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Studying Japanese: Takashi Miike's 10 Ten Films of All Time

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  So far learning Japanese has been a real challenge. You have to learn three alphabets and a whole new set of pronunciations before you can even really get into the language. When I first arrived in Japan I suffered under a wrong assumption about learning the language. I thought if I just came here I would end up learning it naturally. How wrong I was, the right kind of practice is necessary. One of the biggest changes in my approach has been the realization of the simple rule - input first output second. I guess like trying to master any new skill whether it be golf or filmmaking, we have to observe good examples first. So what I tend to do now is listen to Japanese Pod 101 (lots of excellent graded listening) in the morning and the evening do my best to watch a Japanese film. Thus, choose something that interests you for the foundation of your Japanese listening input. I am a humble language learner but I enjoy it.

Recently I have been into Takashi Miike's films as they are always interesting and off the wall. Also I respect him as a director due to his prolific output of films. He is always working, this one of the goals I aspire to in my filmmaking.

Takashi Miike's body of work encompasses the most diverse approaches to filmmaking of any director alive today, from direct-to-video police dramas to avant-garde art movies. On top of this, Miike seems to make no distinction between modes of filmmaking—not only from project to project but within each film itself. His closest American equivalent might be Quentin Tarantino, who shares a wildly egalitarian view of film history, but Miike is almost unique among living filmmakers in that he advances this view within a traditional studio system. Where Tarantino, who makes a film every few years, is expected to produce Art, Miike, who releases anywhere from two to seven in a given year, can operate below such scrutiny. Forgoing Art, Miike has built a career at the intersection of work and play. - Mubi

Anwyay, you may find this Takashi Miike top ten list useful for your language learning:

A yakuza of Chinese descent and a Japanese cop each wage their own war against the Japanese mafia. But they are destined to meet. Their encounter will change the world. Despite this sometimes Kitanoesque detatchment and calm, the movie succeeds in making you really care for and relate to the charakters. I think this really is a big accomplishment. Finally combining this more conventional, ‘humane’ crime/drama story with the outrageousness of the beginning and the end, and making this combination work, shows how brilliant Takeshi really is.

A family moves to the country to run a rustic mountain inn when, to their horror, the customers begin befalling sudden and unlikely fates. All of the technical elements in the film are superb. Miike treats us to a lot of interesting cinematography, the location/setting of the Katakuri home is wonderful, and the performances are good. You are going to have a great time watching this film and if you are familiar with Miike I think it is safe to say that this film is more shocking that even Ichi the Killer. Why? Because at the end of it you feel all warm and fluffy inside and I dare say nobody expects this from Takashi Miike. I certainly didn’t.

An executed samurai takes an existential journey throughout time, space and eternity in search of bloody vengeance. For those of you not familiar with the works of Takeshi Miike, suffice it to say that he is determined to mine the human subconscious in search of new and exciting ways to make people throw up sushi and tempura on the carpeted floors of Tokyo multiplexes. Think of it as Jodorowsky’s El Topo combined with his Holy Mountain, then turned into a time traveling samurai flick as filtered through the mind of a genius prankster. The broken structure is far more complex than Nolan’s ‘Memento’ and far more effective as it allows you to experience the agony that Izo is constantly feeling.

In the 1800s, an American returns to Japan to find the prostitute he fell in love with, but instead learns of the psychical and existential horror that befell her after he left. If you are a fan of horror and want to see something you have never seen before, something truly shocking, then give this film a try. Granted it does take about 20 minutes to start coming together and the lead actor comes off a bit cheesy but once it gets started it never lets up to until the end. Takashi Miike is a genius. He can make your jaw hit the floor and just when you think you can pick it up again he stomps it back down.

A yakuza enforcer is ordered to secretly drive his beloved colleague to be assassinated. But when the colleague unceremoniously disappears en route, the trip that follows is a twisted, surreal and horrifying experience. It is best to approach Gozu as a prolonged nightmare, complete with personal demons and elements of religious imagery interweaving, as all notions of conventional narrative development are done away with in favor of an almost stream of consciousness presentation where the real, the dream and the purely metaphorical are smashed together and left in shards for the audience to reinterpret as they see fit. With Gozu, Miike takes his personal style further than even the hall-of-mirrors-like surrealism of Audition; creating a dark and distorted recreation of a nameless Japanese underworld that is labyrinthine and claustrophobic throughout.

Miike insists the film defies genre, his main motivation in filmmaking being to provoke the viewer into questioning his/her own feelings. Exemplifying the extreme reactions that develop out of the conflict between disengagement with people and surroundings and the need to belong to someone or someplace, Miike’s morally ambiguous protagonists in Audition relate a dark tale of emotional insecurity, guilt, and fear-driven obsession culminating in an unforgettable portrayal of violence. By its conclusion, the look of the film has changed dramatically as it spirals to its ambiguous, unsettling end. The genius of all this misdirection resides in Miike’s capacity to challenge the viewer’s ability to pinpoint just where the movie changed, in effect ratcheting up the tension to uncomfortable levels by actively exploiting the viewer’s own confusion.

A group of assassins taking on over 200 guards and a final battle that takes up a third of the film’s running time is the end result of straight bad assery known as 13 Assassins. Set around 1844, this classic samurai genre film portrays bored samurai who finally get to see some action as Naritsugu, the films villian, is trying to obtain absolute power and goes on a killing spree. I have to give Miike a pat on the back for offering mainstream audiences an earnest look at vintage Samurai cinema. And as a huge Kurosawa fan, I really don’t say that lightly. It is curious to see Miike do something so straight-forward and crowd pleasing. The cast is truly star galore with some of the biggest names in Japanese acting, and experienced supporting actors. All of which do a terrific job.

City of Lost Souls raises some interesting topics mostly about different races and how we after all are very similar no matter what “race” or nation we belong to. All the characters are more or less tragicomic and show that there’s absolutely no culture or person in the world who could be described as “perfect” or without flaws; people in City of Lost Souls are selfish, stupid, violent and proud of themselves so these are exactly the same things which plague every human being in the world.  This is one wild ride to experience and even though it’s not the director’s masterpiece, it’s still very interesting film and personal to say the least. No sequels and not much publicity, the movie oozes with style and the action is brilliantly choreographed.

A salaryman and yakuza are each sent by their bosses to a remote Chinese village but discover more then they expected. To analyze the film’s rabid lust-for-life philosophy and examine the complexities of the script would be a media student’s dream come true. Rich in symbolism and wild directorial flair, Miike continually pushes the question of whether technological progress, modern day perceptions of civility and even spoken language itself are adversaries or allies to man’s untamed nature and desire to be free. The film’s very much about our need to dream. But it also tackles important issues such as the encroachment of civilization and the importance of keeping some places pristine and innocent, no matter how valuable they might be to the rest of the world.

Yet tempting as it is to dismiss the film as little more than a stylish compendium of ultraviolent sensationalism made with Miike’s characteristic verve, this would be to ignore the film’s high level of sophistication and the incredible intellectual demands which it makes on viewers. It would have been really easy for most actors, upon reading the script for Ichi the Killer, to decide to play Kakihara with campy exuberance. Surely a sadomasochistic yakuza hitman who dresses like The Joker from Batman would be pretty excitable. Asano is not most actors, however, and plays the role with a scarily calm demeanor. Sure you’ll go in anticipating the violence but there really is more to it then that. We think it is his most ambitious project, his swan song, and one of the best experiments in film to date.

Posted via: Japan Cinema