MICHAEL BODEY

DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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

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