IT struck me during the recent Tropfest short film festival in Sydney that the finalists are increasingly banal. Their technical quality is at a level that betrays any organic or unprofessional feel the festival once may have had.
On the narrative side, every entrant seems stuck in rut, albeit one that’s slightly more accessible than the narrative rut of our feature filmmakers.
In the long form, it’s all about harrowing personal recollections; in the short form, it’s about establishing a scenario that can support a surprising dramatic or comedic twist. Which is why the one Japanese finalist this year, Koichi Iguchi’s Scab, was such a refreshing sight. It was funny, energetic, fresh and totally bonkers.
The same could have been said of Japanese cinema through the late 1990s, although its vitality has dropped off somewhat this decade.
One Japanese filmmaker who has maintained his vitality, despite churning out an improbable number of films, is Takashi Miike. Like Tropfest’s Scab, Miike’s films are not for the faint- hearted.
After making his name in the Gokudo genre of cheap yakuza- themed films, he has veered into progressively bizarre stuff. He has proved a deft hand in some conventional genres, including children’s films, but it’s his more esoteric material that appears to attract devoted fans. The most recent of these to come to DVD is Gozu, through Siren Visual. Apparently Gozu, which translates as ‘‘ cow’s head’’, as becomes disturbingly apparent later in the film, was meant to be another of Miike’s yakuza films but the producers didn’t have the budget to sustain it, so Miike was given free rein.
The result is one of the nuttier DVD experiences you’re likely to have, a two- hour cinematic non sequitur. To compare it with the obtuse work of David Lynch, as many have, would be to downplay Lynch’s visual acuity and Miike’s madness.
Essentially, it is the story of a lowerranking member of a yakuza crew, Minami, having to dispose of an increasingly wayward member of the gang. Somehow, Miike mixes John Waters with Weekend at Bernie’s and Luis Bunuel within a thin premise.
The outcome is tedious at times, although Miike’s key asset is unpredictability. Whatever you see in one scene has little bearing on what you’ll see in the next. The opening scene of Gozu is typical, diverting but bamboozling. For that reason alone his films are notable, although I’d point you in the direction of some of his other work, despite Gozu’s success when in the official selection at the 2003 Cannes film festival.
Audition is deservedly his most popular film, while Dead or Alive stacks up well. Just for something completely different and more accessible to a broader audience, he produced the wonderful road movie, The Bird violent Ichi the Killer. Be warned, though: he revels in some extreme on- screen behaviour that can’t be condoned, let alone imagined. But in a world cinema that becomes more predictable by the day, Miike’s films, for better or worse, reinforce the need for difference. They may not always be good or make sense but Miike’s films are not dull.
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Weird and wonderful: Takashi Miike