Takashi Miike makes his mark

by Mark Schilling

Whatever the place or occasion — including a hurried press interview in the middle of a film festival, as happened at April’s Udine Far East Film Festival for the screening of his first English-language film “Imprint” — Takashi Miike is always gracious, patient, thoughtful and well spoken. In other words, he is an ideal interviewee — and the exact opposite of the taboo-shattering, anything-goes wild man that you might imagine he is if you watch his films.

There’s been some talk that you wanted [U.S. television network] Showtime not to broadcast “Imprint.”

No, I like being free, but I don’t want my freedom to make trouble for others. I thought that I was right up to the limit of what American television would tolerate. As I was making the film I kept checking to make sure that I wasn’t going over the line, but I evidently misestimated. Business-wise, it would have been better to make cuts so the film could have been broadcast, but (the producers) thought the film was interesting as it was. They decided it would be better to screen it without cuts at film festivals and release it on DVD.

This was also your first film in English. How did you deal with the language barrier?

There’s no way I could have beaten a native English speaker. Instead, I thought it would be better to use the sort of English a Japanese person would use. In other words, if a phrase sounded all right coming from a Japanese, we would keep it, even if the grammar or pronunciation were off. We had an American who spoke excellent Japanese, who served as a translator and assistant director. We also had a dialogue coach from Hollywood, to work with the actors on their English. I think we did a good job of dealing (with the language problem).

Japanese horror movies have become big internationally, but you obviously wanted to do something different from the usual J Horror.

Japanese horror movies are now being remade by Hollywood — and those are the ones that have a strong image (abroad). But all countries have their scary stories, not just Japan. Grandma and grandpa tell stories like that to their grandkids at bedtime. That’s the kind of film I wanted to make — like a bedtime story. So the setting is “long, long ago” — about 100 years ago. I imagined a kid asking his grandmother in the next futon to tell him a story. But the grandmother wants to go to sleep, so she tells the kid a scary story to shut him up. (laughs).

Fortunately I found the right novel, “Bokkee Kyotee” by Shimako Iwai — whose title means “Really Scary” in the Okayama dialect. It had a simplicity that I liked. Also, it had that kind of story I imagined the audience telling their friends after seeing the film. It’s a story that could have been told before the horror genre existed — it’s more like a kaidan — a traditional scary story.

Part of the scare comes from the Billy Drago character’s obsession with the truth. You know that, when he learns it, he isn’t going to like it.

People tell all sorts of lies in order to live. That enables friendships to form and love to blossom. You hide your instinctive self and instead create a social self with lies. That’s how people are able to get along with each other. What’s scary is when you strip all the lies away to get at the essential you. What if it’s pure evil? You don’t want to face that. So lies aren’t all bad — we need them to live.

The film is also tragic in a way. The sins of the parents are visited on the children. That’s a very Japanese idea — that children are an extension of their parents. And that when you’re reborn, your new form reflects the sins of your previous life — you can’t escape.

But the heroine (the prostitute played by Yuki Kudo) is blameless. She didn’t ask to be this way. She deserves our sympathy.

Read the film review
Dial J for horror