Takashi Miike is a truly one-of-a-kind film director, not only in terms of the outrageous and freaky films that he makes, but also the astonishing rate at which he churns them out. Since he burst onto the scene in the early ‘90s with gangster flicks like “Bodyguard Kiba” and “Shinjuku Triad Society”, he’s helmed an average of roughly 4 features per year, which is virtually unprecedented. What makes this number even more impressive, though, is the consistency in quality and sheer variety of his work. Inevitably he’s been responsible for the odd miss among the many hits, and he’s best known for violent action and horror, though he’s also tried his hand at children’s films (“Ninja Kids!!!”) and courtroom drama/comedy (“Ace Attorney”).
I’ve picked five Miike films that I feel best represent his eclectic back catalogue - often jaw-droppingly violent, sometimes pant-wettingly scary, but certainly never dull.
Audition / オーディション (1999)
This film is first on the list partly because it's the one that introduced me to Miike, but also as it made the biggest impression on me. It's the tale of a widower who gets more than he bargained for when deciding to 'audition' suitable candidates to be his next girlfriend/wife. Sounds quite light-hearted when you put it like that, doesn't it? And indeed it starts off that way, but by the end it has descended into full-blown horror. I guess you could say I was "lucky" in that I went into it not knowing much about what to expect, which made the final twist all the more shocking. In the intervening years, though, the film's reputation has spread, to the extent that it's now seen as a touchstone for slow-building horror filmmaking. Any self-respecting horror fan will likely have seen "Audition" already, but if you like a good fright and you haven't yet experienced this shock-tastic masterpiece I heartily recommend you do so. Just don't expect to want any repeat viewings for a while...
The Bird People in China / 中国の鳥人 (1998)
The Happiness of the Katakuris / カタクリ家の幸福 (2001)
If there's one film that encapsulates Miike's wonderfully eclectic approach to filmmaking, this is surely it. Part comedy, part musical, part human drama, part animation (and of course don't forget the horror!), it tells the story of the Katakuri family's seemingly doomed efforts to attract guests to their newly opened guest house near Mount Fuji. Naturally, the shade of comedy is rather black, with one running joke focusing on the unfortunate habit of new guests to die in increasingly bizarre circumstances. It's all handled with a lot of warmth and charm though, making it, for me, the most enjoyable watch out of all of Miike's many movies. My favourite thing about the whole film is probably the daughter's love interest, played by rock musician Kiyoshi Imawano, as a U.S. naval officer who claims to be nephew of Queen Elizabeth II (?) and speaks with the most hilariously awful 'Japanglish' imaginable!
Thirteen Assassins / 十三人の刺客 (2010)
Not to be confused with "Seven Samurai", this is Miike's best-known stab at the Japanese period action genre, and in my humble view it stands up pretty well alongside Kurosawa's masterpiece. Loosely based on a historical incident from 19th century feudal Japan, a group of samurai are hired to assassinate the sadistic half-brother of the Shogun. Much like "Seven Samurai", the first part of the film concentrates on the group coming together, building up their various characters, before the final chapter erupts in one of the most epic and entertaining fight sequences you're ever likely to see on screen. Apart from the stunning action, there's also some fine acting on show, not least from Koji Yakusho as the group's stoic leader, and Goro Inagaki (best known as member of clean-cut Japanese boy band SMAP) putting in a delightfully OTT turn as the aforementioned sadistic target of the assassins.
Lesson of the Evil / 悪の教典 (2012)
Considering the increasing number of mass school shootings nowadays, this tale of a psychotic high school teacher who ends up slaughtering most of his students with a double-barrelled shotgun is about as un-PC as you can get. However, political correctness has never been much of a concern for this punk rock-loving director, unless he’s sticking his middle finger up to it. In a way, “Lesson of the Evil” is classic Miike, in that it starts off fairly sedately, with an undercurrent of unease, before climaxing in a no-holds-barred bloodfest which is so over-the-top it’s just as likely to induce guffaws as gasps. Hideaki Ito is perfectly cast as the teacher, Mr. Hasumi, whose good looks and charming nature blind those around him to his dark, twisted soul. While I found the first half of the film, spent gradually chipping away at Mr. Hasumi’s façade of normality, to be genuinely creepy, the concluding set piece is basically "Battle Royale" on speed!