The 17th Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival is underway this week in the idyllic Swiss city, where Japanese director Takashi Miike is the guest of honour. The prolific auteur behind such classics as Audition, Ichi the Killer and 13 Assassins will be presenting the local premiere of Blade of the Immortal, which debuted earlier this year at Cannes, while NIFFF has also bagged the world premiere of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable - Chapter 1.
Miike made headlines last week as one of 774 international film industry members invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. In a record-breaking bid to increase diversity within the historically conservative and American-focused organisation, Miike was one of a number of high-profile additions from Asia, alongside the likes of Ann Hui, Peter Chan and Kim Ki-duk.
So how does the filmmaker responsible for bringing us Visitor Q, Dead or Alive and The Happiness of the Katakuris feel about becoming part of the Hollywood establishment?
"Actually I have yet to receive an official invitation from the Academy,” says Miike with a shrug and a smirk. “So far I have only received this information from the media. So maybe it’s a lie.” But assuming for a moment that it is true, Miike concedes that it is good news. “However, it would be better if my films were selected by the Academy rather than me. I would like that more than being the person who selects which films get recognised."
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is the first live-action feature adaptation of the hugely popular manga series created by Hirohiko Araki. Diamond is Unbreakable is the fourth volume in a series of eight, and while it wasn’t his decision to adapt this part of the story first, Miike was already familiar with the story of Josuke Higashikata (played by Kento Yamazaki), a high-school kid with supernatural powers that manifest in the form of a “Stand” avatar.
“As an adult you don’t really have the chance to read manga series in the way you can when you are a child. But while I was travelling around and working, I would always find the manga of JoJo wherever I went, and became quite familiar with it.”
Part 4 presented a unique challenge for Miike and his crew. Although nominally set in a Japanese seaside town called Morioh, it is an entirely fictitious creation that exists solely in writer Araki’s imagination. This meant Miike would have to venture outside of Japan to find a suitable location.
“Then I had an idea. I’ve seen this very specific world somewhere before, when I visited the film festival in Sitges, I realised this is it! So I decided to shoot part of the film in Sitges and part of it in Japan.” Miike actually shot in the Catalan city while the festival was taking place, and it wasn’t all plain sailing. “At first it seemed almost impossible, because I needed to use a local crew, who didn’t speak Japanese. Budget-wise it was also a really big project. But then again, the title of the film is Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so as a filmmaker I also found myself and my crew on a bizarre adventure together.”
Miike still flits regularly between directing big budget studio films like Jojo or Terra Formars, to small-scale indie oddities like Over Your Dead Body or Yakuza Apocalypse, more aligned with his V-Cinema roots. So does he approach different projects in different ways, depending on their scale?
“Smaller productions are obviously more challenging, but I have much more freedom, so it’s more fun. Big budget films can take a couple of months to shoot, so I have to really pace myself, to ensure I don’t burn out from working too hard. So if I had to suggest a difference in my approach to different kinds of films, maybe that’s it. But that’s also why I don’t mind if not many people get to see my smaller films, because I had that freedom and fun.”
Whatever its scale, a Miike film is almost instantly recognisable, as something different - and something special. It’s a sentiment that certainly pleases the 56-year-old director, who now has over 100 films under his belt.
“I devote the same passion to every film I make, so hopefully that’s why people can feel the Miike signature in everything I do.”
Photography: Rebecca Bowring (Copyright 2017)
Interpreter: Mizuki Mazbara
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