Book Reviews

AGITATOR. THE CINEMA OF TAKASHI MIIKE

By • Jun 27th, 2006 •

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Written by Tom Mes
Published by Fab Press publications
Price US$24.99

My first exposure to the world of director Takasi Miike, like most Americans, was through the film AUDITION. It was a few years ago in the late nineties and early 2000’s when films like BATTLE ROYALE and THE RING were starting to get good press and also starting to make a dent in the world of horror films. After having seen THE RING on bootleg, I read in the paper about another well-crafted film in the same vein called AUDITION, so I decided to check it out. In the movie theatre (I went alone) there was me, two rows of college-age girls (who I am going to assume were from NYU due to their clothes which looked like an NYU print shop threw up all over them), and a smidgeon of other movie patrons seated here and there.

During the screening I was thinking to myself how impressed I was with the actual craft of the film. I felt like I was watching a Hitchcock-influenced film with a few jump sequences thrown in containing a minimal amount of blood. As much as I was enjoying the film there was simply no way for me to anticipate how drastically different in tone the ending would be. Apparently neither could the NYU girls because just as things were starting to get bad at the end (or really good, depending on your slant), about half of them left in a hurry with mutterings like “I can’t handle this”. A few stayed behind and tried to put on a brave front. Then about a minute or so and one character minus one foot later, one of the girls screams out “OH my fucking God!” and the rest of them ran, not walked, out of the theatre.

This to me was one of the rare moments that make life worth living: to actually be witness to a horror film that drove people to flee in terror (or at the very least, in disgust). I knew I had to keep an eye out for this Takashi fellow in the future. Little did I know that this was his 35th film and I already had a whole world of Cinema from this director to explore. And that’s where this book comes in. I cannot imagine a more in depth analysis of Takashi Miike than what Tom Mes has delivered with “Agitator” (named after Miike’s 45th or 44th movie depending on if you want to count ‘MPD-Psycho,’ which was a television series). What Mes has done is to break down Miike’s career into a couple of sections and themes.

The first section is about Miike growing up. What his family was like, what he was like, and what he was into in his early and teen years. How he became interested in film and landed his first jobs.

The second section talks about his first nine films, all of which were straight-to-video, during the years 1991-95. The third section covers his theatrical and television releases from ‘95 until the release of this book in 2003, a period in which he directed a mind- numbing 41 films, assistant directed 8, acted in 12, and produced 10. And also had the time to launch three television series. This averages out to 4.7 productions a year. Theoretically, this book might need to be updated annually. Author Mes just might have his life’s work cut out for him.

Each movie is given a thorough review: a minimum of five pages (even for admittedly bad films) to 14 pages for some of his more landmark films such as ITCHI THE KILLER.
Also the book is full of pictures which illlustrate what is being talked about. You get original poster work, and pictures of actors when they are being addressed in relation to the film.
Also near the end of the book there is a reprint of Takashi Miike’s journal about the making of ITCHI THE KILLER which was originally printed in a monthly Japanese film magazine called “CUT”. His personal writing reminds me of a cross between Henry Rollins and Robert Rodriguez. Funny, absurd, and somewhat mean.

And the last part is an interview with Takashi Miike that lasts 21 pages and is one of the better interviews I have read with any director. The title of this chapter and interview is called “I can’t pretend to know what I am doing”. It pertains to the fact that he really, honestly just does what he does without any plan per se. He admits to quickly going from one project to the next in hopes of not becoming bored.

This is followed by a filmography which also lets you know currently what films are available on what format and in what region.

One of the things that you have to give Mes credit for is the following: Although the book is devotedly in-depth ( 398 pages) he is honest when it comes to reviewing the films. He notes when Takashi makes an average film, great film or a terrible film that more than likely should be avoided. In the coming years, when more and more of Takashi’s work will become available on DVD, I think this book will be an invaluable aid in making an educated determination about which ones to own.

There is a quote on the back of the book by Pete Tombs, writer of a book called “Mondo Macabro” (which is another great book worth reading), that says among other things, how “Agitator” is an essential buy for anyone interested in knowing where cinema is headed in the 21st century. I agree whole-heartedly. When you consider films coming out currently such as KILL BILL, and then consider the work of future film students who are being molded to varying degrees by Miike’s work today, I dare say at some point he may become as influential as Kurasawa.

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