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Posts Tagged ‘Takashi Miike’

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Two young men arrive in a prison on the same day for different crimes. Jun who’s a quiet meek person has killed a man who had raped him and then mutilated his body. Shiro is an angry person who has been to jail on many occasions and this time he’s beaten a man to death in an alleyway. Though the two are completely different to each other they share a common bond between them with Shiro acting as a protector to Jun. Then one day Jun is found by the prison guards bending over Shiro’s lifeless body with his hands wrapped around Shiro’s throat. Although he confesses to Shiro’s murder the investigators think otherwise as there are rope marks around Shiro’s neck but who was the guilty party?

big bang love screenshot

Set in the future, this is probably one of the strangest Takashi Miike movies I’ve seen. Visually it looks great with the simplistic stunning images on display (the scene where a ray of sunlight pierces through the gloom of a prison cell to hit a prisoner’s body exactly where his heart is located is one example) but the story itself is rather confusing and multi-layered with its use of symbols and metaphors and on that point I wouldn’t really say it’s one of his most accessible works especially if you’re new to Miike’s works. What you would normally associate as a typical Miike movie is thrown out of the window here as he experiments with a new style of directing. The opening scene depicting a father and son doing a sort of primitive dance made me realise that this was going to be unlike anything Miike had done before. Miike himself has classed this movie as being his masterpiece! The storyline is hardly conventional which makes it hard to understand at times although at the heart of the plot is a tale about how the relationship between two young men develop over time in a prison and the criminal investigation into Shiro’s death. I would say that this is Miike’s trying his best at doing an art-house movie although elements from what he’s famous for such as violence is present in this movie. I expect the majority of Miike’s fans to become frustrated and bored with this movie and whilst it was nice to see him try something different I wouldn’t say this movie was that good. Yes, it’s unique and you won’t see anything else like it but it only barely managed to keep my attention to the end. I cannot fault the excellent performances from Ryuhei Matsuda and Masanobu Ando as the two young prisoners who form a bond and an attraction with each other. There is a strong homoerotic theme running throughout the movie although you never see any sex or affection going on between the two leads.

Viewers who like to be intellectually stimulated and want to work out the meaning behind the various symbolic images such as a large rocket or a temple will revel in this story by Takashi Miike but I’m afraid this isn’t one of his better works in my opinion and is far from being a masterpiece that Miike himself has stated.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Detective-Story

The opening scene sees an artist painting a large picture but this is no ordinary artist. This artist’ fingers is caked in blood and is using blended body parts to use on his canvas to create a masterpiece. Raita Takashima is a salaryman who works for an IT company. He moves next door to a man that’s also called Raita which both men find amusing. Raita Kazama is a slovenly private detective with his own small company which employs 2 people. Kazama tries to get to know his neighbour a little better one night when he invites himself to Takashima’s apartment for some drinks. In the early hours of the morning there’s a knock on Kazama’s apartment. It’s a young woman named Manami Inoue who’s in need of some help from Kazama. As it’s late he tells Manami to drop by his office later on in the day but Manami never turns up as she’s murdered on her way home. It’s discovered that one of her livers is missing. The police find it a bit too coincidental that Kazami has a liver in his apartment that he says he bought at a butcher’s shop. Soon after a second victim is found hanging from a tree with her kidneys missing. The police find a pen near the crime scene and the fingerprints on the pen belong to Kazama. He is immediately made the prime suspect so Kazama has to go into hiding and stays at his friends studio whilst making some investigations on his own. Meanwhile his next door neighbour Takashima has struck up a friendship with Kazama’s female assistant Mika. A date to a gallery of her favourite artist Yuki Aoyoma turns sour when Mika discovers another victim in one of the toilet cubicles at the place. The woman in question has had her lungs removed and her mouth is full of soil. A cigarette lighter is discovered in the toilet which is traced to belong to Raita Kazama. The police place Kazama on the wanted list for murder. Kazama asks Takashima to help him out as he knows he hasn’t killed the victims but who is setting him up? As Kazama delves deeper into the mystery, will he be able to find the killer before the police arrest him?

It’s hard to know what Takashi Miike was trying to do with this movie as it’s a mishmash of genres – gory horror, comedy and a whodunnit drama. I didn’t know whether to take it serious or not because there are some very funny scenes throughout the movie. Whilst the plotline might sound like your typical crime drama, you should know by now that with Takashi Miike at the helm of a movie it’s never going to be as straightforward as it seems. It’s a wild ride from the start. The movie has a good plot and there’s plenty of gore to satisfy horror fans but strangely enough some of the scenes in which the bloody victims’ corpses are shown there’s a blurring effect on the part of the bodies in which their organs is missing which I thought was odd. No idea if Miike did this on purpose as he hasn’t shied away from showing the viewer some disgusting horror shots in the past? He nabs an idea from The Silence Of The Lambs when Kazama visits a psycho killer who he helped to arrest 15 years earlier when he was a cop. The psycho who is strapped to a chair in a straight jacket with a mask on his face tells Kazama to place himself in the mind of the killer. Only then will he able to join the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the crime. There’s also some random weird stuff going on in this movie such as Takashima spacing himself out when he stares at Kazama’s assistant Mika’s legs constantly or Mika wetting herself in Aoyoma’s gallery as she can’t hold it in who then proceeds to build a make-shift clothes line in the toilet in which she can hang her underwear to dry after washing! What’s even more odd is a scene at an onsen in which a nude young boy is seem coming into frame twice for no reason whatsoever. But even that is nothing to what happens near the climax which is so surreal and bizarre you just have to laugh at the absurdness of it all. The final scene will either have you be scratching your head and saying ‘WTF was that all about?’ or laughing at the ingenious talent of Takashi Miike and the crazy ideas he comes up with. This movie has got a little bit of everything in it even a child murderer. That’s why I like Miike. He is never predictable like other directors which is why he stands out so much and you’ll always be entertained by his movies even when some of his work is rather uncomfortable to watch.

detective story screenshot

The cast are excellent in their roles from the leading characters to the supporting ones. Kazuya Nakayama is fantastic as the detective Kazama. He is played mostly for laughs. For some reason Kazama puts on a wig sometimes when he’s out on duty (perhaps as a kind of disguise?) which he only takes off when he’s back at his apartment. I guess that’s a part of the eccentricity associated with the character. What happens to Kazama as he confronts the killer at the end is hilarious although many will see it as being gross.

Detective Story might not be up there with Miike’s greatest works but with it’s warped sense of humour and high gore content it’ll no doubt please his fans. I really enjoyed it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Lesson of the Evil

High school teacher Seiji Hasumi is the most popular teacher at his school who has earned the respect of his colleagues and the affection of his pupils. When rumours of exam cheating using mobile phones rears up one day in the staff room, Hasumi suggests using body searches and signal jammers but that idea is swiftly put down. However there are other numerous problems in the school that Hasumi uncovers such as bullying and secretive student teacher relationships. When one of his pretty female students comes on strongly to him, Hasumi responds back in a very unteacherlike manner! The mask that Hasumi is putting on that he’s a kindly saviour to his pupils and a model teacher to his colleagues begins to slip. He blackmails 2 colleagues who are having affairs with students but soon turns to murder to cover his tracks. Then Hasumi explodes into an orgy of violence against his class during a festival they are preparing at their school one evening. Trapped with the doors to the outside locked, will any of Hasumi’s students manage to survive the carnage that ensues?

With Takashi Miike at the helm, viewers should know by now to expect the unexpected with the movies he directs and this one certainly managed to shock me with the brutal and relentless violence that takes place during the 2nd half. It doesn’t start out that way although we are given a taster that Hasumi may not be quite the nice guy we think he is by showing a flashback sequence to when he was a teenager when he grabbed a large knife and quietly crept upstairs to confront his parents in their bedroom who were thinking of turning him in to the cops after discovering he’s responsible for a string of murders. The first half of the movie is relatively sedate introducing us to the teachers and students but showing us that life at the school that Hasumi is employed isn’t so cosy and there are impending signs of Hasumi’s dark side coming to the fore by showing us that he lives in a ramshackle house out in the wilds listening to the song Mack The Knife. Two crows (linked somehow to Norse mythology) seem to be watching the teacher’s every move at his house and we can clearly see that Hasumi is a sick man when one of the crows is fried as he has electrified a contraption he has rigged up outside. Gradually we are shown some of Hasumi’s past when he went to study abroad in New York where his violent impulses came to the surface once more and he murdered one of his so-called friends. The urge to kill is never far from his mind but the way he manages to surpress his evil thoughts from the pupils that adore him is quite sinister. In a way Takashi Miike lulls the viewer into a false sense of security because what happens next after the first hour is a tour-de-force in excessive bloodshed as Hasumi turns psycho, grabs and loads his trusted shotgun and begins a systematic slaughter of his entire class. No one is spared and the way he goes about blasting his charges at point blank range may be repetitive but it is ever so shocking. Seeing Hasumi’s twisted and bloodied face as he loads his shotgun over and over before firing into the helpless and defenceless bodies of his class with some begging for mercy is something I won’t forget in a hurry. Perhaps it was the cinematic experience that made the shotgun blasts ring out loudly because at times it made me jump in my seat. From taking a quick peek at the rest of the audience in the cinema it seemed everybody was numbed by the horror that unfolded on the screen, one or two people had their mouths gaping open not believing what they were seeing. I’m sure the excessive shooting that takes place in this movie will make it unwatchable for some viewers. Miike shows us during the orgy of violence that Hasumi is so mentally ill that he believes the shotgun is seen to have a human face of sorts on it and it talks back to him!

Lesson of the Evil screenshot

Hideaki Ito turns in a fine performance as Hasumi and the way he charms his way into his pupils’ lives by not being just their teacher but also their friend just makes his turn to the dark side all that more disturbing to watch. A couple of the teenage cast are given fairly substantial roles but for the majority we are not given any background to them at all. That would have taken too long to establish in the movie so don’t expect any kind of character development apart from that of Hasumi.

It looks likely that Miike will be making a sequel to this movie judging by the ‘to be continued’ sign that came up before the end credits. With Hasumi arrested by the cops and two of his class miraculously surviving, my guess is that the story will perhaps take place a couple of years later with the two survivors at university and Hasumi somehow escaping from prison and wanting to finish off the job he couldn’t do before but that’s just my idea of what the sequel could be. We will just have to wait and see what Miike will come up with. Takashi Miike’s movies don’t usually make me wince at the violence but this one did. Maybe it was because the victims were all young? Despite the carnage of blood I still enjoyed this movie but it definitely won’t be for those easily offended or the squeamish so be aware of that before you decide to see it in the future.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Sabu (2002)

Sabu and Eiji have been best friends since they were small. They work as poor trainees in a traditional umbrella store by the time they become adults. Eiji is falsely accused as a thief when a gold embroidery cloth is found in his tool box and he is shipped off to the prison island of Ishikawa where he is made to work as a labour worker. The seething anger inside of him and his attitude to work there makes him have many enemies and he takes his anger out on those people. He keeps on thinking of ways to take revenge on the person who falsely incriminated him. During this period, Sabu hasn’t forgotten about his best friend and regularly visits him but Eiji doesn’t want to know. He thinks it’s best if Sabu forgets about him. As time goes by, Eiji starts changing and gradually becomes friends with some of his co-prisoners. He even tries to contain his anger and present a cool and calm demeanor. After many years of being a prisoner, Eiji is released from prison and the person that put him into prison is finally revealed.

Think you know everything about Takashi Miike and what kind of movies he makes? It’s time for you to think again as Miike reveals yet another layer to his directing skills in this made-for-TV movie set in the Samurai era. When you think of TV movies in the West you usually think of cheap low budget features but not so in Japan. Sabu is more or less a high quality feature length movie which could have easily been given a cinematic release there. This isn’t a samurai movie at all, instead it focuses on 2 of the common people who both come from impoverished backgrounds. It’s a tale about 2 best friends maturing and confronting challenges that life thrusts upon them. Those expecting a movie full of Miike’s usual mix of extreme violence and sex are going to be very disappointed. There is some violence but it doesn’t come close to the level normally associated with Miike. Don’t let the opening shot of a woman’s corpse hanging from a tree lull you into thinking this is going to be a typical Miike feature either. In this movie he proves that he can deliver on character driven stories as well. Violent yakuza movies may be his forte but as I’ve seen time after time he can turn his hand to any genre he wants and make a genuinely good movie out of it.

Unfortunately this movie which runs for 2 hours is a good 30 mins too long for my liking. The plot unfolds at a sedate pace which may bore some people. This movie is very pleasing on the eye and some of the atmospheric scenes come close to looking like landscape paintings. Why Miike has called this movie Sabu is a bit of a strange one as the story is more about Eiji and the injustice against him. He’s the more dynamic and interesting character of the two. Satoshi Tsumabuki and Tatsuya Fujiwara play their roles well.

I wouldn’t class Sabu as being one of Miike’s best by a long shot. This is Miike being more sober and patient rather than relying on his excessive tendencies. As a competent and finely crafted period movie it has plenty on offer to satisfy his fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Chuji is a young Okinawan man who works behind the bar at a live lounge club but also deals in drugs for a gang. He is a gifted harmonica player but only plays in his own private time. One day Chuji helps an ambitious yakuza member named Kenji who’s being chased by some people and also bumps into a bubbly woman Tokiko who becomes his girlfriend. Chuji is encouraged by one of the owners of the bar who leads a band and his girlfriend to perform on stage. After just one performance with the band, Chuji is a big hit and soon a record producer is knocking on his door willing to sign him up. Meanwhile Kenji rewards Chuji for the help he had by giving him some money. They soon become friends despite their loyalties to opposite gangs but what Chuji doesn’t know is that Kenji has more than friendly feelings towards him. Chuji can’t believe his luck when Tokiko announces that she’s pregnant with his child. It seems his life is on the up and he can perhaps soon give up his drug dealing ways. But Kenji’s close friend in the yakuza who harbours feelings for him and is aware of Kenji’s love for Chuji strikes a deal with a rival gang that unwillingly puts Chuji right in the middle of a yakuza battle that goes way over his head with tragic results.

It doesn’t matter how many movies I see from Takashi Miike, all of them apart from Ninja Kids which I didn’t like have been so enjoyable and Blues Harp isn’t any different. It’s an amazing movie. The story is about a man trying to move on from his troubled youth as he didn’t have much of a life growing up on Okinawa. His mother was a prostitute so he was left out on the streets for most of the time. Years later and working in Tokyo behind a bar, he expresses himself through music in playing the harmonica. He may be a part-time drug dealer but he’s always hoping that one day he can stop doing that. Even though you wouldn’t normally associate blues music with Japan or it’s culture, this uniqueness to the storyline only adds to the greatness of the movie. The other half of the story involves a yakuza man who hatches a plan to be the top man in his group by killing his boss. Chuji and Kenji’s fateful first encounter when Chuji discovers Kenji lying on the floor outside his bar in an alley as he’s being chased by a rival gang sets up a chain of events that ends in tragedy for the two men. This could have been a gritty yakuza movie but it’s not and instead we have a compelling character driven storyline with an emotional depth to it which is perfectly paced by Miike. He adds a sweet and simple love story to the proceedings and in the character of Tokiko who’s an overtly bubbly sort of person, she’s provides a great foil to Chuji. They are completely opposite in personalities to each other but somehow they have a connection and their relationship works. The movie has 2 memorable leading characters with the actors in their roles giving it everything. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi stands out more as Chuji and he’s a character you grow to care for. When you see Chuji take to the stage in the bar and wow the audience with his harmonica it’s enough to get you tapping your toes. The movie is peppered with a couple of scenes that shows off some great blues numbers and they’re a treat to listen to. Although not as outrageous and shocking as some of Miike’s other movies, it still has some flashes of gore and violence to jolt you.

Blues Harp is an excellent movie with two plotlines that link together and combine seamlessly to make for an unforgettable experience. Another winner for me from the maverick director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Starting out sometime during the 1990’s during a hotly anticipated match between boxing champion Tamai Kazuyoshi and wrestling champion Takeshi Hamada, the story goes back in time to 1970’s Osaka where the seeds of their rivalry began. Back then Kazuyoshi was the champion of Naniwa West High School and he took everybody on without ever being defeated in between working with his best friend Toshio at a rat infested restaurant. Then he hears of a new kid from another high school who is also good with his fists and a fight between the two is inevitable…….that is until Hamada makes the mistake of taking on a 14 year old karate teacher and has his arse whupped big time! Humiliated by the experience, Hamada gives up fighting and asks his conqueror to be his teacher. Kazuyoshi tries to taunt him to fight but he refuses. Other punks come and go to annoy Kazuyoshi but who he really wants to fight is Hamada and then the day comes when Hamada fresh from his training challenges Kazuyoshi. Excitement mounts amongst the pupils of both schools but who will win the fight?

Similar in style to the Young Thugs movies, this story by Takashi Miike is yet another that takes us back to Osaka in the 70’s. A time that Miike obviously loved so much as this is him getting all sentimental about his youth. From the summary above you’re probably thinking that this is just a story that builds up to a climatic fight between the Kazuyoshi and Hamada at the end but you’d be wrong about that. The two never clash onscreen at all. It’s true that there are plenty of violent and bloody fights in the movie but the fighting is not what is driving the story forward at all. It’s more about friendship forged during hardship, growing up in a rough neighbourhood, finding oneself and capturing the energy of youth. It’s how all of these factors shape the characters we meet in this movie and how they turn out in the future. This isn’t one of Miike’s well known stories but that’s not to say it should be ignored. It’s got drama, violence, humour and tragedy wrapped up neatly together in a fantastic tale. I found this movie to be a lot of fun. The comedy in this movie is hilarious and provide plenty of laughs along with the drama. There’s a love triangle aspect to the story between Kazuyoshi, Toshio and their childhood friend Ritsuko. She likes Kazuyoshi but he’s only interesting in fighting whilst Toshio wants to be more than friends with her. The boys also don’t have a proper family as such and rely on their own instinct to survive. Toshio’s father is the local weirdo who pushes a cart on the streets and gives out toy windmills out to people. Toshio is rather embarassed about his father’s mental illness whilst Kazuyoshi stays with his batty grandmother (who’s one of the best characters in the movie). Even Ritsuko and Hamada are having problems with their families so the 4 of them share more in common than they think. For myself even though I liked the drama part of the story, it was the superb humour that made this such an enjoyable movie from the comedy of errors that made Kazuyoshi and Hamada miss each other in their first attempt at having a fight, the secret ingredient that goes into a bowl of ramen at a restaurant to the massive melee that occurs at the end of the movie with everybody laughing as they’re punching each other’s lights out!!

Even though the movie was shot on a low budget as it was a straight to video release, Miike directs it with his usual panache we’ve come to expect. You could argue that it’s perhaps a little rough around the edges but I thought it was really well done. The acting by the cast is brilliant and Miike himself even cameos as a person who’s stabbed in the chest.

The Way To Fight is another Miike gem that fans of his movies should try and check out. Recommended.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Set in 1969, Riichi is a 10 year old tough youngster who lives in a rough part of Osaka with his ever suffering mother, grandfather and his good for nothing father who abuses his mother constantly. When he comes home all day covered in bruises after clashing with his arch-enemy Sada and his gang, his grandfather throws a party to celebrate as he thinks Riichi has beaten Sada to a pulp. At school, his pretty teacher Miss Ito becomes concerned and decides to visit Riichi’s family to find out what’s going on. Although his grandfather is smitten with Miss Ito, his father starts hitting his wife and Miss Ito in his drunken state. Miss Ito and Riichi becomes good friends and he even begins to fall for her. He’s obviously jealous when he finds out that she has a boyfriend. With the imminent landing on the Moon by Apollo 11, Riichi and his friends start building a replica model of the Lunar Module to win a prize. All seems to be going well until Sada and his gang destroy his pride and joy. Riichi’s seething anger at this destruction will see Sada being punished to within an inch of his life….

This is apparently Takashi Miike’s favourite movie. I’ve no idea why? It could be that it reminds him of his own childhood perhaps? This is the prequel to Young Thugs: Innocent Blood and it sees the characters in that movie as children rather than adults. If you’re primarily looking for some of Miike’s hyper-violent, ultra-cool, and beyond-bizarre happenings in this movie you’ll only get them in very minor and subdued doses. It’s a great coming-of-age story full of the joys, heartbreak and wonder of childhood with some dollops of humour (witness Riichi’s grandfather punishing his own son for hitting Miss Ito by ramming a brush handle up his arse or Richii throwing up into his recorder during music class!!) interspersed with lightweight violent scenes. It’s certainly not as violent as Innocent Blood though we do see various scrapes between Riichi and his nemesis Sada. The storyline is very episodic with many different plots in which the movie jumps from one to the other but it all comes together nicely with a brilliant ending that sees Riichi becoming a man and kicking his dad’s arse (which is deserved by the way!) This isn’t the only change happening in his life by the end as his own neighbourhood is also changing rapidly and being industrialised. Miike’s directing is wonderful and he delivers this story without it being too overly sentimental. He seems to have captured the era at the back end of the 60’s pretty well.

Excellent acting by the child actors and they do a perfect job in trying to match the personality of the characters that we see in Innocent Blood. In fact the youngsters perform better than the adults! We see Riichi develop throughout the movie from an innocent and dare I saw weak character and transforming gradually into the tough leader that he’d become as an adult. I usually enjoy Naoto Takenaka’s acting but I really dislike his character so much in this movie. He’s just a loud and idiotic drunk who goes around shouting at people and treating his wife like dirt. No wonder she leaves home when he brings a stripper home with him one night. A revolting character indeed.

With a well written and compelling script, believable performances from the young cast and an awesome soundtrack, Takashi Miike hits the jackpot once more with this cool movie about childhood. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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