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Interview: Takashi Miike on Blade of the Immortal, Directing 100 Films, and More; New Clips!

When it comes to Asian cinema, there is probably no director more well known to the horror community than Takashi Miike. Responsible for directing films such as Audition, Gozu, One Missed Call, Ichi the Killer, and much, much more, the director recently celebrated directing his 100th film with Blade of the Immortal (review), an adaptation of Hiroaki Samura’s manga Mugen no jûnin.

Earlier today, I had the honor and pleasure of sitting down across from Miike to discuss (through a translator) the film as well as ask about his career, what he’s learned over the years, and how he manages to be so consistent across multiple genres. You can read this interview below and also check out a few new clips from Blade of the Immortal.

Blade of the Immortal stars Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sōta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, and Erika Toda. The film grossed $6.8 million when it was released in Japan earlier this year, and it arrives as a limited release in the US today, November 3rd, courtesy of Magnet Releasing. You can see if it’s playing in your area right here.

Dread Central: How are you doing?

Takashi Miike: I am getting along just fine. [laughs]

DC: What appealed to you about Blade of the Immortal?

TM: What I like in this is that I feel like the roles of “dark” and “light” in this story have been reversed. What I mean by that is the bad guys are also standing out and shining in their own unique way. The bad guys have their own convictions and, in their own way, they are following these convictions. They don’t just exist to make the good guys look good. They actually have their own story.

DC: Their own purpose?

TM: Yes, absolutely. I think one of the things being emphasized there is that becoming a good person is not their purpose for living.

DC: This dynamic where good and evil, light and dark are blurred gives the film a bit more depth and humanity. How does one make sure that these characters have that three-dimensional aspect and come across as almost sympathetic and yet we still know, in the end, who is “good” and “bad”?

TM: So I think it’s really an accumulation of a couple of things. First of all, when I’m filming, it’s not like I’m thinking everyone comes together and is cooperative and thinking, “Hey, let’s do this!” It’s actually almost like everyone exists separately, individually, and you bring them all together and see how that interaction works.

Also, instead of enclosing an actor in a character, saying, “Okay, you have to be enclosed in this role”, I like to give them the freedom to be who they are. I try to see that and take advantage of that in the film. When I say that, I mean that depth is not an innate human characteristic, that kind of character depth. But actors have all these satisfactions, happy moments, goals, frustrations, things like that. There’s this instinctual part of being an actor as well that I want to bring out. Actors have a difficult life in that there is no guarantee of success. One scandal and that could overturn their whole career. They are really living on the edge, so I want to take advantage of those sensations and those human emotions that those real actors have and bring them together and let them be free so that those real human characters of the actors come out. That’s how I get the depth.

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Director Takashi Miike on the set of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

DC: Obviously one of the big points connected to the release of Blade of the Immortal is that it’s your 100th film, which is an amazing accomplishment. However, I’m curious what were some of the lessons that have been learned in the previous 99 films that are still applicable and what do you feel you are still learning even though you’ve made so many films?

TM: So, basically, the big lesson that I learned is that it’s not important to have these amazing, perfect actors and this amazing, perfect film that you’re creating. It’s good to have…sometimes, if the film is imperfect but it’s compelling or if the actors are imperfect but compelling and I say that because at the beginning, when I started, I was really the pinch-hitter. I was the assistant director and when we had these problems with a specific film, I would be asked, “Well, can you become the director?” And so I stepped in and did that.

If you look back at those old films from a technical aspect, they may have some insufficiencies but you can take those and use them as an advantage. There are no hard and fast rules about this. It’s not that something that’s technically great or superior is going to be a better film, not necessarily. In fact, you can have great acting that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be what’s best for that film. You can have bad acting, the person is a bad actor, but they’re a very compelling character. They turn into a very compelling part of that story.

Something can be incomplete, it can be imperfect, but it can still be very compelling. That’s the main lesson I feel that I’ve learned from previous films.

DC: Many genre directors are known for being a part of that genre, people like Wes Craven and George Romero. I think why people are so fascinated by your body of work is how they’re unpredictable, chaotic, exciting, and varied. How do you embrace this diversity and give each of these films such character, emotion, and charm?

TM: So, first of all, there are some directors that are all about horror and they make horror films and that’s pretty much all they make. For me, that’s a stranger state of being than my own. I say that knowing that there are some people who are born for horror films. They don’t have to even make any efforts at all and it naturally turns into a horror film.

For me, it’s the same with multi-genre filmmaking. I don’t really have to do anything special and it just becomes naturally multi-genre. I say that because if you’re making a horror film and you have someone who is naturally a funny character, then suddenly you’re going to have a horror film that has a funny part, that has some comedy. If you’re making a schoolboy/schoolgirl drama, all these different homes and personal situations that are different, so suddenly that may turn from a drama into a completely different situation. So I’m really not picky about genre because of that.

An interesting story: the director of the Mad Max films, George Miller…I was a big fan of the original Mad Max and I really enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road, both of them immensely. When George Miller came to Japan, I met with him and I asked him personally, “What kind of car does the director of the Mad Max films drive?” He said, “Well, I’m driving a Lexus hybrid!” I thought that was really fascinating! I felt like it was a reflection of the hybrid nature of the Mad Max films itself. For the director to be driving a hybrid, it’s just too rich to hear that! That’s me! That’s the way I am as well, it’s a hybrid. My films are, for me, a Lexus hybrid.

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