Takashi Miike interview on Gozu for The Japan Times

Japan's most notorious cinematic provocateur, who splatters blood on the screen with
manic abandon, in person Takashi Miike was the soul of consideration for this foreign
interviewer. When asked questions he had heard dozens of time before, he spoke slowly
and measured his words carefully, in a deep baritone voice that was a joy to transcribe.
Now in his mid-forties, with more than fifty films to his credit, Miike moves a bit more
slowly than when I first met him nearly four years ago. Also he has exchanged his afro for
a short cut that gives him the look of a Zen monk, but he is not about to retire to a
monastery. As always, he has one film in the video shops, one in the can and one in
production. We spoke mainly about the first, "Gokudo Kyofu Daigekijo Gozu" (Gozu),
which has been described as the first "yakuza horror" movie.  

Q: You recently went to Cannes with "Gozu." Was the atmosphere different from the
other festivals you've attended?

A: "Gozu" was in the Directors Fortnight section -- it's not the same as being in the
competition. Within the larger festival I was able to find a time and place that suited my
film -- a weekend evening screening. I was also able to get a good reaction from the
audience. They laughed and enjoyed the film in a way that was very heartening. So even
though my film was selected by Cannes, I was able to find my own space and stance.

Also, I went with staff from the film, including ones who usually work behind the scenes,
like the editor. In Japan, unlike in the West, editing is a behind-the-scenes job. My editor
has been a partner of mine for a long time, but I had never had a chance to invite him to a
place like Cannes. I told him "let's go together" and when he agreed I got him an

That was the highlight of Cannes for me -- seeing my editor, at his first film festival,
seeing how the European audience enjoyed the film. In other words, he wasn't just shut
up in the editing room, but experienced the film with the audience, breathing the same
atmosphere in the theater. That will have a positive impact on his work in the future, I

Q: Before seeing "Gozu" I'd heard that, with its mixing of the horror and yakuza genres,
it was a new departure for you, but now that I've seen it, I feel that it's very much in line
as your other work.

A: That's right, "Gozu" is not a completely new type of film for me. But was the first one
in which I was involved from the planning stage. "Gozu" was originally supposed to be
just another yakuza movie -- the producer came to me and asked me about making that
way. Ordinarily, once I say yes I try to make the film the way the producer wants, but in
this case I didn't think the star he had in mind should be doing a yakuza movie.

The star was the producer's son -- Hideki Sone. I told him that, as a father, not a
producer, he should have Sone do a yakuza movie. Even if this film worked out, there
was no future for him there. Instead, I suggested another sort of film, so we started over
from the beginning. We called in a scriptwriter and talked about the story and the type of
character that Sone should play.

In a short time we were able to come up with a script. We didn't have much money, so
we decided to set the film in Nagoya where we could get save on costs. Then we shot the
film -- it was the father's first film as a producer.

Anyway, the film was selected for Directors Fortnight at Cannes -- and I decided to get
invitations for everyone who had made it. (laughs)

That film was a big exercise in self-gratification. It's not every day you can have that sort
of experience. First the producer was making it for his son. Second, we were able to raise
financing from new sources in Nagoya that gave us a freedom we might not have had
otherwise. Third, we were able to go to Cannes and enjoy that experience together. In that
way, it was different from my other films.

Q: The press materials talk about "Gozu"'s resemblance to David Lynch, but for me the
biggest resemblance was to the manga of Yoshiharu Tsuge.

A: When I read Tsuge's manga  as a kid, including "Gensenkan Shujin" (Master of the
Gensenkan Inn) and "Akai Hana" (Red Flower), I wondered why I liked them so much.
Why were they so interesting no matter how many times I read them? I still don't
understand why. But now that I'm an adult I feel attracted to his style, which comes from
his own life. So I can analyze it that way now, but when I was a kid I had this very honest
reaction of surprise.

Tsuge's manga aren't for children really, but children can understand them in a purer
way, not through words, but feelings. I found "Akai Hana" extremely erotic. There was
nothing pornographic about it, but it was still somehow erotic. The people themselves are

Q: Tsuge's manga have been filmed any numbers of times. One film we screened at
Udine was Teruo Ishii's "Gensenkan Shujin." Of course, Ishii made many films in the
"ero guro" (erotic-grotesque) genre -- and "Gozu" also seems to be within that "ero guro"

A: Where I differ from Ishii and a lot of other directors is that I've worked in all sorts of
genres in all sorts of media. I've done TV dramas, films that got a nationwide release, OV
films and even a film for in Kyushu for a local government body.

Directors usually try to express themselves through the story and images. They try to
develop a style that marks a film as their own. I've freed myself of that. (laughs) Instead
of aiming for only self expression, I regard filmmaking as a profession that I work at with
various partners, trying various modes of expression. I make films that are not violent,
that are not "ero guro." I don't want to be put into a box.

But no matter sort of film you're making, there's not much difference in what you're
depicting, basically. David Lynch and Nagisa Oshima and Steven Spielberg and Charlie
Chaplin are all the same in one fundamental way: They all have to respond to human
beings in all their strangeness, with their own astonishment or fear. Whether you're
making a film for children or an action film for adults, you're dealing with the same basic
themes. The similarities extend to not just the story elements, but the reasons why the
scriptwriter wrote the script in the first place. That sort of thing matters more than the
particular genre or mode of expression.

Whatever mode of expression you use, you have to answer some very basic questions:
"Who am I?" "What are human beings?" "What's going to happen to the world?" I can't
claim to know the answers, but I try to express that perplexity in my films. So in that
sense, I'm free of genre -- it's not my concern.

For me films are about enjoyment. When you think of yourself as an artist, films become
a pain. (laughs) I don't like to suffer -- I'd rather be free, so I make films for fun. That's
how can I make so many of them.

Q: I've still got to think it's strange that, though "Gozu" has been invited to Cannes, it's
not being shown in a theater in Japan.

A: That don't mean very much. (laughs) It was originally made for video. Then, while we
were making it, it was selected for Cannes, so we decided to send a print (to the festival).
If Cannes hadn't invited it, we might have screened it in one small theater in Tokyo. But
once it had been selected for Cannes, we thought it wouldn't look good to release it like
that. (laughs)

I'm not a businessman, but if I were I'd know that, even if you release a film like that
theatrically, it's not going to be a hit. I didn't want the producer, who is really an amateur,
to experience that sort of failure. He would just come away with regrets. He might be
thinking that the film could become a hit, but realistically, I know that's not going to
happen. It's not that kind of film -- I know that from experience. It was better to take it to
Cannes and let that be the end of it. It's better  for the audience to enjoy it on video,
whenever they want. Some people will see it next week and some a year from now --
either way is OK.

Q: "Gozu" not like the typical Hollywood horror movie, where there's a shock every
second. The pace is slower and there's a greater stress on atmosphere.

A: It's a road movie, about a guy who doesn't know what to do. He searches for a body
and ends up in a place that baffles him. I wanted the audience to experience the hero's
journey in, not movie time, but in real-time, just as he would, though they may find it a
little boring.

There are already a lot of horror films in which things jump out at the audience to scare
them. But to make that kind of film properly you need money. We didn't have it, so we
had to try something else.

Actually "yakuza horror" is a of play on words -- "Gozu" not really a horror film. For one
thing, it's not scary. (laughs) It's horror movie that's not scary, in which yakuza show up.
(laughs) It doesn't any of the elements that a proper horror movie should have. But it
doesn't need them -- it's not bound by genre.

We could get away with that because we made it on such a small budget. I'd rather have
that kind of freedom than be hemmed in because the budget is too big. That why I think
I'd have a hard time if I ever went to Hollywood to make a movie.

At the same time, when I'm forced into a corner -- when I'm afraid I can't finish shooting
the script because the schedule is too tight -- I turn on the power.

If I had to do it just to be a success in life, I couldn't -- I don't have that sort of energy.
But when I'm on the set, I do to some extent.

Q: I've heard that, once you're on the set you'll often take the movie in a direction that's
not in the script.

A: Writing the script is the scriptwriter's job. He decides what to include and not include
and how to develop the story. I respect his work. But there are different ways of
interpreting that work. A script is a tool for making a film. How you choose to use that
tool is up to you. If one hundred people read the same passage in a script, they will have
one hundred different ideas about how to film it. How do you interpret this line? How do
you express it? If the script says the character come running in, you have to ask yourself
how he runs, why he runs. Maybe he comes flying in? You have to interpret the meaning
of "runs."

It's often said that I depart from the script, but I don't agree with that. More than anyone
else I read the script with love and respect. All I do is interpret what I read and decide
how to put (that interpretation) on film. If I didn't have the script, I wouldn't have any
ideas about what to film. I don't think I'm doing violence to the scriptwriter's work. But
how that work is interpreted is naturally going to differ from person to person. That
doesn't mean I'm changing the theme he's writing about.

For me, a script with defects is a good script. When I come across the boring parts I have
to think about how to make them interesting. In that way I can work out my own
approach to the script. I'll think that, if I insert a certain cut, I can make a boring scene
look interesting.

For a director a perfect script is boring. All you can do is follow it.

Q: Does the film you're working on now have a perfect script?

A: No, fortunately, Sho Aikawa plays a hero who saves the world. Toei is going to release
it nationwide next February.

What's it about?

A: It's something like the Kamen Rider (Masked Rider) action series for kids. It's called
Zebudaaman. (laughs). It's more for adults of my generation than for kids, though.  It's
based on the hero stories I enjoyed as a kid, but I hope that kids of today can also enjoy it.
It doesn't have any hard-core violence in it -- it's more of a comedy about a hero who
makes mistakes, but keeps trying -- and ends up saving the world. (laughs)

The story is imaginary -- it's about the type of hero I used to dream about being when I
was a boy. I want to bring that boy's dream world to the screen. There are scenes of
fighting, but it's not really a violent film -- it's about a weak guy finding courage and
fighting for justice.

Q: But your violent films are what you're known for abroad.

A: Well, it's not as though I particularly enjoy sending them abroad. I make various types
of films, but the people in Europe (who program film festivals) only select my violent
ones. They aren't interested in the non-violent stuff. 

Q: Well, not all of them. I help program the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy. One of
our films this year was your comedy "Shangri-la" -- it came in second in the Audience
Award vote.

A: Yes, I heard that. It's a small film I shot with a light feeling. It's about these homeless
people who come to the rescue of a printer who's about to go out of business. It's a
simple story, really. I recently met one of the actors, Shiro Sano, on the set. He said he
was happy -- or rather surprised -- at the reaction. It was the first time in a long time he'd
had a chance to see one of his own films with an audience and share their happiness and

Q: Is the budget for "Zebudaaman" higher than usual for you?

A: Yes, a bit higher, but with Japanese films bigger budgets don't make much of a
difference, do they? You still end up with a film that looks cheap by Hollywood

Most of the time my budgets are really tight. For an OV film the budget is about Y40
million -- you can't put that kind of film in a theater.

For a theatrical film, producers won't OK a script with a budget of Y40 million. They
would rather spend Y80 million and get something flashier. But we can make a Y40
million movie look like it costs Y80 million. The difference is only Y40 million -- the
staff can make up that gap with their know-how and technique.

But if you try to make a Y200 million movie look like it costs Y400 million, you can't do
it with know-how and technique alone. That's why the usual Japanese film is so boring --
the people making it are sweating and straining to fill that gap, but they can't.
Filmmaking becomes painful for them. You can see that pain up on the screen. You can
see how hard they struggled to make an interesting film, but the audience doesn't want to
see their pain. It's painful for them as well. (laughs)

With Hollywood movies, the hard work is also up there on the screen, but there's
something luxurious as well. Audiences can enjoy each cut.

People who make European films try to put their beliefs and values up on the screen and
audiences can get pleasure from that as well. With Japanese films, though, all they can
see is the suffering. (laughs) I want to tell the (filmmakers) to chill out. (laughs)

Q: You appeared in an installment of "Deka Matsuri" (Detective Festival) -- a series of
short film omnibuses. Most of the directors of those films seemed to be having fun.

A: Takeshi Sato directed that segment -- he was the scriptwriter for "Gozu." He also
appeared in the film, as the master of the coffee shop who dresses in drag. When he
directed that short film, he didn't tell me anything about what he was doing -- he just
asked where and when he could meet me. Then he showed up with a camera. (laughs) I
had no idea what he was shooting.

He's not a director so for him shooting a film for "Deka Matsuri" was just a game. He did
it for fun. Some of the directors of those films were serious -- they did it to advance their
careers -- while other were just having fun. I liked the way both types were mixed

Q: Also if one film was boring you didn't have to wait long for the next one. (laughs) But
at least the directors were experimenting -- trying to be adventurous.

A: Yes, the audience was willing to accept that. That was a special audience, the one that
went to see "Deka Matsuri." The feeling of this special audience crammed into a tiny
theater to watch "Deka Matsuri" is like the feeling we had watching "Gozu" at Cannes.
"Deka Matsuri" itself may not have been that interesting, but the experience of being in
the theater watching it with that audience was.

That's one way of making and enjoying movies.

Q: There was also something special about the cast and staff of "Gozu" -- a lot of them
had worked with you on other films.

A: You couldn't call us "buddies," though -- it wasn't that kind of  relationship. They
were all professionals doing a job. The schedule and budget were tighter than on some of
my other films , but atmosphere on the set was a little livelier. We couldn't sleep and that
sort of thing because of the hard schedule, but the staff could still enjoy themselves. For
the actors as well, that shoot was something of a break from the routine.

After all the producer was a father making a film with his son -- it wasn't the usual
professional shoot. So I got these people together and said lets have fun with it. That sort
of attitude has a way of appearing in the film -- the audience knows what's going on.

Q: There's something strange about the world of that film -- it's like "Alice Through the
Looking Glass." The characters look human enough, but somehow they're not.

A: None of the characters in that film are considerate or kind. Characters usually exist
only for the purpose of the film. They're cooperating with it, you might say, by playing
various roles -- the guy who helps the hero, the guy who opposes him. But in "Gozu" they
could all care less (about the hero). They have no relationship to him. (laughs)

But those people exist in a city. For me they're more real than characters who only exist
for the purpose of the movie. They have their own concerns -- and the hero is not one of

In most films the characters are laughing and crying and dying for the sake of the story. In
"Gozu" though there are scenes that have nothing to do with the story. (laughs)

The story itself is not so different from those of other films but the atmosphere is more

When you become lost in a strange city and ask strangers the way, you might get the same
reaction the hero in "Gozu" does from the other characters. People live out their lives in
that sort of world, trying to find their own path among people they don't know and never
will know. So in that way, "Gozu" is a realistic film. The hero is living an ordinary life
when he loses his way. He tries to protect himself, but there are more possibilities out
there than he is willing to admit. He's involved in this meaningless struggle, defending
what is essentially without value -- his own limited view of the world. That's the way a
lot of people live their lives. If he left his shell, he might find another, better self.

Q: He not a foreigner, of course, but he is a stranger in a strange land.

A: That's true, but anyone could have the same sort of experience if they were to get off
the train at a strange station. They would enter a world different from the one they
encounter everyday -- maybe not the same one that exists in the film, but if they were to
ask strangers "where is my aniki (older brother)?" they might get the same reaction the
hero gets.

If you go on a journey to discover yourself -- as opposed to the more usual journey to
learn about other people and places -- you might find that "Gozu" is a very realistic film.
If you go on a journey expecting strangers to confirm your view of yourself, you might
find yourself in a different world and you may encounter a different self than the one you
thought you knew.

Q: Do you ever feel that way yourself -- a stranger in a strange land?

A: I was born and raised in Japan, but I feel a sense of isolation -- that I'm different from
others. I'm living a different sort of life than ordinary upstanding Japanese -- I'm a
dropout, actually. I have the same face, the same blood and the same education as them,
but the way I feel about things is different. So even though I'm Japanese I feel isolated. I
feel as though I'm in a little stream, away from the main river. That goes for films as
well. I'm not in the mainstream film world -- I'm a free agent, off on my own. So even
though I'm a Japanese, I feel something like a outsider in Japan