Takashi Miike on his 100th film Blade of the Immortal

Absurdly prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike reaches a 100-film milestone with Blade of the Immortal. We speak to the controversial filmmaker about shocking movies, sword fights, Starship Troopers, film vs digital, and how he's actually really lazy

Feature by Josh Slater-Williams | 04 Dec 2017

“I’m a very lazy person by nature,” director Takashi Miike tells us.

Were one to assess laziness on a spectrum, the act of having completed a film of any kind would, we feel, denote a distinct lack of lethargy. So it seems especially strange to hear this character assessment from an individual who's due to release his 100th film, called Blade of the Immortal.

Such a prolific resume surely suggests a lack of laziness? Miike, who seems very relaxed throughout our chat, clarifies his position, albeit somewhat confusingly: “Making a film, with one scene you have to move on in order to shoot the following day; move on and carry on doing things,” explains the Japanese filmmaker. “And I think if you’re really dedicated in personality, you spend so much energy on one thing, so it’s probably difficult to move on and carry on. I think, by nature, for making films, you need to have a certain level of laziness to just let go, for the filmmaking process to work.”

The 57-year-old got his directing start making straight-to-video features in the early 90s, ‘graduating’ to big screen gangster movies around 1995, and has dabbled in practically every genre since. He’s had at least one film released every year since his debut feature, sometimes as many as five, though a majority of these have not received distribution outside of Japan.

That said, a lot of the ones that (legally) made it to British shores over the last two decades have become major cult favourites: Audition, widely considered one of the best horror films of its era, has fucked up many a mind; Ichi the Killer brought us (mostly comedic) gore like never before, and caused the BBFC much chagrin; yakuza tale Dead or Alive has one of the maddest endings you’re ever likely to see; One Missed Call was a major entry in the J-horror craze of the early aughts; The Happiness of the Katakuris blended The Sound of Music with Night of the Living Dead; Visitor Q and Gozu prompted many a vomiting; and The Skinny’s Scottish film fan readership, in particular, may have either fond or foul memories of Glasgow Film Festival springing 13 Assassins, with its opening hara-kiri sequence, on an unsuspecting Surprise Film audience.

Whether played for laughs or in a more serious register, a lot of Miike’s most popular films – though not all, it should be said – are characterised by forays into brutal bloodshed or some form of transgressive content. Blade of the Immortal, a manga adaptation concerning a reluctantly immortal warrior helping a young woman on a quest for revenge, is definitely another bloody affair.

We’re curious as to whether any recent works by other filmmakers have shocked him, personally. The answer: “I don’t think so, in terms of violence. If I thought there was an element of something that might shock me in terms of violence, I don’t think I would go and see that. Actually, I haven’t seen that many horror movies. I think I’ve only seen two in cinemas, ever.”

Considering this is the man that made Audition, to name just one freaky work from the horror section of his CV, this answer comes as something of a surprise. What were the two he did see on the big screen? “Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Pulse by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Those two were far too scary; horrible, horrifically scary."

We're speaking to Miike ahead of Blade of the Immortal's screening at London Film Festival, and the festival programme describes it as a companion piece to 2010’s 13 Assassins, Miike’s biggest commercial hit in the UK this decade. It’s a comparison the filmmaker seems to agree with.

“I think having a big epic fight scene at the end is similar and it’s set in the same time in Japanese history,” he says. Riffing on Kurosawa, 13 Assassins was concerned with samurai and their world, whereas Blade of the Immortal's subjects are outlaws and delinquents. "I think you could possibly describe them as non-identical twin pieces,” suggest Miike, “because they look very different in appearance but could be twins.”

The film continues Miike’s recent streak of fairly big budget features with studio backing. In a nearly 30-year career, he’s gone from straight-to-video work to independent movies to video game adaptations with major money behind them, and has also experienced the global industry shift from shooting on film to (mostly) working with digital. Does he miss anything about the old days and ways?

“There is nostalgia,” he says. “I do remember it fondly because a lot of the films I shot, especially in my early career, were on 16mm; partly because I couldn’t afford anything else for budgetary reasons. 35mm was a real luxury, so I shot an awful lot on 16mm. In those days, I mainly made yakuza films and, by nature, yakuza is gritty. The grainy look suited the yakuza, rather than using 35mm with the high-quality picture. And so I feel that if there’s an opportunity to make another yakuza film, I would like to insist on making it using 16mm.”

As our time wraps up, we recall another Miike interview in which he described Starship Troopers as one of his favourite movies. We’re curious as to whether the Japanese director has ever met that film's director, Paul Verhoeven, and whether he feels they share anything in common as filmmakers.

“No, I’ve never met him,” says Miike. “But no, we’re not similar at all – [we're] very much a different scale. There’s a different level of energy. So much money, so much budget; I don’t think I would ever be able to do anything like that. It's not just [my] ability as a director; I think making a film in Hollywood, from my own brief experience [his entry in the Masters of Horror anthology series, Imprint, was not allowed to air on US television], takes so much more energy.” 

Unable to resist a gentle ribbing upon departing, we point out, to the response of a light chuckle, that, as he said previously, he’s too lazy for all that.

Blade of the Immortal is released 8 Dec by Arrow Films