Must Read: Our Interview with '13 Assassins' Director Takashi Miike
by Jeremy Kirk
April 12, 2011
With over 75 films under his belt, more than a few of them that have sparked a nice amount of controversy, Japanese director Takashi Miike is becoming notorious in the film community. Whether you love, like, or despise his films, there is no questioning the talent he holds in his craft and the drive with which churns them out. Miike's latest film is 13 Assassins, about a band of Japanese warriors who must come together to hunt down and kill an evil ruler. I was lucky enough to speak with Miike, via translator, about what drives him, what themes he looks for, and what he really thinks about remakes, particularly those of his own films.
13 Assassins (watch the trailer) is another example of Miike's gift as a confident story teller mixing his grasp for genuine emotion with the edginess his violence is able to convey. I first saw the film at the SXSW Film Festival a few weeks ago. Here is my complete transcript of the interview/chat I had with Takashi Miike:
We are here with famed director, Takashi Miike. First off, Mr. Miike, I'd like to say I am a huge fan of your work.
Takashi Miike: Thank you very much.
You're one of the most prolific directors working in the world today, and these aren't small films by any means. They're expansive. How do you keep the energy to direct so many baronial films?
Miike: I wonder. I think my time is essentially my own time. I think it was much harder and had less of my own time when I was an AD, because I was working harder to try to get directors to OK things and give me an OK on what we were trying to do. Now every time we're shooting when we're eating lunch I think if we can take 15 minutes off our lunch time we could probably make another movie while we're here as well.
Do you push yourself to work in as many different genres as you can?
Miike: Yeah. I like the idea of the unknown, of going somewhere I've never been and doing something I've never done. I like opening the door and finding out what's behind that. And that goes for whether we're shooting a big picture that involves TV producers and something that ends up being shown all over the country or whether it's a movie like Visitor Q that we made for 7 million yen. For me it's the same adventure.
There aren't too many doors you haven't opened.
Miike: I think there are more doors that can be opened. I'm just a normal guy who's not very good at getting out there and selling myself and appealing to people. I've had offers from Hollywood to make movies but things don't seem to go forward, but that's okay. I like doing what I think is my best, which is trying different genres and seeing what can be done with them.
How important is it for you to challenge yourself with each film?
Miike: I guess for me making movies, I never had any other job, so I don't know. It wasn't like I got into the film business saying, "Yes, yes. I want to make movies." I didn't want to be a director essentially. It was kind of a natural flow. It just happened, so essentially everything becomes a challenge or it isn't a challenge. You say to yourself, "I have time or I have no time." For me the hardest thing is I can't ever find a reason to say no or why we can't do this or try this. In fact, if it seems harder I always wonder what will happen and what can happen. I guess I'm not interested in doing something for the challenge. I'm just interested in seeing what will happen.
What were some themes you were looking to depict on film when you decided to make 13 Assassins?
Miike: For the film itself and for me personally was to sort of say to myself, "If I sit down and I make this film properly then there's still more films left in me. More things will still happen to me." In a sense to not protect myself in any way as a director to say, "Maybe this is a huge film." But also to say to myself, "Now I can go back to saying where I've done nothing." And sort of get that back. The other big theme is to express things we believe exist in Japan especially in the old days, the beautiful sense of beauty itself. The Samurai. The Samurai spirit. To record that on film to express what these men were feeling at the time, because I feel we've lost that ability so much in Japanese film making. Our big theme was to get back what we've lost in making Japanese movies.
13 Assassins is a remake of a 1963 film. What is your general opinion of current remakes?
Miike: Of 13 Assassins or in general?
Miike: [laughs] Personally I think when a certain movie is remade I think, "Why did they need to remake that movie?"
What did you think that about the One Missed Call remake?
Miike: As long as the movie can be remade in a different culture by a different technical staff then there is some merit to it, because they'll find something new about it. The movie itself can stay alive and exist in their culture. I did see the need behind One Missed Call being remade.
Have you found a noticeable difference in the way Japanese and American audiences perceive your films?
Miike: I think what's nice about US fans is they don't tend to judge the movie saying whether it's well made or poorly made or in a sense doesn't matter. They tend to enjoy the movie as a tool or a toy or something to be enjoyed. Japanese audiences, they're appreciation for movies maybe aren't that developed. In fact, most people in Japan don't necessarily want originality in a movie.
You talked a little earlier about possibly coming to America and making a film in the Hollywood system. Is that a consideration for you? Is that something you have interest in?
Miike: Yes if I could be able to make the movie the way I want to make the movie and in a sense the way I make movies, I would be interested. Unfortunately making movies in the US especially in the Hollywood system means you have to make, well beyond your ability to make a movie there's something else required from the director and that is to be able to essentially get along in that kind of environment to sort of "be the director" and playing the role of being a director. That's kind of an extra job for me, and I don't think I'm suited for that. If they allowed me to make the movie with all my faults of who I am as a person then, yes, I would do that.
Thank you very much, Mr. Miike. It was a privilege to speak with you.
Miike: Thank you.
Thank you to Takashi Miike, his translator, and Magnet Pictures for this interview with one of my favorite filmmakers. 13 Assassins arrives in theaters in a few weeks - watch the trailer.
Thirteen Assassins, or Jûsan-nin no shikaku, is both written and directed by legendary Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike of films like New Third Gangster, Audition, Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer, One Missed Call, 3 Extremes, Detective Story and God's Puzzle recently. The screenplay was co-written by Miike and Daisuke Tengan, another filmmaker who also wrote Audition and other features like Dr. Akagi, Waiting in the Dark and The Most Beautiful Night in the World. This premiered at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals and is being distributed by Magnet. Miike's 13 Assassins arrives in theaters April 29th and is available VOD now!