Monday, July 9, 2018

Fidelity (2000)

The perplexing nature of romantic relationships was front and center in the majority of the films of Andrzej Zulawski and one particular facet, and often the most volatile, as it relates to the themes of relationships, the love triangle, proved to be especially fascinating for Zulawski. Zulawski's fixation with the love triangle can be seen in his first feature The Third Part of the Night (1971) but it was his third film L'important c'est d'aimer (1975) where the various complexities the love triangle presented began to take shape. Zulawski's most famous title, Possession (1981), took the love triangle into the realm of the fantisque (and technically became a “love square”) whereas La femme publique (1984) turned the love triangle idea on its head somewhat by having an actress play the role of the dead wife of one of her lovers. Even in films like My Nights are More Beautiful Than Your Days (1989) and Szamanka (1996), where the love triangle isn't the main focus of the film, nevertheless feature characters involved in fierce relationships while another partner figures in the background. And how appropriate that Zulawski's final film Cosmos (2015) centers around a man obsessed with the wife of another? Fidelity, Zulawski's penultimate feature as well as his final collaboration with then wife/muse Sophie Marceau, once again saw Zulawski shining a light on the love triangle concept with typically cathartic and devastating results.

After accepting a job with La Verite, a trashy tabloid, Clélia (Sophie Marceau), a talented photographer becomes engaged to and later marries Clève, a publisher who was previously engaged to the daughter of Clélia's new boss. Shortly before the marriage, Clélia meets Nemo, a fellow photographer at La Verite and the attraction between the two is immediate. Even after Clélia and Clève's marriage, Nemo continues to pursue Clélia and the more time the two spend together, the stronger Clélia's attraction to Nemo grows. Despite her determination to remain loyal to Clève, Clélia's struggle with temptation becomes apparent to Clève who begins to suspect infidelity which, along with the increasingly dangerous nature of Nemo's investigative photojournalism, causes even more strife in both Clélia's personal and professional life.

Rivaled only by L'important c'est d'aimer in terms of accurately representing the agony that arises out of a situation involving two people who, for all intensive purposes, could be together yet are prevented by various forces, in many ways Fidelity (La fidélité) is very much a sibling film to L'important c'est d'aimer with the two sharing several similarities. For instance, both films have a strong emphasis on photography, with it being Clélia's main profession just as it was Fabio Testi's Servais in L'important c'est d'aimer. Both films also feature commentary on the concepts, differences and similarities of “high” and “low” art, tabloid media and pornography. Both films even develop crime subplots with the male protagonists becoming involved in shady underworld activities. Most importantly though, just as Zulawski did with L'important c'est d'aimer, the typical love triangle is subverted by having no extramarital affair actually take place, choosing instead to focus on the psychological anguish felt by the three parties involved, be it Clélia's temptation, Nemo's lust and Clève suspicion and jealousy as opposed to standard soap opera tropes a love triangle might entail. The central triangle holds even more weight thanks to the various subplots, particularly as it relates to Clélia's job as well as her ailing mother. The film is often singled out as being one of Zulawski's more “conventional”, however the film is still ripe with his trademark idiosyncrasies and eccentric side characters, and there aren't many romantic dramas that feature black market organ trafficking, gangsters and the occasional specter sighting.

Fidelity was again the final collaboration between Zulawski and Sophie Marceau and even with the film featuring some of the finest examples of steadicam work and one of composer Andrzej Korzynski's most gorgeously melancholic, piano based scores (plus some industrial tinged touches for added effect during some of the more energetic moments), its Marceau who really carries the entire film. Although her performance is much more “calm”, for lack of a better word (although she does have one incredible moment of emotional excess), than her previous turns for Zulawski, her performance nonetheless traverses through a wide range of emotions which Marceau brilliantly conveys, the passage of time covered in the film really being felt by her perfectly nuanced performance. Quite possibly her finest role for Zulawski. The fact that both her professional and personal relationship with Zulawski came to a close following the film gives the film an extremely personal quality which, intentional or not, makes the film resonate even more. It would be 15 years before Zulawski would deliver his swansong Cosmos and although Fidelity thankfully wound up not to be his final film, if it had been it would have been as powerful as a final statement could be. While its bound to be much to heavy for many, Fidelity is an essential piece of the Zulawski puzzle, marking the end of one of the most memorable and rewarding artist/muse pairings.       

Monday, June 25, 2018

La note bleue (1991)

One of the late Andrzej Zulawski's unmade passion projects was a proposed short film consisting of seven episodes revolving around music. While discussing the project in 2012, Zulawski explained his idea of having each segment take place in a different European town, each utilizing a different type of music and its a shame the project never came to fruition as Zulawski clearly had an ear for music and how to use it to its maximum potential in film. Music was a major, sometimes crucial element to Zulawski's films. One of the most fruitful director/composer collaborations, the partnership between Zulawski and Andrzej Korzynski resulted in multiple memorable, very diverse scores, from the progressive rock-esque guitar heard in Diabel (1972), the pulsating, almost industrial percussion contrasted with lush string arrangements in Szamanka (1996) or the achingly beautiful piano based themes of Fidelity (2000) just to name a few. Of course, L’important c’est d’aimer (1975) wouldn't have nearly been the same without the music provided by Georges Delerue, sure to cause instantaneous weeping. At the end of the 80's and into the early 90's, Zulawski made two music centric films, the first being Boris Godunov (1989), an adaptation of Modest Mussorgsky's opera of the same name. Zulawski's next film, La note bleue, found him continuing on a musical path, this time in a much more personal fashion, its main subject being the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin.

At heart, La note bleue (The Blue Note) is centered around the contentious romance between the perpetually ill Chopin (Janusz Olejniczak) and French writer George Sand (Marie-France Pisier) during their relationships last days, one of the many complications being Sand's engaged daughter Solange (Sophie Marceau) being madly in love with Chopin. The film also highlights several side characters as the entire film is set at Sand's countryside estate where several notable guests have gathered, the likes of which include painter Eugène Delacroix, writer Ivan Turgenev, Wojciech Grzymała, a Polish soldier and friend of Chopin, Polish countess Laura Czosnowska, writer Andre Dumas Jr. and Auguste Clésinger, an eccentric sculptor who arrives to win the affection of Solange.

La note bleue is often compared to the musical biopics of Ken Russell, though interestingly the film shares several similarities with another Russell, non music film, Gothic (1986), Russell's interpretation of the night Mary Shelley envisioned the story of Frankenstein. Like Gothic, La note bleue features a gathering of eccentric, creative personalities at a large countryside estate, but more importantly, the central figures in each film, Shelly and Chopin, are both preoccupied with death, in the case of Shelley its the death of her child while Chopin constantly obsesses over his own death. Whereas Gothic is a full-blown horror film, La note bleue “wears the genre mask” as Zulawski would have put it, with its eye-popping baroque painting based visual design and occasionally drifting in and out of horror and fantastique territory with the sudden appearances of imposing and colorful shrouded, phantom-esque stilted figures, a fire nymph like creature and satyrs conversing amongst themselves, none of which are ever acknowledged by any of the characters nor is their appearances ever explained. The film also concludes with a memorable, phantasmagoric puppet show featuring the cast detailing their futures while holding their life-like puppet counterparts. Just as Boris Godunov would have made complete sense as a Zulawski original script had it not been based on source material, the same could be said of La note bleue with the breakdown of Chopin and Sand's perfectly suited for Zulawski's peculiar brand of melodrama and Marceau's hyperactive performance the right vehicle to showcase Solange's l'amour fou for Chopin.         

Naturally the soundtrack is comprised of Chopin music however Zulawski does something interesting in certain scenes by having Olejniczak, an actual pianist, playing Chopin at the piano while other Chopin pieces are layered overtop on the soundtrack. Incredibly, not one piece clashes with the other and whenever it occurs both pieces of much sound strangely in sync and naturally the music is one of the films main selling points along with the previously mentioned look of the film. From a purely technical audio/visual standpoint, the film may very well be Zulawski's finest. Like Chopin and Zulawski, Olejniczak is also Polish which is one of the main reasons why the film could again be considered one of Zulawski's most personal. Chopin was very much an ex-pat, and never returned to Poland after his settling in Paris in 1831, though he would never consider himself French and as documented in the film, felt a longing for his homeland throughout his life. While Zulawski did return to live and work in Poland, drawing the ire of many in the process, there are some parallels to be drawn in that Zulawski was more or less “exiled” from Poland following the banning of Diabel and worked in France for the majority of his directorial career, so he clearly felt some sort of comradery with Chopin which led to La note bleue being one of Zulawski's most heartfelt endeavors.   

Monday, June 11, 2018

Boris Godunov (1989)

Given the heightened, very theatrical elements of his films, its a curious thing why Andrzej Zulawski never directed for the theater. The theater makes several appearances throughout Zulawski's filmography, at times even playing a major part in the story. In Zulawski's second feature Diabel (1972), the protagonist encounters an eccentric traveling theater troupe performing Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Bard factors in prominently in L'important c'est d'aimer (1975), where Romy Schneider finds herself in a particularity histrionic take on Richard III with Klaus Kinski as the star/director. Although inspired by Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot, Anton Chekov's play The Seagull takes precedent in L'amour braque (1985), culminating in an maniacal reading from Sophie Marceau. A major theatrical comparison is often drawn between Zulawski and Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski, who's intense acting training methods, known as the “Stanislavski system”, one of the earliest forms of method acting, where performers are pushed to the brink both mentally and psychically in order to ensure the most honest performance, was a method Zulawski often employed, perhaps most infamously with Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981) and Iwona Petry in Szamanka (1996). It was only appropriate that in 1989, Zulawski turned to the stage, the opera to be prescience, with Boris Godunov, an adaptation of both the play by Alexander Pushkin and the opera by Modest Mussorgsky, an unusual film even by Zulawski standards and his most underseen film.

Following the death of Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godunov, the chamberlain to the former leader, is appointed to the role of Czar. Although highly popular with the Russian people, Godunov's reign is wrought with both political and personal difficulties including a monk who claims that he is in fact Dmitriy Ivanovich, the dead son of Ivan and rightful heir to the throne who sets out on a campaign to overtake Russia with Marina, an ambitious princess. Godunov's inner circle is also plotting against him at the behest of Prince Shuyskiy, a power hungry adviser to the Czar. Worse yet, Godunov is plagued with visions of the ghost of a dead child, a child Godunov was rumored to have murdered, a rumor Shuyskiy is quick to use to his advantage.

Perhaps second only to Zulawski's On the Silver Globe (1977/88) in terms of ambition and scope, Boris Godunov is certainly a strange beast. While faithful to both the play and the opera which its based, not to mention the history of its source material, the film is still a quintessential Zulawski film, loaded with Zulawski's defining peculiarities so even if the film hadn't been an adaptation it would still make complete sense in the context of Zulawski's overall cannon. While there is quite a bit to unpack story wise, and its inevitable that many will get lost along the way, the film is a great example of when getting lost isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although some of the plot points that might take multiple viewings to fully digest are incredibly important, this is again a Zulawski film and like the rest of his output, the amplified emotion of the film strikes just as big a subconscious chord and the film is easy to get lost in anyhow considering the music, which is nothing short of mesmerizing as are the lavish sets and costumes. Among the films many curiosities are a few comedic bits involving food which Zulawski would repeat again in his follow-up film La note bleue (1991), but perhaps the most fascinating are the instances of explicit fourth wall breaking with Zulawski fully embracing the artifice, pulling the camera back revealing the action being performed on stage, showing the audience and the orchestra and simultaneously the filming of his own movie. 

An interesting moment early on the in the film sees a guard dressed in modern Soviet military garb appear in the midst of the period setting and given that the film was made in 1989, a year which saw several revolutions put an end to communist oppression in many eastern European countries, its not a stretch to speculate Zulawski drawing a parallel between the historical events of the story and what was happening throughout the world at the time of shooting. Its also important to note that the film features Mussorgsky's original score from the opera (naturally shorted due to time constraints) which is a rare occurrence in performances of the opera with a revised score written in 1872. In fact, the opera as a whole has been re-written several times since its original incarnation with performances of both versions prepared by Mussorgsky being scarce and as things of this nature normally go, the originality of Mussorgsky's initial score, which for whatever reason was thought to need “corrections”, hence all the revisions, is now considered highly innovative. Funny and more that a bit frustrating to think how Pushkin's original play, which fascinatingly was barred from actual performance until 35 years after its initial publication, ultimately became his most well known work while Zulawski's film remains his most obscure when it should in fact be recognized for the brilliant, singular achievement that it is. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)

Although he remains as prolific as ever and retains a loyal cult following, there nonetheless seems to be a portion of Takashi Miike’s fanbase who’s response to some of the Japanese madman’s more recent output has been lukewarm, with a feeling that Miike’s later work lacks the bite of his 90’s and early 2000’s classics. Despite films like Lesson of the Evil (2012) and Over Your Dead Body (2014) rendering that mindset somewhat absurd, there is a reasoning behind some of the directions Miike has taken in recent times, namely the various changes in the Japanese film industry. With many new Japanese films the products of filmmaking by committee, investors are looking for the most commercial material possible and its also important to note that that days of V-cinema, the Japanese direct-to-video market, are more or less over, therefore films like Full Metal Yakuza (1997), Visitor Q (2001) and Gozu (2003) simply wouldn’t be greenlit in the current Japanese cinematic ecology. Still, Miike has managed to survive and with the announcement of Yakuza Apocalypse, many fans cheered when Miike himself said “Say good-bye to wimpy and boring Japanese movies. Nobody asked me, but I’ve decided on my own to return to my roots and start a riot!” It was a statement that proved to be fairly accurate with Yakuza Apocalypse being a thoroughly unhinged genre blending sideshow with Miike’s troublemaking ways fully intact.

Kamiura, a highly respected and powerful yakuza boss is confronted by two mysterious members of a larger organized crime syndicate demanding his return. Kamiura refuses and is soon killed, although before dying he reveals his true nature, that of a vampire, to his pupil, Kageyama, biting him and passing on the vampyric curse. Determined to avenge Kamiura’s death, Kageyama, unaware of how to manage his new condition, inadvertently causes an outbreak of vampirism amongst civilians and the criminal underworld which becomes even more on edge with the impending arrival of the ominous Kaeru-kun, known throughout the crime world as the “worlds toughest terrorist”, who’s presence is said to bring about the apocalypse.

Subtitled “The Great War of the Underworld”, Yakuza Apocalypse (Gokudō Daisensō, 極道大戦争) is Miike reveling in his reputation of being a purveyor of the outrageous. Given its melding of multiple genres, particularly horror and comedy, comparisons to The Happiness of the Katikuri’s (2001) are inevitable (sans the musical numbers, although they would have fit right in), plus the films array of surreal situations and offbeat characters are reminiscent of Gozu. The film is rather busy when it comes to its plotline and as a result various story elements become fairly blurry, yet none of that really matters once the film gets going. With so much insanity on display, fuzzy minor plot details are hardly a concern. While there are far too many nutty moments and characters to list them all, some of the highlights include a Django/pilgrim type of yakuza enforcer complete with a coffin backpack, a female yakuza general plagued with a very unusual cranial condition, human/flower hybrids and perhaps most importantly, the character of Kaeru-kun, the so-called “worlds toughest terrorist” is in fact a man in a hilarious giant frog mascot costume with impeccable martial arts skills. Such a sight involved in well choreographed fight scenes is quintessential Miike mischief. Incredibly, the film isn’t all frivolity, with Miike tossing in a slightly romantic subplot involving Kageyama and a woman wounded in the midst of the gang war which makes for some interesting tonal shifts but by and large, lunacy is the order of the day and Miike delivers it in spades.

The film was screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Directors Fortnight. Although Miike was not in attendance, he made sure to make a lasting impression as Andrew Pulver of The Guardian noted “Miike, of course, is known for churning out an average of three films a year since the early 90's, and was unable to attend this Cannes screening due to having started work on the next one. However, he did send over an amusing short video message apologising for his absence, in which he appeared in full geisha drag, saying that he had switched professions and would never make violent films again.” Miike has had an interesting history with Cannes. Although made for the video market, Gozu found its way to many worldwide festivals, one of which was Cannes where the film premiered as part of the Directors Fortnight. Miike has returned to Cannes a few times since then, albeit with more conventional fare such as Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011), 13 Assassins (2012) and Shield of Straw (2013) which was in the main competition for the Palm d’Or, even though Miike himself didn’t feel the film should have been, interesting enough. Unlike all those films however, Yakuza Apocalypse is far from being a conventional film and should prove to fans who’s interest in Miike might have waned that Miike’s more mischievous side hasn’t gone anywhere.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Over Your Dead Body (2014)

AKA Kuime (喰女 クイメ )

Given the fact that Takashi Miike’s cinematic output is exhaustively prolific, oftentimes cranking out over 5 films per year (in 2001 alone he managed to turn in 8 feature films and 3 out of those 8 were Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuri’s), its astonishing that Miike somehow managed to find the time to squeeze in a stage play in-between film work. Granted, Miike turned to the stage in 2005 which, by Miike standards was a pretty light year in terms of output, with Miike only helming one feature, The Great Yokai War and several episodes of the Ultraman Max television series, so perhaps its no coincidence it was that year that Miike chose to make his theater debut. The resulting play was Demon Pond, a fantastic Kabuki fable based on Kyōka Izumi's 1913 play of the same name. While the play never traveled outside of Japan, luckily for Miike’s international fan base a performance was filmed and later released on DVD in 2008. Following his return to the horror genre with Lesson of the Evil (2012), Miike once again returned to the genre which he’s proven himself so adept with Over Your Dead Body, an absolutely brilliant example of the art form and a film which also see’s Miike returning somewhat to the world of theater by way of the most famous of all Japanese ghost stories.

Lovers Kousuke and Miyuki (Ko Shibasaki) have been cast as the leads in a stage production of Yotsuya Kaidan, a legendary supernatural tale. Off stage, Miyuki is loyal to Kousuke, however Kousuke is unfaithful and in the midst of an affair with another actress which Miyuki is suspicious of. The longer rehearses for the play go on, the stranger Miyuki’s behavior becomes and soon the plays central themes of betrayal, jealousy and murderous revenge begin to spill over into the actors real lives.

Over Your Dead Body sees Miike fusing the two approaches he tends to gravitate towards in his horror films, the first being mood as seen in the likes of Audition (1999) and One Missed Call (2003) combined with the occasional splash of visceral extremity more akin to a film like Imprint (2006). For the majority of the film, Miike employees the former, establishing a sense of unease from the very start of the film, developing a monumental feeling of dread that is sustained throughout the entire film. The film is an exercise in mood, the epitome of a slow burn with parts of the film being so languid its as if they’re taking place under water which only makes the already off-center tone of the film even more unsettling. What’s more, the central performance from Ko Shibasaki also feel’s slightly alien which couldn’t have been more on point given her characters psyche. Miike also uses sound and editing to their full potential, at times giving the film a Lynch or Roeg type of feel and much like those fellow masters, Miike masterfully plays with the idea of fiction versus the actors reality, with the themes of the play interconnecting with the actors offstage lives. While not an overt bloodbath, when Miike does let the blood flow its certainly memorable with some of the more graphic moments of the film recalling the fetal horrors of Imprint and a sly hat tip to Paul Verhoeven’s The 4th Man (1983) near the end of the film.

The film is also one of Miike’s most visually astonishing, featuring some truly awe-inspiring production design, lighting and costuming, particularly during the scenes of the play’s rehearsal and performance and it can only be assumed that Miike brought with him the tricks he used while constructing the filmed version of Demon Pond. The play, Yotsuya Kaidan, is again quite possibly the most famous ghost story in Japan. Originally written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV in 1825, the story has proven to been a constant source of inspiration over the years in the realm of Japanese horror having been adapted to film well over 30 times with film versions dating back to 1912. How Over Your Dead Body will eventually be ranked alongside other takes on the tale remains to be seen, however some Miike fans have expressed disappointment in the film, the main criticism being that the film is all build-up with very little pay off. Its true that those who go into the film expecting a gonzo horror freakout will probably be disappointed but its crucial to note that with a film like this, much of the pay off IS the build-up. Over Your Dead Body is a stylish, original take on a classic theme and not only one of the finest horror films to come from Miike to date, but just the kind of film modern horror is in desperate need of.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Lesson of the Evil (2012)

Its almost inevitable that the topic of violence is bound to make an appearance whenever Takashi Miike’s name is mentioned. Despite the fact that Miike has proven himself capable of many different things behind the camera, it seems as if Miike was destined to become known as a purveyor of extreme violence and gore. That’s not to say such a reputation is baseless. After all, when Ichi the Killer (2001) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, promotional barf bags were doled out amongst the crowd. So while Miike’s penchant for violence cannot be disputed, its interesting to compare Miike’s approach to violence with one of his biggest influences, Paul Verhoeven. Much like Miike, Verhoeven has long been critiqued for his heavy use of violence yet both filmmakers attitudes towards violence has never been singular. Verhoeven has presented violence in an unflinching, brutal manner ala Flesh + Blood (1985) and Hollow Man (2000) as Miike has in Audition (1999) and Imprint (2006), yet the unrelenting splatter seen in the likes of Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987), Total Recall (1990) and Starship Troopers (1997) and Miike’s Full Metal Yakuza (1997) and Ichi the Killer easily cross over into over-the-top comic book absurdity, becoming hilarious in the process. Then there’s a film like Lesson of the Evil, Miike’s first full-on horror film since Imprint, which finds Miike combining both approaches, resulting in a sadistic, blackly comic masterpiece.  

Envied by his colleges and loved by his students, English teacher Seiji Hasumi is the most popular teacher at his high school, however one of Hasumi’s fellow teachers, Tsurii, isn’t as enamored with Hasumi as everyone else is, finding something suspicious about his demeanor. Tsurii’s suspicions aren’t without warrant, as Hasumi’s friendly and outgoing personality mask a murderous psychopath who’s true nature surfaces after Hasumi uncovers a bullying problem within the school and several trusting students confiding in him about another student being sexually abused by a gym teacher, forcing Hasumi to put an end to the school's troubles in his own unique manner.

Although much different in tone, its difficult to not compare Lesson of the Evil (Aku no Kyoten, 悪の教典) to Audition in the sense that, much like Miike’s breakout horror film, Lesson of the Evil finds Miike taking his time, slowly building up to an utterly jaw-dropping conclusion, dropping hints of what’s in store along the way. Essentially split up into three sections, the film begins with Miike establishing Hasumi’s reputation within the school, his rapport with the students and also spending some time with the students themselves, Miike’s reasoning coming into play later on. What’s especially interesting about the films first act is Miike’s early revealing of Hasumi’s true personality with his engaging in a sexual relationship with a student, setting in motion the direction the film will eventually take. Its during the mid-section of the film where things begin to grow darker in tone with Miike digging into Hasumi’s past and literally getting into his psyche, giving way to some memorable surrealistic sequences. Its during the final third where the film takes its most drastic turn, with Hasumi putting his warped plan of cleaning up the school into action, leading to one of the most barbaric bloodbaths ever committed to film. What’s more, Miike manages to sprinkle in bits of his thoroughly morbid sense of humor at certain points during Hasumi’s indiscriminate massacring of teenagers, namely Hasumi killing to the catchy tune of “Mack the Knife”, a decision that’s sure to take some of the most jaded horror viewers back a bit.

Although the film gives a fairly in-depth presentation of Hasumi’s past, the same year the film was released a TV mini-series prequel was produced, appropriately titled Lesson of the Evil: Prologue (2012). Leading man Hideaki Itô who played Hasumi in the film was also the star of the prequel, Miike however did not direct. It should also go without saying that in a filmography already filled with staggeringly audacious films, Lesson of the Evil is nonetheless one of Miike’s most brazen cinematic smacks in the face due to the film being made in an age where mass and school shootings are more or less a monthly occurrence so its really no surprise that a film featuring a teacher turning a shotgun on high school students wasn’t going to go down so well with certain people. Not to mention that the film also incorporates both homo and heterosexual relationships between teachers and students and Miike gleefully injecting his macabre comedic sensibilities into some of the more violent proceedings. Not that it mattered much to Miike. After all, he’s never exactly been one to cater to the hypersensitive needs of politically correct zealots. Given the cultural climate where said PC zealots run rampant in various forms of art, a film like Lesson of the Evil is gift and further proof that when it comes to cinematic transgressions, Miike is still one of the reigning kings.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Detective Story (2007)

With an exhaustive body of work covering every genre imaginable, Takashi Miike’s name is synonymous with many things to many people. When Miike’s films began gaining traction in the west in the late 90’s, Miike quickly became celebrated as a master of excess and with the likes of Audition (1999), Ichi the Killer (2001) and Visitor Q (2001), Miike’s reputation as a master of graphic horror with a penchant for shock was set in stone. Of course, Miike is far from a one-note filmmaker as his filmography clearly indicates and along with the excesses of Miike’s more well known works, another aspect of Miike’s unique vision that played a major hand in his gaining a following was the irreverent, oftentimes bizarre sense of humor inherent in his films, with the over the top nature of his films crossing over into comedic territory, be it the unique bodily functions on display in Fudoh: The Next Generation (1996) and Visitor Q, the later which is essentially a comedy at heart, the out of nowhere ending of Dead or Alive (1999), the innumerable surreal absurdities found in Gozu (2003) or the entirety of The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), a zombie comedy musical! Made for the Japanese video market, Detective Story is yet another instance of Miike flexing his genre bending muscle, fusing elements of horror and mystery along with his typically bonkers style of humor.

While moving into his new apartment, businessman Raita Takashima meets his new neighbor who also happens to be named Raita, Riata Kazama, a private detective. When a potential client of Kazama winds up murdered, the evidence at the scene points to Kazama. Soon more victims turn up, each missing a different organ and Kazama becomes the prime suspect, despite his innocence. In a desperate bid to clear his name, Kazama enlists the help of the other Raita to find the real killer with various clues leading them to Yuki Aoyama, a eccentric painter who’s creative process involves the use of very peculiar materials.

Despite the DVD cover making the film come across as something akin to the Saw or Hostel franchises, fear not as Detective Story (Tantei monogatari, 探偵物語) is anything but. If the film could be compared to anything, it actually shares more in common with something along the lines of Sergio Martino’s loony giallo/poliziotteschi/comedy hybrid Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975), another film dealing with some rather dark subject matter but its oddball fusion of genres leads to some pretty strange changes in tone. With Detective Story, Miike takes a premise that in the wrong hands could have wound up being a pedestrian affair and injects it with a plethora of quirkiness, morphing it into an offbeat tale which ranges from disgusting to hilarious and oftentimes both at once. Its not that the central murder mystery isn’t enough to hold the entire film together as the mystery itself is wonderfully executed and the way Miike incorporates the painter into the proceedings makes it all the more interesting, not to mention grotesque, but the oddball touches Miike peppers the film with are what make the film stand out, such as the ridiculous wig Kazama wears as a disguise and the eccentric behavior of Kazama’s employee Mika who is responsible for one of the films more random, bodily fluid influenced gags. Miike even manages to include bits of sadness that he often incorporates into his horror films which incredibly doesn’t clash with the films other moods, even when the film is changing tones at breakneck speed.

One of the more curious aspects regarding the film is Miike’s smearing blood on the camera lens during certain scenes were the victims bodies are displayed, “blurring” some of the gore. This appears to be Miike having a bit of a laugh at Japanese censorship practices where normally genitalia is fogged while when it comes to violence and gore, most anything usually goes. Interestingly, there are moments in the film featuring un-obscured full-frontal nudity making the blurred gore seem all the more unnecessary which again, seems like a case of Miike taking the piss. Its also worth pointing out that actress Harumi Inoue has a role in the film. Inoue of course was the star of Takashi Ishii’s revenge masterpiece Freeze Me (2000) and was utilized by Ishii again in A Night In Nude: Salvation (2010) so appearances in films from the two most brilliant Takashi’s can be on her resume! Again, the film was originally made for Japan’s direct to video market (V-cinema), yet managed to get a limited theatrical release in Japan. Two years later the film made it to the States on DVD and surprisingly flew under the radar which is odd considering Miike’s cult following. Detective Story is certainly an oddity and although those not used to Miike’s idiosyncrasies will likely walk away from it perplexed, Miike fans who may have overlooked the film should find plenty to love.