Dubai International Film Festival 2012: Takashi Miike
Posted on Wednesday December 12, 2012, 10:16 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
An interesting couple of days here on the Gulf. On the film front, Empire was amused and uplifted by Bekas, the story of two Kurdish brothers who, after catching an illicit glimpse of a Superman movie, resolve to travel to America to meet the Man Of Steel in person. Armed with a rudimentary map - the kind you might see hanging on a kindergarten wall - they embark on their journey, full of hope, aboard a donkey named Michael Jackson.
Set in 1992, it’s a whimsical tale given poignance by the fact that the brothers, played by Zamand Taha and Sarwar Fazil, were orphaned during Saddam Huseein’s brutal suppression of the 1991 Kurdish uprising. In Superman, they hope to find a saviour who will rid the world of Saddam and bring their parents back to life.
The film, directed by Sweden’s Johan Holmquist, received its international premiere in Dubai and both Taha and Fazil were there to walk the red carpet. To commemorate the first time either of them had left Kurdistan, Fazil rejected a tux in favour of national dress.
The same evening, Iraqi-born documentary director Maysoon Pachachi was awarded the IWC Schafthausen Filmmaker Award at a ritzy ceremony under the stars at the One&Only Royla Mirage Hotel’s Arabian Court. Pachachi was presented with the award by IWC jury president Cate Blanchett. Along with the accolade came a prize of $100,000 to be spent on her next project, a narrative feature called Nothing Doing In Baghdad.
Following the event, IWC, purveyors of ultra-swanky timepieces, threw a lavish after-party at the Arabian Court. The Moet flowed once more and guests were wowed by a blistering set from Brian Ferry. With a superb band at his back, Ferry was on top form, delivering a barrage of classic Roxy Music tracks (Love Is The Drug, Let’s Stay Together, Jealous Guy et al) plus a couple of Dylan covers: a slinky reworking of Knocking On Heaven’s Door and a plank-spanking version of All Along The Watchtower that owed as much to Hendrix as it did to the Big Zim. Not merely a memorable night, an unforgettable one - no matter how much shampoo flowed Empire’s way.
The following day, Empire spoke to cult Japanese director Takashi Miike. Famed for his highly stylized, hyper violent and sexually perverse imagery, Miike is perhaps best known in the West for his 1999 breakout film Audition, the Yakuza epic Dead Or Alive and Ichi The Killer which caused huge controversy on its 2001 release, leading to censorship issues in the UK and elsewhere. His latest film, Lesson Of The Evil, based on the novel by Yûsuke Kishi, is another jaw-dropping gore-fest in which a high school teacher devises a novel way to combat bullying (i.e. he kills people in the most horrible ways imaginable).
What was it about this book that made you want to adapt it?
In the novel, Hasumi (the schoolteacher) is a really cruel character. I felt pity for him, and I wanted to introduce him to Japanese kids who don’t read any more. I became a fan of Hasumi while making the movie.
The song Mack The Knife, in a variety of guises, plays a big part in the movie. Why is that?
The song appears in the novel. I went back to different versions for research and found the American jazz version and also a big band version. I’m very interested in how far and wide the song has traveled, and through that process changed in form. It’s still the sad story of an outlaw who is a killer, but the song - the melody - has become more light-hearted over time, and its contrast with the lyrics has become wider, which interests me. I also like the parallel of how a film can also travel in time and space and receive a different reception.
Your films are often stupefyingly violent. Where does that come from?
I’m really a scaredy-cat at heart, I want to be loved by everybody. But I become a slave to cinema when I’m making a film; I forget about those feelings. When I create a character in the camera, he’s forcing me to make the film in a particular way. I always become very fond of my protagonists; I’m like a man wanting to do everything he can for the woman he loves.
I’ve received a lot of criticism over the years for the violence in my films, but I’m happy to receive it on behalf of the characters I represent. I’m taking the blame on their behalf.
How do you feel about people censoring your movies, does that outrage you?
Of course I want audiences around the world to see my films uncut, in the original version I made. But there’s also an issue of freedom. I have the freedom as an independent director to make films my own way. But there’s also the freedom of an international audience to express their own views. The freedom to censor my films exists just as my freedom to make them exists. I’m not so uptight about it because I’ve made my film and the original version will always be there.
Your 2007 movie, Sukiyaki Western Django starred Quentin Tarantino. What’s your relationship with him? And how is Django Unchained related to your film?
He’s become a very mainstream person, hasn’t he (laughs). When debuted with Reservoir Dogs, his film and his persona were a big shock for me and my filmmaking friends. He’s an otaku (someone who spends time, effort and money on their obsession, to the detriment of their social skills, in this case a movie nerd), he’s not coming from the professional industry perspective. He has a really absurd devotion to cinema (laughs).
[For Yakisoba Western Django] I figured it would be too expensive to bring him to Japan as a film director, so I brought him in as an actor instead. I negotiated his fee personally while visiting the US. Even if I have the money, it’s never my intention to make a film without thorns; and ordinary Japanese director would never think of casting Tarantino. Maintaining that sense of audacity is important to me. His new film Django Unchained probably has not relation to my own, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Lesson Of The Evil is about a massacre in a school. Do you see parallels with real incidents of mass murder?
I’m aware of the real-life crimes. In Japan, there haven’t been the incidents of serial-killing that one hears about in Europe and North America. This film is quite different from the mass killings that have taken place there. Those massacres are similar to suicides, done out of desperation. People are caught up in the murderers urge to kill himself. In my film, Hasumi is different; he has to kill to be himself. The setting of a school classroom may be shared, but you can’t make a connection with it and real life incidents.
Do you feel a sense of social responsibility as a filmmaker?
I do, but if you always fear you’ll do something wrong, you won’t be able to create anything. You need the courage to receive criticism, to continue to make the film you want to make. If there is a coincidence between a film and a real-life incident of violence, then you’ll be crucified for spilling poison into the world. But if you’re not open to that kind of criticism, you shouldn’t make films.
You’re incredibly prolific. What do you do when you’re not making a movie?
You could say I’m like an insect, not thinking about anything between films. I’m just standing still in my free time, doing nothing. Perhaps I need that time to reset myself and my mind. It’s a necessary part of me. For me, the fuel for the next film comes when I’m making the previous one. When shooting and editing a film, I’m thinking about the next one. That’s what gives rise to my next film and my career goes on.
And where is your career heading now?
In Japan, I'm now making films that get wide national releases. But making a big budget film has never been my goal. It's more that the budget allows me to better myself, it's a kind of power, and it allows me to introduce my work to more people. I can always go back to making low budget films. It's the freedom to make a wide range of films that I'm looking for. By making different kinds of films at different budgets, my freedom has widened.
At the end of my career, I hope to make a film that will be hated by the entire global community and then rent a small room in Dubai and live the rest of my life here. I've just finished shooting a new film that I'm editing now. And I'll shoot my next film in January. It's about saving lives rather than taking them.
So a Takeshi Miike film where no one gets killed?
Five people get killed.