be touched, so he flaunts it at every turn. It is a great performance by Goro Inagaki.

 

Even though there isn’t much action in the first half of the movie, rest assured that the final battle more than makes up for it. Have you ever played a video game and got to the last level where you are bombarded by enemy after enemy? That’s what this final battle is like. There is a never ending flow of enemies that this small group of assassins have to defeat. It’s long, bloody, and a fulfilling showcase for Miike’s talent as a director.

Takashi Miike is a director of many genres. With 13 Assassins, I believe that he has earned some much deserved respect from film makers, critics, and larger audiences. This is mature film making that is epic in scale and down to earth. This is one of his best films that will her regarded as a classic in years to come.