Monday, May 16, 2011

Insomniac Theater Presents: Miike Madness

Monday, May 9, 2011 10:22:00 AM

Recently, a friend returned my DVD of 2001's twisted love story Audition.  Audition was my first exposure to the to the world of Takashi Miike; I had ordered it on Amazon (pre-release!) on impulse, based entirely on the blurbs. I watched it once, then put it in the cabinet with my rusty hand grenades, dirty syringes of smack, Rush Limbaugh tirades, everything that tastes good and other unhealthy things and forgot about it.

I don't know what possessed my to take it out and share it with Steve; perhaps it was the perverse image of him watching it in his lovely, suburban living room replete with high def tv and the assorted bric-a-brac of a normal family life contrasted with the white knuckle horror of the final act was too much for me to pass up. He returned it with clenched teeth and a “don't ever do that to me again” look on his face.

I tried, but have yet to understand how some horror directors Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci have achieved so much love and acclaim for their films and Takashi Miike goes so unnoticed. Miike films are strong stuff and kick way more ass than Suspira or Zombie.

This set me off on a Miike viewing festival. Perhaps because they knew better, Olivia and Thor did not join me. I had to make this journey alone.

First was 2001's Ichi the Killer (or maybe Icky the Killer ?). Ichi's  convoluted plot is as slippery as a KY covered dildo. A perverted take on Dashiell Hammet's 1929 noire novel, Red Harvest (famously filmed by Akira Kurosowa as Yojimbo), Ichi charges into the familiar territory of gangster movies and pushes beyond its boundaries into neon lit, gore drenched, psycho-sexual horror.   

There is a cartoonish element to some of the violence in (think a Tex Avery version of The Torture Garden),  one victim is sliced perfectly down the middle, leaving two functioning selves, another is found hiding inside a hollowed out television.   Other scenes are filled with intermingled images of sex (pleasure) and violence (pain); a woman is beaten and raped while Ichi watches with a large erection protruding from his school uniform, gangster Kakihara tortures a member from a rival Yakuza clan with great pleasure, but later is disappointed when a prostitute fails to beat him with the appropriate enthusiasm.

Miike begins the Ichi the Killer with a confusing montage of the major characters.  Ichi (Japanese for One or The One) spies on a beating, is a pawn being used by Jijii, is a low level Yakuza, to get revenge on rival underboss Kakihara.  Kenako, a former police officer who was fired for losing his gun (a reference to another Kurosawa film, Stray Dog) seeks redemption for his disgrace in the service of Yakuza boss, Anjo.  He talks on the phone with his son, Takeshi, who will later attempt to bond with Ichi after he rescues the boy from a group of bullies.

Ichi is a round faced, unassuming looking child/man with savant- like talents for creating mayhem and murder. Perpetually confused between sex and pain, he is a one man loving and killing machine. 

Sailor's brutal lover comes to cartoonish end
Sailor, a prostitute with a bruised and swollen face leads, asks Ichi to help her.  He spies on her while she is being beaten and raped, peering through her window, and leaving a copious amount of Ichi spunk on the flowers (Rumor has it that in order to achieved the correct effect, Miike passed a bucket among the crew members, asking them to add their DNA dog tags to the film).
Ichi fails to understand why Sailor needed rescuing

Kakihara, with his scarred face and mouth held together by rings, embraces giving and receiving pain.    He calmly orders shrimp as he prepares to torture the man he believes is responsible for killing Anjo.  To redeem himself for his mistake, he matter-of-factly cuts off the tip of his own tongue and presents it, complete with stud, to the wronged man.  As he becomes increasingly isolated by Jijii's plan, he experiences fear and arousal at the prospect of meeting Ichi.  He hopes it will take him beyond any sensation he has experienced.  

These elements come clashing together on the top of an apartment building in a bloody showdown to rival Hamlet.  

There is nothing cartoonish about Audition . While Ichi produces the occasional chuckle among the gasps, Audition leaves no room for such frivolity. Showing uncharacteristic restraint, Miike created some of the most harrowing moments of torture ever filmed.  Horror-porn founding father, Eli Roth, found the film hard to watch, according to Wikipedia.

Shigeharu turns his back on the turbulent sea
Audition begins slowly; the first hour reminded me of when the foreign section at the video store was mostly family melodramas.  These were the kind of movies where the characters discuss their feelings in order to achieve personal growth, confront aspects of themselves they are uncomfortable with or resolve long standing conflicts with other family members or friendlies.  Chick flicks in another language.

Audition begins with these elements in place.  Widower Shigeharu, at the urging of his teen age son Shigehiko and friend Yasuhisa decides to begin dating. Yasuhisa, a television film producer, stages an audition to allow Shigeharu to meet some women.  He meets Asami and they begin to cautiously date.  However, instead of focusing on Shigeharus's unresolved bereavement or Asami learning to trust someone after years of abuse, everything goes bat shit crazy.

Saying that Audition is about male and female relationships is to oversimplify.  Both Asami and  Shigeharu are drawn to each other because of the catastrophic live experiences they endured.  The are each other's yin and yang; opposites but equal.
Extra body parts are discovered at a crime scene

Some girls dream of ponies, others dream of keeping mutilated, former lovers in a bag.
To make the final third of Audition harder to stomache, the Japanese word for "deeper" sounds very similar to "kitty."  

Yes, those are fucking needles in his eyes

If you hadn't vaguely warned me about a disturbing ending, I can't be sure if I would have stuck it out. But wow...

--Steve "This wire can cut flesh and bones" D. on Audition, 1999

Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Saturday, May 14, 2011 11:59:22 AM


Eponymous Steve said...

There is a certain brilliance and courage that comes from diving into a horrific fantasy like "Audition" without slowing it down with a direct answer to the most obvious question..."Why?"

Bill D. Courtney said...

Audition is great and my favorite Miike film by far. And you must be doing something right, you have one of those "warnings" now when I come to your site. Good job!

Bill @ The Uranium Cafe

Mr. Xploit, Esquire said...

Interesting, Audition is far from my fave Miike film. I actually think it is pretty predictable now because of the cover art and the atmosphere within the movie. You can tell things aren't gonna go according to plan. I far prefer the wild Ichi the Killer, the hellish Izo, the hilarious Bird People in China and the hideous but masterful Imprint. Miike is definitely underrated, that's for sure.

Michael Williams said...

I remember Imprint; HBO thought it was too horrible for their masters of horror series. Izo is definitely on my Netflix. I have been trying to organize a Miike Film Series to go with the Oxford Family Movie on the Green Festival this summer, but I'm not getting a lot of support from the other stay-at-home moms in the neighborhood.
It might be a non-starter.