Friday, April 3, 2009

I have seen the depths of Hell

...and it came in the form of Takashi Miike films.

Some weeks ago, I was introduced to the existence of some particularly disturbing and controversial movies by a friend of mine, by an incredibly prolific and versatile Japanese director by the name of Takashi Miike. While his portfolio included a wide range of material, including a recent live-action Yatterman (which supposedly followed the original anime quite faithfully), I took a morbid curiosity in his more notorious films - mainly 殺し屋1 (Ichi the Killer) and Visitor Q.

Now, I'm normally not one to take a fascination in the particularly morbid or shocking. In fact, I generally avoid such things unless there's some kind of meaningful underlying artistic message to be conveyed. I love such films as A Clockwork Orange and Oldboy - movies which could easily be described as shocking, and perhaps morbid - but both powerful in their own right and well worth watching. Going into these two Miike films, I really wasn't sure what to expect apart from the over the top "torture porn" and vague recommendations I had been given.

I could tell early on that I would enjoy 殺し屋1. Lots of colorful yakuza language (complete with plenty of deep growls and rolled Rs!) you'd never hear in everyday Japanese, an interesting premise with equally interesting characters (particularly the sadomasochistic Kakihara, pictured above), and a dark sense of humor I could immediately appreciate. Oh yeah, and enough blood and gore to make Kill Bill look like the frolic through Gumdrop Lane it really is by comparison. Make no mistake about it - if you don't have an appreciate for dark humor and a cast iron stomach for buckets of blood, dismemberment, torture, graphic jugular-spraying deaths, violent rape and other such delightful matter I really don't care to go into on this blog, you'll most likely want to pass up this film. For the rest of us - indeed, for the couple dozen of us - 殺し屋1 is a surprisingly enjoyable and well made film that I can highly recommend.

Now, as for Visitor Q... My first impression came from skimming its plot on Wikipedia, which was probably a bad idea, in hindsight, as the more shocking parts of the film stood out against the important subtleties which fill this movie to the brim. As a result, I was put off from watching it until I had manned up and watched 殺し屋1 and craved something more.
At its core, Visitor Q is a comedy. A very, very, very black comedy the likes of which I've never seen before, and most likely never will see again. The premise is rather simple - an intensely dysfunctional family (a runaway prostitute daughter, a bullied son who takes out his frustration on his defenseless, heroin addicted mother, and a father with numerous serious problems) and a mysterious, unknown man (known as Visitor Q, but never named in the film) who quite comically works his way into the household, and the bizarre turn of events that unfolds as a result.
Like 殺し屋1, much of the film can be difficult to watch, but in this case, for entirely different purposes. Visitor Q manages to tackle more social and sexual taboos in its two hours than the whole of Howard Stern's career combined. Much of the imagery is intense and shocking, yet the bits of comedy thrown in manage to lighten the mood, if ever slightly. Speaking of comedy relief, Visitor Q is downright hilarious at times, though you may be laughing it up between visits to the barf bag.
All in all, I'd have to say that Visitor Q was probably one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen, and easily the most disturbing comedy. There's certainly a message to be conveyed beneath it all, though - a message which mocks and satirizes modern society, dysfunctional family matters and numerous taboos. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this film.

I certainly plan to see more Miike films, but I think I'll try and space them out within a span of one month a piece. For obvious reasons.

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