Takashi Miike Collection: Audition
The Happiness Of The Katakuris , The City Of Lost Souls (Chimera/Video Services Group, 2000-2002). Three discs. Rating: NNNNN
Dead Or Alive: Trilogy (Kino/Pixi, 1999-2002) D: Takashi Miike, w/ Sho Aikawa, Riki Takeuchi. Three discs. Rating: NNNN
Check the production dates for these films. During the four-year period in question, Takashi Miike directed 18 other titles. Ichi The Killer's just out in a special edition, but there's a ton of titles we know nothing about in Miike's madly prolific career. He's 43 and has 60 titles listed in the Internet Movie Database. Miike's a specialist in berserk exploitation films, and he also has an attention span problem. In a recent thread on Miike on the movie newsgroup rec.arts.movies.current-films, fan Nick MacPherson notes that you can always tell when Miike loses interest in a movie he's making: "The movie, after a stunning first half-hour or so, goes into master-shot mode, and you find yourself watching one static scene after another until Miike wakes himself up at the end and does something as crazily fucked up as the ending of Dead Or Alive."
If Dead Or Alive were as good as its first half-hour, it would be the greatest thing ever made. Quentin Tarantino would shoot himself with envy.
That said, the Dead Or Alive Trilogy, wherein the characters go from being gangsters to possibly being ghosts or angels to being some sort of futuristic robots by the third instalment, has sequences so far over the top and inventive that there's nothing like them in American movies.
And anyone who wants to see an insane ending should really take a look at Dead Or Alive: Final.
Miike's greatest and most sustained film - though I'm writing as someone who's seen about a third of his output - is in VSG's Miike box, the chilling psychological thriller Audition, a study of the relationship between a director and an actress who overreacts to a perceived slight. This is the quietest Miike film I've seen, and it demonstrates that he doesn't need to stage a 20-man shootout in a fireworks factory to keep his films interesting.
The VSG box also includes the extraordinary gang-war romance The City Of Lost Souls, featuring a couple on the run from the Brazilian police, a suitcase of cocaine, cockfighting and the funniest Matrix parody ever. Oh, and his musical comedy The Happiness Of The Katakuris, which defies description.
Audition has been previously available, but this edition of The City Of Lost Souls is markedly superior to the out-of-print Ventura edition, and Katakuris is a new release. If you're buying just one, start with the single edition of Audition, but he's Tarantino's fave working director for a reason, and we need a big box set or two to hold us over till they release the second half of Kill Bill.
EXTRAS Dead Or Alive: theatrical trailers, Miike interview. Japanese with English subtitles. Collection: director commentaries, with subtitles, on Audition and Happiness, Miike interviews, hour-long making-of documentary for Happiness, Escape From Tokyo trivia game with City, theatrical trailers. Japanese with English subtitles.
Ikiru (Criterion/Morningstar, 1952) D: Akira Kurosawa, w/ Takashi Shimura. Rating: NNNN
Ikiru was kurosawa's first humanist masterpiece, and it has one of the most daring narrative strategies in all his work. Takashi Shimura, who later played the leader of the Seven Samurai, stars as an insignificant bureaucrat who discovers he's dying of stomach cancer. He realizes his life has been without meaning and decides to do something. When he dies mid-picture, he's not replaced as the central character. In this period, Shimura is Kurosawa's humanist values actor, just as Toshiro Mifune is his nihilist actor - though Mifune would, in Red Beard (1965) play the Shimura role of the dedicated doctor.
The transfer isn't quite as good as Criterion thinks it is. There's a nasty frame shudder at the 15-minute mark and a scene at the 35-minute point that has a visible crease centre frame and suffers from intermittent fading on the right side of the screen. Twenty years ago we'd have been ecstatic at this transfer, but restoration's come a long way since then.
Steven Prince contributes a good academic commentary, and the second disc includes a 45-minute making-of and a 90-minute documentary on Kurosawa, both with extensive commentary by the director and his collaborators.
EXTRAS Critical commentary, two documentaries, theatrical trailer, booklet essay. Japanese with English subtitles.
Cure (Home Vision/Morningstar, 1997) D: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, w/ Koji Yakusho, Tsuyoshi Ujiki. Rating: NNNNN
speaking of masterpieces directed by guys named Kurosawa, Cure is one of the most interesting horror movies of recent years. Rather than ladling on shocks, it just builds slowly and cumulatively, creating an overwhelming atmosphere. If you want a double bill that will kill your sleep, watch Cure back-to-back with Audition. A drifter wandering in Tokyo, blank and nameless, turns the people he meets into killers simply by being in their presence. Definitely a man in need of a good aura cleansing. In a way, it's a Japanese version of Seven, though without all the rain, and Tsuyoshi Ujiki's cop is a lot quieter than Brad Pitt. It's not a better version of Seven, but a very different treatment of similar material.
Note to Home Vision and other distributors: now that we're getting around to Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, will somebody please bring out Kinji Fukasaku's late masterpiece, Battle Royale?
EXTRAS Kurosawa interview, theatrical trailer, booklet essay. Japanese with English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, January 20
The Rules Of The Game (Criterion) New two-disc special edition of Jean Renoir's masterpiece, maybe the greatest film ever made.
The Best Of Soul Cinema (MGM) A budget-priced box of blaxploitation classics - Coffy, Foxy Brown, Cooley High, Hell Up In Harlem - plus new single-disc issues of Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream.
Open Range (Warner) A Kevin Costner western, with Robert Duvall. Two-disc special edition
Once Upon A Time In Mexico (Columbia/TriStar) The third of Robert Rodriguez's mariachi films. Johnny Depp steals this one, and Salma Hayek appears only in flashbacks.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb