“My desires become reality in the movies because it can’t become real in real life”
Describing a Takashi Miike film can make you feel a little crazy. Take his latest Yakuza Apocalypse which features (besides the aforementioned Yakuza and the Apocalypse) vampires, a Django-inspired Vampire Hunter, frog monsters, kappa, a woman whose brain melts out her ears and children growing from the ground. To be honest — I’ve barely even touched the surface. Yakuza Apocalypse is a return to Miike’s gonzo roots (think Full Metal Yakuza or Visitor Q or The Happiness of the Katakuris). There’s a kitchen sink mentality to the film – as Miike constantly one-ups the absurdity, throwing as many different genres at the wall as possible. Part western, part horror, part crime-film, part-indescribable, Yakuza Apocalypse at times feels like Miike’s best-of album, as he touches on all the different hallmarks of his storied career.
In the following interview with Miike, he discusses crafting the comical tone of Yakuza Apocalypse, his fascination with bodily transformation and his penchant for always using the Yakuza.
Of Note: The following interview was conducted via translator
What was it about Yakuza Apocalypse that made you want to direct it?
Takashi Miike: It’s not that I was dissatisfied with the movies that I was making but I got to thinking that I used to be really free in making movies. I thought it was perhaps time for me to do a reset and get back to my roots. So when I thought that and I thought what would I like to film, it was a natural process and this is the movie that came about.
How did you change the script to fit your sensibility once you got involved on Yakuza Apocalypse?
Takashi Miike: Yes — it does happen that I change and deviate from the script. When you try to be true to the script, changes occur. A script is there to show us a certain direction. But when you actually have the actors in and you start shooting the movie, you have the actor say a line and it doesn’t sound right so you change it and make it different. It’s the script that gives birth to these changes and the more you try to stay true to the script, the more that happens.
Yakuza Apocalypse feels like a mishmash of all these genres you’ve excelled at (horror, yakuza, western) but here done in a much more comedic, tongue-in-cheek fashion. What motivated this approach?
Takashi Miike: It’s not that I wanted to make it an intentional comedy. I believe that when people try to live their life at the fullest, there’s a certain laughter that comes out of it. The more they try to live their life seriously, the funnier it is. It happens all the time in our real life too. When the characters in my movie try to live their life to the fullest of their convictions, it produces laughter.
What is it about mixing these separate genres together that interests you?
Takashi Miike: I have a little bit of a resistance towards being pigeonholed in one genre or category. On the other hand – even when I’m trying to depict some really horrible and cruel killer, if you look at something he does – say, waking up one morning — it may be really nice and kind and gentle to watch. If you’re trying to be realistic and bring real life to the screen, you are going to have different elements. That’s what I’m trying to do. As I make the movie, different elements come in naturally.
There’s a real classist element at play here with the lower class rising up against the Yakuza. How much of that reflects your own position on such matters?
Takashi Miike: In real life, it doesn’t break down that easily; but everyone roots for the underdog. You can’t always box everyone in otherwise you won’t be able to live in this world. I wanted to depict something where somebody endures and at the end there’s this huge explosion and everything blows up and then both the winners and the losers from that battle shine. That’s my wishful thinking bringing that aspect to the story.
Often you use the Yakuza and crime as a springboard for getting into a story/film (e.g. Full Metal Yakuza). Why use them in this way?
Takashi Miike: The reason I like incorporating the Yakuza into my movies — all their actions, everything they do, you can say ‘It’s ok because he’s a Yakuza’. Changes happen very quickly in their world. If you were trying to make a movie about politicians, it would takes years and years for something to change; whereas for Yakuzas, it could only take one night and things can change dramatically. So you can say that depending on the profession, the tempo of the movie changes. I really like the swiftness and the speed of the actions of the Yakuza and that’s why I use them.
There’s a good deal of body transformations in your films. In this movie, you have someone turning into a vampire and I look at Full Metal Yakuza, which also has a lot of bodily transformations. What is it about this that is of interest to you?
Takashi Miike: Everyone has complexes about their body or their ability and skills and dream of a rebirth into something different. I myself have always had that secret desire to become something completely different and enact revenge on certain things. So I do that through my movies. My desires become reality in the movie because it can’t become real in real life.
Given your prolific career, how do you feel that your approach to filmmaking has changed?
Takashi Miike: I’ve been making movies for a long time. The Japanese way of making movies has become second nature to me. To get away from that, I really try to surround myself with younger staff and approach making movies not like a veteran of the industry but always as a beginner and a rookie.
Yakuza Apocalypse is now playing in select theaters.