“I really feel like Audition didn’t go over the top,” says the Japanese director Takashi Miike. “The envelope remains to be pushed.” Anyone who has endured the Sadean orgy of physical violation that concludes the movie would be forgiven for perceiving Miike’s remark as a threat. The director has often employed cruel climaxes as a method of genre subversion, from the audience-punishing tactics of Audition to the apocalyptic big-bang pissing contest of Dead or Alive, which he admits was not in the shooting script. “It originally ended with a typical duel. But once we were on location, we wanted to destroy the sense of satisfaction you’d expect to have at the end.”
Since his 1995 theatrical debut, Shinjuku Triad Society, the hyperprolific Miike has directed about 20 feature releases, and roughly the same number of productions for Japan’s direct-to-video market. Prior to this summer’s U.S. release of Audition and Dead or Alive, he was known here mainly for the schoolgirl-assassins and vaginal-blowdarts epic Fudoh (1996). Like maverick old-timers Seijun Suzuki and the recently retro’d Kinji Fukasaku, Miike has worked as a gun-for-hire on countless yakuza crime thrillers, experimenting with bold conceptual gags and sociological critique. The director says his interest in Japan’s immigrant populace is rooted in his own cultural ambivalence: “Although I’m a Japanese citizen, I feel like that identity is mostly on paper. I’m drawn to characters who have a similarly dislocated sense of national character.”
Though Miike concedes that Audition was a welcome departure, he claims to suffer no creative constraints from his yakuza-pic assignments: “I never feel any sense of crisis about running out of new approaches to material.” Audition and Dead or Alive—both 1999 productions—are by now ancient history to Miike, who helmed two more yakuza titles last year: City of Lost Souls (which boasts a CGI cockfighting Matrix crib the Wayans brothers would envy) and Dead or Alive 2 (a narratively unrelated sequel). He has already delivered three films this year (The Family and The Guys From Paradise are orthodox gangster fare; Visitor Q is a black comedy about domestic erotomania), with several others in postproduction, including the musical comedy (!) Katakurike No Kofuku (“a quiet, conventional period piece”) and the hit-man saga Ichi the Killer. Miike promises the latter will be “a film so violent that it might never make it to the screen,” adding, “But if we can make high art out of the mayhem, we can force an audience to accept the film.”
Click here to read Dennis Lim’s review of Audition.