Hyper-prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike has become as permanent a fixture on the Euro film festival circuit as Ryan Giggs is fast turning into onto Twitter. And if the response for his Cannes 2011 offering, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, was more muted than that for 13 Assassins in Venice last autumn, then the chance to grab a few words with the man himself was still one I wasn't going to miss.
Although maybe, just maybe, I should have. For the interview with Takashi Miike turned out to be by far the most chaotic such engagement undertaken by me in Cannes this year.
Obviously one of the great bonuses of reporting from the festival is that you're given opportunities to shoot the breeze with some of the movie-makers whose latest works are screening in the various competitions. Now, when this works, as it did for me with Oslo, August 31st director Joachim Trier for example (small group of journalists, questions and dialogue flowing easily and fluently, to create an interesting appraisal of the work), it can be a joyous experience – rich nourishment for your inner film fanatic.
On the other hand, if you find yourself landed in the wrong group – too many, too competitive, as inept at asking a decent follow-up question as a dormouse is at bowling a googly – then the interview scenario can easily degenerate into a tension-riddled fiasco. Indeed, a US correspondent told me that his experiences on the Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps junket at Cannes last year had forsworn him from bothering with any interviews this time round, so infuriated was he at the behaviour of his fellow hacks.
Furthermore, the risk of such an ignominious fate befalling your round-table session with a filmmaker seems directly proportional to how substantial and long-established their international reputation is. Which meant that while my chats this year with Trier, Eric Khoo and Christophe Honoré were able to pass off peacefully enough, the Miike meeting last Friday evening turned out to be a maelstrom of frustration (I know Indie editor Emma suffered a similarly wearying experience when she interviewed the Dardenne brothers).
Miike himself was actually a model of cool and calm at the centre of the squabbling storm, dressed rather eccentrically in yellow Stone Island zip-up top and leather bootcut trousers, but the conversational progress proved undeniably slow and difficult, as inessential points were laboured over by certain unforgivably pushy journalists, and some uselessly crass questions were asked about Japan's recent tsunami tragedy (“It's like a horror movie,” offered one charmless nitwit. Miike somehow resisted the temptation to give her an Ichi the Killer-style facelift). It was however still a pleasure to be granted some face time with the man who put a dog bowl to such thoroughly grotesque usage in 1999's Audition.
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is perhaps rather less of a pleasure, it being a movie that ultimately did little for me, feeling like a fudge both in terms of its narrative progress and its headline-grabbing use of 3D. For a bit more information, you can read my review, or simply content yourself with knowing that it's all about samurai honour and family bonds in 17th century Japan. What follows is the edited version of what Miike had to say about the film, his speedy approach to his work, and also the new video game adaptation he is currently beavering away on.
Questioner: What is the fascination for you with the samurai?
Takashi Miike: The samurai that we talk about and the samurai the historians perceive - it's very different. Because these are fictional images of what we perceive to be samurai. When I was a child, period drama was on television every day and within that context we started creating this image of a samurai. So you can say that the samurai you see now is the image of a samurai born out of film.
Q: I'm wondering about the connection between your movie and the original movie that you're remaking [Kobayashi Masaki's Harakiri from 1962]. What are your feelings towards that movie?
TM: The Harakiri that Kobayashi made was based on a very short story, so [it] was an adaptation, and in our case, we revisited the novel and adapted it for a film. Because there was another film I actually went through the screenplay trying to find originality in our version, but we decided eventually that's not necessary. I found that screenplay to be very, very close to the Kobayashi version in the end.
Q: It also destroys the image of honour, and the feelings behind that.
TM: Yes. Hanshirô, the main character [played by Ebizô Ichikawa], and his family – it's something that they felt. It's about their beliefs or the recognition that there was no meaning to [them], and the horror of that, the fear of that.
Q: The choice of 3D doesn't seem to be based on any particular perspective. The film seems to be a normal film in that sense. What did you want to show?
TM: First when I was talking about this with the producer [Oscar-winner Jeremy Thomas], it was about the act of harakiri being shot in 3D – probably very horrific and very painful. That was a starting point, I admit that.
But as I worked on the script, I realised that if this was a 3D film, because I wanted to exploit it in that way, I would be straying away from the quintessential elements of the story. So I decided to shoot like I would with a 2D camera, and I consciously decided not to have anything jump out too much. It was a very straightforward, ordinary use of 3D cameras.
Q: What quintessential elements did you think you'd be straying away from?
TM: The ordinary drama. Exaggerating the seppuku scene through the use of 3D would nullify the whole drama, and that's why I decided not to do that.
Q: How do you film so many movies that're different? Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai and Ninja Kids, which are in the official selection and the market [both at Cannes].
TM: I'm here for four days amidst another shoot. As you probably know, I'm always working on something, which is the case right now. But this is just how it happens with me. I really don't know who the sales company is for each of my films. As you've pointed out, they're very different films, and to have these two films shown at the market and in the official selection is something I find rather strange.
Q: What is the secret to keeping working? Because most productions have got to wait for money, they've sometimes got to wait for actors to be free. It's a slow process normally.
TM: Many filmmakers tend to deny, they tend not to take on jobs. But in my case, even if it's very small budget, even if it's impossible by any rational thought, I always think 'What can I do with this budget?' And I would say, “Okay, let's do it”. Rather than being circumspect in my choices, I just make films. It's like I'm going with the flow.
Q: I know you're going to make a very low-budget production for your next film. Does that mean you will have no blood?
TM: Well, you know, all you have to do is cut the actor's skin and you have blood for free!
Q: Your film seems divided in two parts for me – a world of men, and then a domestic world of women, with the baby and the family. Is this correct?
TM: I would say so. But what I haven't depicted too often is men from a female perspective, because when I direct actresses I am talking from a male point of view. I think female filmmakers are much more suited to portraying women, or to work with an actress who has a very strong opinion.
Q: The harakiri scene with the bamboo sword. Was it necessary for it to be that long and that bloody?
TM: It's a bamboo sword, so it's not easy to kill yourself with that. It probably is more painful in reality, and his agony, his pain, and the humiliation – to share that with the audience required that amount of time. But it's not like I showed that many scenes of the wound, right? I think by not showing all that explicitly it became more horrific, because people used their imagination.
I know there's an audience out there that expects violence in my films, but it just depends on the film I'm working on. Harakiri for a samurai is not violent, it's about their way of life. So I shot this in 3D, but it's not like you have blood and gore spilling out and splattering towards you.
Q: Can you reveal a little bit more about your next project?
TM: It is a very light comedy I'm filming at the moment. Very little blood. It's actually a court drama. It's based on a game, a Nintendo DS game [he proceeds to shy away from any invitations to name the game, but Digital Trends reckons it's Ace Attorney].
Q: Would you mind doing a big-budget film in the States?
TM: Well, I have been approached several times, but to shoot in America would mean I have to give them a certain amount of my time. If that's the case I'd rather make my films in Japan, however smaller, in a more creatively free environment.
IndieMoviesOnline users based in the UK can watch Takashi Miike's 2002 Yakuza thriller Deadly Outlaw: Rekka here on the site, in full and for free.