PULP'S exclusive talk with the evil genius behind Dead or Alive
By Tomo Machiyama
from PULP 5.07

WARNING: Quasi-spoilers ahead.

PULP: The ending of Dead or Alive blew my mind. I couldn't believe it. You broke the cardinal rule of filmmaking. How could you do that?

Takashi Miike: In the script, which was largely inspired by Michael Mann's Heat, the ending was going to be that Rikki [Takeuchi] and Sho [Aikawa] face off, point their guns at each other, and shoot. Just that. You don't see which one wins. We couldn't make one of them win over the other, because Sho and Rikki are such big stars. It was a frustrating and weak conclusion, and I was thinking, even after we'd already started shooting, I have to do something here.

P: So you came up with the deconstructive ending.

TM: Working in v-cinema [Japanese term for "straight-to-video"] can be frustrating. Even though Dead or Alive ended up showing in the theaters, only one print toured Japan. With v-cinema, it's hard to know if anything substantial in the film works. If the producer says, "We got ten thousand orders," it's just a pre-order, not box office. I don't get any reaction from the audience, so it seems like nobody cares. In the other words, you can do whatever you want. So I intended to take advantage of that.

P: Was there any objection from the producers?

TM: No, because nobody knew the ending until the first preview. When they saw the ending, which turned out to be totally different from the script's, it was too late. That was my strategy.

P: How did you get consent from your stars and staff?

TM: In order to do that, I had to make them want to go further, wilder. Sho would say, " How? Why? it doesn't make sense!?"

P: You would have to explain why.

TM: But I couldn't, because the idea just came up to my mind. There is no reason. So, I had to create a good "groove" among the stars and crew.

P: Like music? As long as your band is jamming, even if you make some absurd ad lib, the rest of the band follows along?

TM: Exactly. Fortunately, we had a great time during the shoot. The stars played far better than the script demanded. That got them high, and we all felt that the conclusion wasn't enough. Then, I started to go like, "I have another idea." And Sho said to me, "Sounds cool! Let's bring it on!"

P: But you still couldn't explain why you needed it?

TM: I didn't need to do that. When I directed Rikki, I didn't explain what it meant, but Rikki said, "I know it! " The tension in the scene was that high, so high it could destroy the earth.

P: The ending isn't the only thing beyond belief in Dead or Alive–there's also the opening. That is the craziest opening I've ever seen. I thought it was a trailer or a music video.

TM: In the script, the opening consists of 25 scenes presented in chronological order, but I chopped and shuffled them, because I'd already had enough of typical entertainment-movie introductions. They say that the first section of a movie has to make the audience understand the characters and their relationships to each other, but who can understand the characters in this movie? All the characters in Dead or Alive are beyond the understanding of ordinary people. I don't need the audience to understand my characters. All I need is to take people into the crazy chaos of the underground world of Tokyo. So I mixed everything together to that one song.

P: Was the scene where the policeman throws a ko-gal's head into a metal mail post in the original script?

TM: I don't think so. I just came up with the scene because the post happened to be there.

P: What about the scene where Ren Osugi snorts a 30-foot-long line of cocaine? I couldn't get what he was supposed to be.

TM: That's natural, because you don't get anything about his character except the name-tag on his chest, "Yan." But it doesn't matter. He gets killed by Rikki 30 minutes into the movie.

P: Finally, there's the scene where the guy gets shot by a shotgun in the back and the contents of his stomach flies toward the camera.

TM: I used computer graphics for the ramen. I got a bunch of CG artists who were willing to work for me. Usually, they earn lot of money working for TV commercials, but that kind of work is sort of boring, so when I asked them to do this, they were happy to work at a cheaper price. I asked them to mix in a slice of naruto flying with the ramen. They were like, "That's funny! Let's do it!"

P: Are these the same guys who made the cockfighting scenes in Hazard City look like The Matrix?

TM: Right. And right now, they're working on my latest movie, Killer Ichi.

P: The ramen scene is both violent and funny. Also, in the middle of Dead or Alive, there's the scene where the Japanese yakuza and Chinese mafia hold a party, and there's guy in a bird suit walking around.

TM: That was out of aesthetic necessity. I just needed something to fly around during the shootout. Feathers are best, but it's a party scene, and there wouldn't be any pillows around. So I put in a bird mascot, as a representation of the unity between Japan and China, and had it shot to make feathers fly.

P: You like mixing together humor and grossness, but I'm afraid that foreign audiences can't dig it. You showed Dead or Alive at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Did the audience enjoy it? What about the scene where the girl gets an enema and dies drowning in her own stool?

TM: I saw one gentleman who angrily kicked the seat in front of him and threw his hat to the ground during that scene, but then he seemed to think a while and sat down again. However, Audition seemed too much for Rotterdam. When the heroine starts to cut off the guy's ankle, I think more than ten people rushed for the exit.

P: Your movies have been targeted by Eirin [Japanese film ratings board]. They especially hated Fudoh, but they didn't point out which scenes should be cut. They just said that a movie like Fudoh shouldn't be allowed to exist. They rated it NC-17, but I think if they could have banned the film, they would.

TM: Indeed. There are many movies more violent than mine, but they depict violent as a bad thing or as the last resort of a hero in pursuit of justice. My characters don't reflect on morality, and they don't change, either.

P: How about your pet project, Killer Ichi [based on the manga by Hideo Yamamoto, creator of Voyeurs, Inc.]? I heard you've already finished shooting.

TM: I'm still working on post-production. The board has already seen the rushes and given it a NC-17 rating. The problems are scenes where yakuza torture somebody by pouring boiled oil on his skin and where Killer Ichi slices a man in two from head to toe with a blade he installs in his heel. I used CG for that. We can't edit it out, because those scenes are all in the comic.

P: The board gave it an NC-17 even though 6-year-old kids can buy the comic at every newsstand in Japan.

TM: Actually, they can't. Some prefectures have banned the comic. We tried an unprecedented experiment for the shoot. I asked Hideo Yamamoto to draw a comic as our shooting script. Then I was going to direct according to the comic. It would be something nobody's ever seen. Yamamoto tried to do it, but unfortunately, he didn't make it.

P: What's your next project?

TM: I've already started work on it. It's for Shochiku Studios. It's going to be a musical and family movie.

P: Musical? Family movie? I heard you made a movie about a family: the daughter becomes a prostitute, her father rapes her, her mother sprays milk from her breasts, and the son beats his mother up. Is that what you mean?

TM: No. The movie you mentioned is Visitor Q, another movie of mine, but the movie I'm making for Shochiku isn't an ordinary family movie. In the climax, the house is washed away by a flood, which we'll do in Claymation.

P: How about remaking Zatoichi? I heard once that Takeshi Kitano wanted to remake it, but gave up because Shintaro Katsu [who played the original Zatoichi] didn't want anyone to play him until after he died.

TM: Yes, Katsu-shin was the last star of a time when an actor playing a character who was totally out of control could become a star. I loved him. So I finally got the cooperation of Katsu's production company to remake Zatoichi. He's such a great and famous character, known throughout the world, that the movie should get shown internationally. So far, I can't reveal anything about what I want to do, but at least I can say that my mission is to close the long saga of this great legendary hero.

P: You've been named as one of the top ten movie directors to look out for in the world by Time magazine. So do you have any plans to make a movie for the American market?

TM: I was approached by Chrome Dragon, the movie production company founded by Wayne Wang and Francis Coppola. It's a company meant to produce movies written and directed by Asians. I've already turned in my story, which is set on the streets of Macao before it returned to China. There are a lot of outlaws hanging out on this one lousy street, refugees from Japan, a Chinese American gangster, and any kind of bad guy you can imagine. They haven't given me a green light on the project yet, because the first feature Chrome Dragon produced got into trouble. It's taken years of editing, but they still haven't got a final cut.

P: You've already released Dead or Alive 2. It was completely different from the first Dead or Alive. Rikki and Sho are soul brothers raised as contract killers who kill bad guys for money and use the money to create vaccines for poor children in developing countries. In the end, Rikki and Sho become angels. It's a weird combination of violence and heartwarming story. How about the third one? Are you going to make it?

TM: I've already talked about it with the stars. They think a trilogy sounds good. I think we are going to get back to violent action.

Tomo Machiyama is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Eiga Hi-Ho, Japan's best film magazine.