Takashi Miike is a highly prolific and controversial Japanese filmmaker. He has directed over seventy theatrical, video, and television productions since his debut in 1991. In the years 2001 and 2002 alone, Miike is credited with directing fifteen productions. His films range from violent and bizarre to dramatic and family-friendly.
Miike was born in Yao, Osaka, Japan, an area inhabited by the working class and immigrants. His family was originally from Kumamoto Prefecture. During World War II, his grandfather was stationed in China and Korea, and his father was born in Seoul. His father worked as a welder and his mother as seamstress. Although he claimed to have attended classes only rarely, he graduated from Yokohama Vocational School of Broadcast and Film (Yokohama Hōsō Eiga Senmon Gakkō) under the guidance of renowned filmmaker Shohei Imamura, the founder and Dean of that institution.
Miike’s first films were television productions, but he also began directing several direct-to-video V-Cinema releases. Miike still directs V-Cinema productions intermittently due to the creative freedom afforded by the less stringent censorship of the medium and the riskier content that the producers will allow.
Miike’s theatrical debut was the film The Third Gangster (Daisan no gokudō). However it was Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) that was the first of his theatrical releases to gain public attention. The film showcased his extreme style and his recurring themes, and its success gave him the freedom to work on higher-budgeted pictures. Shinjuku Triad Society is also the first film in what is labeled his “Black Society Trilogy”, which also includes Rainy Dog (1997) and Ley Lines (1999). He gained international fame in 2000 when his romantic horror film Audition (1999), his violent yakuza epic Dead or Alive (1999), and his controversial adaptation of the manga Ichi the Killer played at international film festivals. He has since gained a strong cult following in the West that is growing with the increase in DVD releases of his works. His latest film Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. His upcoming film Straw Shield has been selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Miike has garnered international notoriety for depicting shocking scenes of extreme violence and sexual perversions. Many of his films contain graphic and lurid bloodshed, often portrayed in an over-the-top, cartoonish manner. Much of his work depicts the activities of criminals (especially yakuza) or concern themselves with non-Japanese living in Japan. He is known for his black sense of humor and for pushing the boundaries of censorship as far as they will go.
Despite his notorious reputation, Miike has also directed movies in a range of genres. He has created lighthearted children’s films with (Zebraman and The Great Yokai War), period pieces (Sabu), subdued pictures such as the road movie The Bird People in China, a teen drama (Andoromedeia), a farcical musical-comedy-horror in The Happiness of the Katakuris, and even a video game adaptation in Ace Attorney. Other less controversial works include Ley Lines and Agitator, which are character-driven crime dramas.
While Miike often creates films that are less accessible and target arthouse audiences and fans of extreme cinema, such as Izo and the “Box” segment in Three… Extremes, he has created several mainstream and commercial titles such as the horror film One Missed Call and the fantasy drama The Great Yokai War.
Miike claims that Starship Troopers is his favorite movie. He admires film directors Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Gosha, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and Paul Verhoeven.
One of his most controversial films was the ultra-violent Ichi the Killer (2001), adapted from a manga of the same name and starring Tadanobu Asano as a sadomasochistic yakuza enforcer. The extreme violence was initially exploited to promote the film: during its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, the audience received “barf bags” emblazoned with the film’s logo as a promotional gimmick (one typically flamboyant gory killing involves a character slicing a man in half from head to groin, and severing another’s face, which then slides down a nearby wall).
However, the British Board of Film Classification refused to allow the release of the film uncut in Britain, citing its extreme levels of sexual violence towards women. In Hong Kong, 15 minutes of footage were cut. In the United States it has been shown uncut (unrated). An uncut DVD was also released in the Benelux.
In 2005, Miike was invited to direct an episode of the Masters of Horror anthology series. The series, featuring episodes by a range of established horror directors such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and Dario Argento, was supposed to provide directors with relative creative freedom and relaxed restrictions on violent and sexual content (Some violent content was edited from the Dario Argento-directed episode Jenifer). However, when the Showtime cable network acquired the rights to the series, the Miike-directed episode Imprint was deemed too disturbing for the network. Showtime cancelled it from the broadcast lineup even after extended negotiations, though it was retained as part of the series’ DVD release. Mick Garris, creator and executive producer of the series, described the episode as “amazing, but hard even for me to watch… definitely the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen”.
While Imprint has yet to air in the United States, it has aired on Bravo in the UK, on FX in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela, on Nelonen in Finland and on Rai Tre in Italy. Anchor Bay Entertainment, which has handled the DVD releases for the Masters of Horror series in the US, released Imprint on R1 DVD on September 26, 2006.